Images: Waldo van der Waal via Quickpic.
Johannesburg - It's surely a sign of the SUV-obsessed times that nameplates previously reserved for coupes are now finding their way on to the boot lids of high-riding family haulers.

First the Mitsubishi Eclipse and soon the Ford Puma.

The Eclipse was, for the record, a mid-sized coupe that was sold in various overseas markets in three generations between 1990 and 2012.

It also earned some degree of fame in the original The Fast and The Furious movie, where it was driven by none other than Paul Walker.

Some Eclipse fans are grumpy about the badge now adoring a crossover, but Mitsubishi SA need not worry about that because South Africans never really got to know the original Eclipse coupes.

Not only does the new Eclipse Cross enjoy a clean slate in SA, but it also adds some serious flavour to Mitsubishi’s local SUV line-up, while giving the importer a serious rival to sportier compact crossovers such as the Toyota CH-R and Nissan Qashqai.

The Eclipse Cross is striking from every angle and its shield-like front end, inspired by recent Mitsubishi concept cars, is sure to win universal praise.

However, though, that split tailgate design round back won’t be to everyone’s liking.

You don’t get to choose between specification grades in South Africa - it’s full house or go home, but you are getting a great deal of spec for the price tag, which is R399995 for the 4x2 and R449995 for the AWD model.

Every Eclipse Cross comes with leather seats (heated up front and electrically adjustable for the driver) as well as Head Up Display, cruise control, a touchscreen infotainment system with reverse camera, automatic air-conditioning, rear air vents, front and rear park distance control, seven airbags and 18-inch alloy wheels.

You’re not really left wanting anything then, and the cabin is also quite a pleasant place to pass time in.

The dash has a racy design, with lots of swoopy lines, and the surface materials are of a good quality.

All round it’s quite functional too as the infotainment system is simple to operate and it’s easy to get comfy behind the wheel.

There’s lots of legroom for your passengers, even those at the back.

Boot space might be a problem if you’re planning to load numerous or bulky objects - not only is it smaller than what its rivals offer but it’s really shallow.

Two things are to blame here.

Firstly that 18-inch full-sized spare wheel takes up a great chunk of space and feels like overkill - surely a medium-width steel wheel would have done the trick without eating up half the boot?

Packaging is also to blame here - like the CH-R the Mitsubishi has a short rear overhang, so the boot sits above rather than behind the rear axle.

Its wheel-at-each-corner design is at least good for road holding and the Eclipse Cross certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

It is even better in all-wheel-drive guise where you get Mitsubishi’s Super All-Wheel Control system with Auto, Snow and Gravel modes.

The relatively low ground clearance of 180mm also aids its cause here and thankfully Mitsubishi has spent some time perfecting the steering, giving it a solid, communicative feel.

For a crossover, the Eclipse is actually really fun to steer, to the point where you realise that this vehicle deserves a better engine.

You’ll soon start to envy overseas customers, who get the option of a 1.5-litre turbopetrol engine. Local models get a 2-litre normally aspirated petrol motor, which ASX owners will be quite familiar with. With 110kW and 198Nm on tap, it feels quite sluggish at altitude and at times you’ll find yourself foot flat listening to a noisily labouring engine and not really feeling any sensation of speed.

The 2WD and AWD models are both fitted with a CVT gearbox, but before you cringe at that thought, we must add that as far as continuously variable ‘boxes go, this one’s really not bad.

With built in steps, it feels a lot more like a conventional autobox than you’d expect, and you can even flip between the steps yourself using the generously sized steering-mounted paddles, but you don’t really need to do that as this gearbox works just fine when left to its own devices.

VERDICT

Solid, agile, distinctive, feature-loaded and well priced, there is a lot to like about the Eclipse Cross, but just make sure you can live with the smaller than average boot and the less than gutsy performance. This vehicle is simply begging for a turbo engine. We’re sure Paul would have agreed.

Drive360