Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 4-WD: White-out snow driving in Norway
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Mitsubishi is so confident about the ability of its new Eclipse Cross four-wheel-drive compact SUV models it let motoring journalists loose behind the wheel in extreme mid-winter conditions in Norway last week.
Not only were we able to drive the Eclipse across snow-covered secondary mountain backroads, we drifted, slid and sped across the surface of a frozen lake, at an international rally driver training school 900m above sea level in the central Norwegian mountains.
Temperatures ranged from around minus 1C to minus 7C and at times there were 2m snow drifts mounting up alongside many of the roads.
The medium-sized Eclipse Cross SUV 4-WD models arrive in Mitsubishi New Zealand showrooms at the beginning of April, joining the front-wheel-drive models, which have been on sale since December.
Fresh snow continued to fall for the two-and-a-half days we were in the mountains at the Geilo ski resort, about three hours north west of the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
The rally school run by former international rally ace John Haugland included doughnut circles, and three circuits designed to demonstrate the Eclipse’s 4WD model’s assurance in some of the world’s most extreme weather conditions.
The Eclipse slid with ease around the circle, with the rear end hanging out and the SUV, sitting on studded winter tyres, drifting beautifully.
The handling is so good it was relatively easy after a few circles to keep the Eclipse sliding with assurance, before the direct and neutral steering gave you time to set it up for the next drift.
It was uncanny, given we are talking about a medium-sized, practical mainstream SUV here, not a low-slung sports car.
The track work showed the effectiveness of the new eight-speed CVT automatic gearbox, providing ample energy just when you need it to power out of sharp corners.
Beneath the Super All-Wheel-Control system that integrates and manages the amount of power between the front and rear wheels, and the left and right tyres, helps ensure the Eclipse does exactly what the driver intends.
The steering is so neutral there was surprisingly little drama involved in any of these extreme off-road manoeuvres, all carried out without spinning out or running into a snow bank.
The 120km “scenic” drive on secondary roads from the frozen lake to our hotel in Geilo, was to prove surprisingly more challenging.
There were often complete “white-out” conditions where it was difficult to determine where the edges of the road were.
The Eclipse Cross handled the corners with complete assurance, and felt assured on even the iciest road surfaces.
Where the problems arose for many of the journalists, including me, was keeping the vehicle out of soft snow at the edge of the roads.
On a straight section of road I allowed the car to move too far to the right, and we suddenly dropped into soft snow, with the right-hand corner of the car buried in 3m of soft snow.
It took a local farmer with his John Deere tractor, along with his heavy chains and pulleys, to extract us from the embarrassing snowy quagmire.
There was so much snow on the ground it was impossible to know whether the road surface was sealed or metal, although some of the secondary roads were narrow and winding. In fact, part of our 120km route is used as a special stage in the annual WRC Rally of Norway.
It was easy to see how Nordic and Scandinavian drivers tend to do well in international rallying, born as they are into driving in such extreme weather.
It was also somewhat reassuring to find that several others of the 135 international motoring journalists attending the event, had gone off the edge into the soft snow as well.
The soft snow meant none of the cars was damaged, although driver pride took a thumping.
Although few New Zealanders will encounter such extreme Scandinavian high-altitude winter conditions, the drive proved the Eclipse Cross 4WD model’s bona fides when it comes to handling such weather.
This should not come as a surprise, given Mitsubishi has been producing 4WD vehicles for more than 80 years, has been producing SUVs for 35 years since it introduced the original Pajero in 1982, and all-wheel-drive vehicles for the last three decades.
Much of the technology used in the 4WD Eclipse models has been developed through decades of competing in international motor rallies, with the company scoring 12 Dakar Rally victories, and five World Rally Championship titles, many of them in the famed Lancer Evolution rally cars.
The S-AWC system manages the driving forces and braking forces of the four wheels, through the amount of torque split between the left and right wheels.
Mitsubishi says it feeds the optimum torque to the rear wheels as required by the throttle opening, vehicle speed and driving conditions. It then incorporates a brake-activated “Active Yaw Control” system that measures steering input, yaw rate, drive torque, brake force and wheel speed.
The Eclipse range of SUVs is also important because they mark a new phase in the Mitsubishi brand, one that has traditionally had a strong engineering focus, but has not always had the marketing clout to promote its products.
The Eclipse sits between the smaller ASX SUV and the larger and heavier Outlander SUV ranges, and illustrates the three pillars on which its future rests — sharp design, driving dynamics, all delivered with “cool” technology.
The 4WD models go on sale with a recommended retail price of $43,490 for the XLS model and $47,590 for the top of the range VRX model.
This is just a $2000 premium over the recommended retail prices of the 2WD models.
It has a dramatically sloping coupe-like roofline, and is powered by a responsive 1.5 turbo engine. Inside there is an up-market feel to the cabin, with soft plastics and a touchpad that operates the touch screen.
The SUVs are fitted with a raft of safety features, including a forward collision mitigation system, a blind spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alerts.
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