I want a new Blazer. Yah, you heard me right. There’s just one problem. The Blazer I want is a 4×4-capable compact/mid-sizer capable of going toe-to-toe with Ford’s new Bronco and Jeep’s legendary Wrangler, not an all-wheel drive soft-roader designed primarily for hauling kids. Fortunately for Chevy, most buyers want the latter, resulting in the new Blazer crossover being very popular.
Granted, General Motors’ best-selling bowtie brand would’ve had a hit on its hands if they’d called it something else, like Malibu X. Ok, that last comment, while mostly true, was a jab right into the solar plexus of the just-noted blue-oval brand that once did something near identical with its mid-size Taurus nameplate, which just happened to share underpinnings with their renamed Freestyle crossover SUV. In all seriousness, though, I would’ve rather seen Chevy bring out a new Colorado-based SUV wearing the Blazer badge than anything riding on the back of GM’s mid-size platform (although the Blazer’s C1XX architecture is actually a somewhat modified crossover variant of the Malibu’s E2XX platform). Now, if GM has a change of heart, wanting to take advantage of rough and rugged 4×4 popularity, they won’t be able to use the classic Blazer nameplate. At least Jimmy is still available for GMC.
The General has made a lot of mistakes in the past and this latest misnomer may one day be perceived as a significant missed opportunity that simultaneously sullied a once-great name, but for now the majority of thirty- to forty-something parents buying this new five-seat Chevrolet will be happy it looks like a bulked-up Camaro (and wasn’t actually named Camaro… ahem, another knock on Ford that dubbed its two-row crossover SUV the Mustang Mach-E) and leave it at that.
The RS I spent a week with is the most Camaro-like trim of the lot, particularly in red. Like it or lose it, this SUV is an attention-getter. This said, no one should expect its rectangular dual exhaust to bark like a ZL1, let alone an LT1 with the upgraded V6. What’s more, the Blazer’s spin on Chevy’s 3.6-litre V6 doesn’t put out the Camaro’s 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque either, but in this fairly staid consumer-driven category its 308 horsepower and 270 ft-lb of torque is impressive. It manages a zero-to-100 km/h sprint of 6.5 seconds too, and while this is half-a-second off Ford’s Edge ST, at least the Chevy looks quicker.
The Blazer boasts an extra forward gear as well, counting in at nine compared to eight for Ford’s mid-size alternative, while both use all-wheel drive systems that are best kept on pavement, or light-duty gravel at worst.
Not all Blazers receive this upmarket V6, by the way, with lesser trims incorporating GM’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that also comes in the base Camaro. Can you see a pattern here? Like the V6, the base Blazer’s output is detuned from the sporty muscle car’s, making 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque instead of a respective 275 and 295, but that’s better than the U.S.-spec base model’s naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre engine that only manages 193 literal ponies and 188 lb-ft (ok, they’re not literal ponies, but they’re much smaller horses). As for the Edge, it’s base 2.0-litre turbo-four makes 250 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque in both markets, which is what we’d call competitive.
The Blazer’s nine-speed autobox mentioned a moment ago doesn’t include steering column-mounted paddle shifters, even in this sporty RS trim line, but Chevy does include a thumb-controlled rocker switch directly on the shift knob, which isn’t any more engaging than pushing a gear lever to and fro. At least the transmission is a soothingly smooth shifter, if not particularly quick about the job at hand. Yes, once again this Blazer RS is no Camaro crossover, in spirit at least, but it’s highly unlikely the majority of its buyers would drive it like it was stolen, so it’s probably a moot point.
More importantly, this SUV is easy on fuel. Chevy claims estimated mileage of 13.1 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 11.4 combined for this V6-powered version, achievable because its part-time all-wheel drive system pushes all of its power to the front wheels when extra traction isn’t required. When needed, simply rotate a console-mounted knob from x2” to “x4” and Bob’s your uncle. The same dial can be used to select sport mode as well, or for that matter a towing mode.
With the former mode chosen, the Blazer RS really moves off the line, almost completely fulfilling the promise made by its fast-when-standing-still styling. If only the nine-speed automatic’s response to shifts was quicker, the smooth and comforting transmission needing more than two seconds to set up the next shift. I suppose it’s more fun to row through the gears than the majority of CVTs, but only just. It kicks down well enough for passing procedures, and there’s plenty of power and torque afoot, so the engine makes up for the gearbox once engaged. Even better, the Blazer RS handles.
Yup, this SUV can snake through corners with ease, with some thanks to the sizeable 265/45R21 Continental CrossContact all-season tires attached to the ground below. I made a point of seeking out some favourite curving riverside two-laners and a relatively local mountainside switchback to be sure of its capabilities, and was rewarded with confidence-inspiring poise under pressure. Even when pushing harder than I probably should have, the Blazer never deviated from my chosen lane and hardly seemed to lean much at all. Even more important in this class, suspension compliancy was just right, always smooth and comfortable and never harsh.
Comfort’s where it’s at in this mid-size SUV segment, and to that end Chevy has done a good job finishing off the Blazer RS interior. Style-wise it’s no walnut-laden, camel-coloured leather luxury ute, but instead once again does its best impersonation of a tall, five-seat Camaro. Of course, I only mean that when it comes to interior design, as this Chevy RS is a lot more utile than any 2+2 muscle car, thanks to generous front and rear seat room for all sizes in all seating positions. It’s cargo area is accommodating too, complete with 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks to expand on its usefulness when needed.
As far as luxury accoutrements go, Chevy made sure to infuse the cabin with padded surfaces aplenty. Most composites and leathers were in a dark anthracite bordering on black, with red being the highlight colour, as if you couldn’t have guessed without looking inside. I say most composites because the design team chose to ring each dash-mounted air vent with a red bezel, the bright splash of colour at least not clashing with the red and blue heating and cooling arrows positioned nearby. There’s a tiny drop of red plastic on the gear shift lever too, providing a backdrop to the “RS” logo, and no shortage of red thread throughout the rest of the cabin, not to mention some red dye visible through the leather seats’ perforations. It all looks appropriately sporty, with fit, finish and materials quality that matches most others in the segment.
I will give a special nod to Chevy’s mostly digital primary gauge cluster and centre-mounted infotainment display, however, which are a touch above most rivals. The former, which includes an 8.0-inch multi-information display at centre, features stylish, tasteful graphics and plenty of bright colours, plus clear, high-resolution screen quality, and a solid collection of useful functions. Over to the right, the infotainment display is a touchscreen for easy use, especially when using smartphone/tablet-like tap, swipe and pinch finger gestures, and once again its graphically attractive and filled with functions, such as Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, accurate navigation, a good backup camera, etcetera.
The RS comes equipped with some other notable features too, such as a big panoramic glass sunroof up above, a heated steering wheel rim and heatable front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a hands-free powered liftgate, a sportier front grille, and 99.9-percent of its exterior chrome trim replaced by glossy black (the “RS” logo gets trimmed in metal brightwork for tradition’s sake).
After everything is said and done, Chevy’s Blazer RS will either make you race over to the brand’s website to deliberate over colours before checking out local dealer sites in order to see what’s in stock, or leave you questioning how the heartbeat of America could’ve missed such a great opportunity to bring back a real off-road capable SUV. Sure you can still step up to a full-size Tahoe or Suburban, both worthy 4x4s in their own rights, but something smaller to compete with the Broncos, Wranglers and even the Toyota 4Runners of the world would’ve been nice… and smart.
If you look at the 2018–2020 Hyundai Accent, you’ll be hard pressed to see any changes at all. The fifth-generation entry-level subcompact model arrived in sedan and hatchback form during calendar year 2017, and since then only had its trim levels changed from L, LE, GL and GLS to Essential, Preferred and Ultimate for the 2019 model year, and lost its four-door body style for 2020 (in Canada, the U.S. kept the sedan and dropped the hatchback).
Actually, there’s a lot more to the 2020 Accent than meets the eye, particularly a redesigned engine and all-new optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) for those wanting an automatic, replacing the 2019’s conventional six-speed auto. Another change is the elimination of the six-speed manual gearbox from top-line Ultimate trim, this version of the car only available with the CVT for 2020.
By the way, Hyundai isn’t the only automaker to kill off its subcompact sedan in Canada. Toyota dropped its Mazda-built Yaris Sedan for the 2020 model year too, while Nissan said so long to its Versa Note and won’t be offering the redesigned Versa sedan (that’s available south of the border) in our jurisdiction. Ford also discontinued its Fiesta four- and five-door variants after the 2019 model year, while Chevy dropped its Sonic the year before that, all of which leaves Kia and its Rio as the only choice for sedan buyers in the subcompact class.
The 2020 Accent’s new 1.6-litre Smartstream engine replaces a very dependable four-cylinder of the same displacement, with the new one optimized for fuel economy over performance. The 2020 mill has actually lost 12 horsepower and 6 lb-ft of torque for a rating of 120 horsepower and 113 lb-ft compared to 132 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque in the 2019 car I last tested. In a car so small and light, this should make a significant difference, but it’s possible Hyundai has worked magic in the car’s manual and new CVT transmissions, so I’ll have to test the new one to know for sure.
On the positive the new 2020 Accent is rated at 7.8 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.0 combined with its standard six-speed manual, or 7.3, 6.0 and 6.7 respectively with the more efficient CVT. The outgoing 2019 Accent’s claimed rating of 8.2 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.3 combined for both the manual and auto makes it easy to see Hyundai’s reason for change. In this class their choice of fuel economy over performance makes a lot of sense, being that most buyers are choosing Hyundai’s least expensive model in order to save money. After all, those who want a performance car can opt for the new Elantra N or one of the even sportier Veloster trims.
Then again, the 2019 Accent 5-Door Ultimate I tested is really fun when powering away from stoplights, and it has no difficulty passing long semi-trailers on a two-lane highway. The six-speed manual is a joy to flick through its notchy double-H pattern, the clutch take-up is near effortless to engage and well sorted, making it as good for those wanting to learn how to drive manual as it is for seasoned pros, while the Ultimate model’s four-wheel disc brakes are strong (the two lesser trims get rear drums), and the 17-inch alloys make a difference when pushing it hard through tight corners. I’m not going to pretend this is some sort of hot hatch, but the Accent can hold its own through a set of fast-paced S-turns, while it’s very good on the open highway thanks to a fairly long wheelbase. I had no problem cruising in this car for the better part of a day, whether running errands around town or out on the freeway. After a weeklong test I found it comfortable and more than just capable, it was downright fun to drive.
I know it’s more popular to opt for crossover SUVs than regular cars these days, but those looking to save a couple thousand might want to fall in love with something like this low-slung hatchback instead of its more rugged looking alternative. Yes, Hyundai’s new Venue is tempting at just over $17k, but you can get into an Accent for under $15k and you’ll be getting a larger, more accommodating car with better performance or fuel economy (depending on the year).
Put the two side-by-side and some will be forced to admit the sportier looking Accent has the edge on the Venue when it comes to styling too, but that will come down to personal taste, of course. The 2018 redesign did a lot to improve the Accent’s cool factor, thanks to big, bold grille and plenty of classy chrome elements to on this Ultimate model. The metal brightwork is most noticeable on the front fascia around the fog lights, also exclusive to this trim, while the side window mouldings and exterior door handles are chromed too. A set of LED headlights with LED signature accents also improve the look and functionality of this top-tier model, as does the set of LED turn signals infused into the side mirror caps, while its 17-inch multi-spoke alloys add class as well as some sporty character to the overall design.
As mentioned a moment ago, the 2020 Accent Essential can be had for a mere $14,949 (plus freight and fees), which a lot less expensive than last year’s base price of $17,349. As it was (and still is, being that 2019 models were available at the time of writing), the 2019 Accent came standard with a Comfort Package that’s now extra. The 2020 Essential with Comfort Package starts at $17,699, while the price for the Accent’s second-tier Preferred trim line has jumped up from $17,549 in 2019 to $17,899 in 2020, and the as-tested Ultimate has increased its entry price by $1,250, from $20,049 to $21,649, but remember that it now comes standard with the CVT. Willing to take a guess what the upgrade from six-speed manual to six-speed automatic is in a 2019 Accent? Yup, $1,250.
This is the largest Accent ever, by the way, which translates into a roomier, more accommodating car than most will expect in this class, particularly when it comes to interior width. The Accent’s seats provide a lot of adjustability, as long as you’re not hoping to adjust the driver’s lumbar support as there’s no way to do so, and while I would have like more pressure at my lower back, as well as deeper side bolsters, the Accent is a one-seat-fits-all compromise and therefore not capable of matching everyone’s body type perfectly. The rest of the seat’s adjustments were good, mind you, while the tilt and telescopic steering wheel’s reach was very good, enough so that my long-legged, short-torso body had no problem getting both comfortable and in control, which isn’t always the case in this class and some others.
The rear seating area is spacious and comfortable as well, although those that want a centre rear armrest will need to look elsewhere. The seatbacks fold 60/40, however, expanding the already sizeable cargo area when needing to haul longer items. When lowered, the seatbacks sit about four inches above the load floor, so it’s not flat, but I was glad Hyundai chose to maximize available space instead of making it all level. A small spare tire and some tools are stowed underneath, and a hard-shell cargo cover rests above, all expected in this class.
Less normal in this entry-level segment is the Accent Ultimate’s impressive cabin decor, not to mention its bevy of features. Access by proximity keyless entry ahead of starting the engine via button was a nice touch, while the interior is further spiced up with a two-tone red and black colour scheme. Hyundai doesn’t finish any cabin surfaces with soft-touch plastics, but all armrests are padded leatherette, and sharp looking seats are plenty soft of course, these finished with red leatherette bolsters, red stitching and some cool hexagonal embroidery on their cloth seatbacks. The red theme continues over to the door panel inserts, more red thread on the leatherette shifter boot, plus more on the inside rim of the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The steering wheel is really nice, incidentally, while its spokes come filled with extremely high-quality switchgear, the toggles on the left adjusting the audio system and surrounding buttons for audio mode control, voice activation, and phone use, while the ones on the right are for scrolling through the monochromatic multi-information display and the Accent’s cruise control system.
The instruments in front of the driver are simple and straight-forward, with bright backlit dials on either side of the just-mentioned multi-information display. More impressive is the bright, colourful and well-endowed 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen on the centre stack, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, regular audio functions, the latter including satellite radio, a large backup camera with moving guidelines, and more.
A single-zone automatic climate control system can be adjusted just below, which includes large dials for easy use while wearing winter gloves, while under that is a row of buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and even one for the heated steering wheel rim. Where the centre stack meets the lower console is a big tray for holding your smartphone, plus USB-A and auxiliary connections.
The top-line Accent Ultimate also includes a powered moonroof and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, by the way, while equipment pulled up from lesser trims include the tilt-and-telescopic steering column (the base model only gets a tilting wheel), cruise control, front seat heaters and the larger 7.0-inch centre touchscreen (instead of the 5.0-inch one on the base model) mentioned already, as well as automatic on/off headlights, six-speaker audio (an improvement over four speakers found in the base model), keyless access, and a USB-A charging port in the rear seating area from Preferred trim; the automatic transmission and Bluetooth noted before, plus power-adjustable and heatable side mirrors, air conditioning and powered windows from the Essential Comfort package; and finally variable intermittent front windshield wipers, a manually adjustable six-way driver’s seat, a manually adjustable four-way front passenger’s seat, and power door locks from the base Essential model.
There’s a lot to like about today’s Accent, especially when factoring in value. Add in a five-year, 100,000 km comprehensive warranty and it all starts making sense. If you’re not wholly sold on a new subcompact SUV like Hyundai’s Venue or Kona, I recommend you take a closer look at the Accent, and when you do, don’t forget to choose a 2019 model for performance or 2020 to save more on fuel.
There are certain market segments an automaker wants to do well in. Obviously, higher end models like large sedans, SUVs and sports cars present the opportunity for higher profits, and are therefore important to any brand’s bottom line, while larger compact and mid-size models are critical for volume, but if you’re not able to pull buyers into the fold early on, when they’re moving up from pre-owned to new, or from a mainstream volume brand to luxury, then it’s more difficult to sell those higher end models later on. Or at least that’s the theory.
One might say BMW group owns the subcompact luxury SUV category in Canada. After all, together with the segment’s most popular X1, which found 4,420 entry-level luxury buyers last year, this Mini Countryman that was good for 2,275 slightly less affluent up-and-comers, and the sportiest (and priciest) BMW X2 that earned 1,383 new customers of its own, its total of 8,078 units sales more than doubled what Audi or Mercedes-Benz could deliver in Canada last year.
While BMW would no doubt like to eventually pull Mini customers up into its namesake brand, and some now doubt do make the progression, it really exists on its own. What I mean is that Mini has a completely unique character that car enthusiasts aspire to, and not kept around merely as a gateway brand. If a Mini owner was fortunate enough to trade in their Countryman for a larger, pricier SUV, they might just as well choose a Range Rover Velar instead of an X3 or X5. Then again, it’s probably just as likely they’ll stick with their Mini, choosing instead to move up within the brand to a John Cooper Works trim level or maybe even this top-line Countryman S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid.
The Countryman was one of the first subcompact luxury SUVs on the market, arriving way back in 2010. Mini made major improvements for its 2017 redesign, so now this second-generation model has been with us for four years if we include the 2020 model. If you looked at a 2020 and this outgoing 2019 model you wouldn’t be able to notice many changes. Some wheel designs have been changed, a normal occurrence every now and then, with the big updates found under the skin, and then only impacting buyers wanting a manual transmission. Yes, it’s been axed for 2020, mostly because Mini’s U.S. division swapped it out for a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox in front-wheel drive models not available here, so it’s almost entirely the previously optional eight-speed automatic across the Countryman line in Canada, whether DIY enthusiasts like it or not.
Almost entirely? Yes, the very Countryman S E ALL4 hybrid on this page uses a six-speed Steptronic automatic driving the front wheels via a 136-horsepower 1.5-litre three-cylinder Twin Power Turbo engine. The ALL4 in the name designation denotes all-wheel drive, but unlike the other ALL4s in the Countryman lineup, this model’s rear wheels are solely powered by an 88-horsepower (65kW) synchronous e-motor via electricity stored in a 7.6 kWh Li-Ion battery.
Like with most all-wheel drive systems, power can be apportioned front or back, with the wheels in the rear employed fully in EV mode, or partially when the Countryman detects front slippage and needs more traction. That means it feels as if you’re driving a regular hybrid, with each axle using its motive power sources seamlessly as needed, all working together harmoniously via Mini’s drivetrain management system. The S E ALL4’s electric-only range is a mere 19 km after a complete charge, but who’s counting.
Not even 20 km? Ok, that is pretty minuscule, and many of my colleagues are reporting real world results of 12 and 13 km. Thank goodness Mini made another change to the Countryman line for 2020, a larger batter for a 30-percent gain in EV range for 29 km in total. While this will hardly cause BMW i3 fans to shift allegiances, the added range allows the Countryman S E ALL4 to be used as a regular commuter without the need to recharge until you get to work, as long as your daily commute falls within most peoples’ average. If you really want to go green you can stop along the way for more energy, and it won’t take too much time for the new 10-kWh battery to recharge.
It’s probably not a good idea to use EV mode all the way to work if you need to take the highway, unless it’s bumper to bumper all the way. While the Countryman S E ALL4 can achieve speeds of up to 125 km/h with just its e-motor, you’ll drain the battery in minutes if you try. Instead, you can use its hybrid mode on the highway (up to 220 km/h if you’re feeling frisky) and switch back to EV mode when traveling slower, which maximizes a given charge. The regenerative brakes help to charge up the battery when coming to stops or going downhill, doing their part to maximize zero emissions driving.
I made the point of recharging the battery whenever possible during my weeklong test. I’d grab a coffee at McDonalds and give it a quick charge outside, drop by the local mall and do likewise, and one time stayed a little longer at Ikea’s restaurant in order to fully top it up, plus of course I charged it overnight. Being that it takes quite a bit of effort to find somewhere in public to charge it that’s not being used, the novelty quickly wears off when the battery runs out of juice in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes. Still, its fuel economy is good even when not charging it up all the time, with an 8.4 L/100km rating in the city, 8.8 on the highway and 8.6 combined. Plugging it in more often can give you an equivalent rating of 3.6 L/100km combined city/highway, however, so it’s obviously worth going through the hassle.
At least as important for any Mini, the Countryman S E ALL4 is fun to drive. I can’t think of many hybrid SUVs that include a manual mode shifter, let alone a Sport mode (that actually does something), but all you need to do is slide the switch at the base of the gearbox to the left and this PHEV shoots away from a stoplight with plenty of energy, taking about seven seconds to reach 100 km/h thanks to a total of 221 net horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque (the electric motor puts out an immediate 122 lb-ft of twist by itself), and while it can’t quite achieve the 301-hp John Cooper Work’s Countryman’s ability to get off the line, the JCW managing just over 6 seconds to 100 km/h, this 1,791-kilo cute ute still feels quick enough.
The S E ALL4 is even more sporting around fast-paced curves, with the kind of high-speed handling expected from a Mini. It’s not as firmly sprung as a JCW, but then again it provides a more comfortable ride. Likewise, the Countryman S E ALL4 is a complete pleasure on the freeway, tracking well at high-speed and excellent at overcoming unexpected crosswinds, my test model’s meaty 225/50R18 all-season tires providing a sizeable contact patch with the tarmac below.
A fabulously comfortable driver’s seat made longer stints behind the wheel easy on the back, my test model’s boasting superb inherent support for the lower back and thighs, with the former benefiting from four-way lumbar support and the latter from a manually extendable lower cushion to cup under the knees (love that). It’s spacious too, both up front and in the rear, with the back seats roomy enough for big adults as long as the centre position stays unoccupied. A wide armrest folds down from middle, housing the expected twin cupholders, while two vents on the backside of the front console keep fresh air flowing. A 12-volt charger has me wondering when Mini plans to modernize with USB charging ports, while no rear seat heaters were included in this trim. At least there was a wonderfully large power panoramic glass sunroof up above, making the Countryman’s smallish dimensions feel bigger and more open.
I’ve read/heard a number of critics complain about the Countryman not offering enough cargo space, however, but this little Mini’s cargo compartment design has me sold. Of course it’s relatively small compared to a larger compact or mid-size luxury utility, which is par for the course when choosing a Mini, its dimensions measuring 487 litres behind the rear seatback and 1,342 litres when lowered, but it’s the folding centre section I appreciate most. This allows longer items like skis to be laid down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable window seats. The Countryman’s 40/20/40 rear seat split is the most convenient in the industry, while the seats’ folding mechanism feels very well made with everything clicking together solidly. The rear compartment is finished well too, with high quality carpets most everywhere. It all helps Mini make its argument for premium status.
Some buyers don’t consider Mini a premium brand, while those in the know place it alongside (or slightly below) BMW, at least when it comes to the Bavarian automaker’s entry-level models, like the X1. Of course, the X1 xDrive28i starts at a lofty $42,100 when compared to the $31,090 Countryman, but this fully loaded S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid, featuring upgrades like the previously noted sunroof, plus LED cornering headlights and fog lamps, a head-up display, navigation, real-time traffic info, superb Harman/Kardon audio, a wireless device charger, and more, will set you back more than $50k (the S E ALL4’s base price is $44,390), so Mini is in the same league. This pricing spread makes it clear that Mini sits well above most other mainstream volume branded subcompact SUVs, which range in price from $18,000 for the most basic to $35,000 for something fancier in full dress.
By the way, you can find out all about 2019 and 2020 Mini Countryman pricing right here on CarCostCanada, with details about trims, packages and individual options included, plus you can also access money saving manufacturer rebate info, the latest deals on financing, and best of all dealer invoice pricing that could help you save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate. CarCostCanada provides all this and more for every volume mainstream and luxury model available in Canada, so make sure to go there first before stepping into a dealership.
The base S E ALL4 is well equipped too, by the way, including 18-inch alloy wheels on run-flat tires, puddle lamps, a keyless toggle start/stop switch, a sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, well bolstered sport seats with leatherette upholstery, adaptive cruise control, park distance control, two-zone automatic climate control, a large high-definition centre touchscreen with excellent graphics, and more.
Additionally, all of the high-end features just mentioned are housed in an interior that’s finished to premium levels, or at least it’s premium for this compact luxury SUV category. This means it includes fabric-wrapped roof pillars and plenty of pliable composite surfaces, while the switchgear is nicely made too, not to mention brilliantly retrospective with respect to the chromed toggles on the centre stack and overhead console.
All in all, the Countryman S E ALL4 might be a fuel-efficient hybrid, but it’s also a Mini, which means it lives up to the performance expectations the British brand’s loyal followers want, while also providing a high level of style, luxury, features, roominess, and more. That it’s possible to drive emissions-free over short distances is a bonus, as is access to your city’s high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, plug-in parking spots closer to the entrance of shopping malls, stores, etcetera, and better than average fuel economy whether using EV mode or just its hybrid setup. It’s a bit pricey, but the Countryman S E ALL4 delivers a lot for the money asked.
What’s in a name? So much. I’m actually a tiny bit put off by Eclipse Cross, the name Mitsubishi is using for its new compact crossover SUV. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the two words chosen, unlike when Buick named one of their mid-size sedans after Canada’s national game that actually had another somewhat raunchy colloquial meaning in French, but it sends my mind back to a better (automotive) time when personal 2+2 sports coupes like the Japanese brand’s own Eclipse, Honda’s Prelude, Nissan’s 240SX, and Toyota’s Celica, amongst myriad others, were what many of us longed to cruise the strip in on Friday and Saturday nights before autocrossing on Sundays, but now all of these low-riding, two-door hardtops are gone, leaving us with a glut of two-box sport utilities.
A few of these car-based crossovers are slightly more unusual, however, making this mostly practical market sector more intriguing than it might otherwise be, with the edgy new Eclipse Cross top of this category’s list of orthodox heretics. It’s a particularly good choice for buyers not requiring all of the Outlander’s cargo capacity yet wanting more get-up-and-go than an RVR, plus its sporty SUV-coupe design pulls some of the premium pizazz down from luxury juggernauts like BMW and Mercedes-Benz that offer similarly sized variants in their X4 and GLC Coupe models respectively. I’m not trying to say this commoner’s shuttle somehow measures up to such lofty Europeans, but it’s got a strut all its own and therefore deserves a level of respect for going its own way in a compact SUV class that’s more often than not safer than safe.
Most brands that choose to get their funk on turn to the smallest subcompact SUV category to do so, where Mitsubishi pits its comparatively conservative RVR against more unusual entries such as the Kia Soul and Toyota C-HR (Nissan’s Juke, and before that the Cube, which was the oddest of them all, laid to rest a number of years ago, the latter replaced by the more mainstream Kicks), while, size aside, the Mazda CX-3 is closer to the Eclipse Cross as far as consumer acceptability and sporty driving dynamics go, but the larger Mitsu is the only SUV-coupe in its bigger compact segment.
The Eclipse Cross reaches 4,405 mm (173.4 in) from nose to tail, with a 2,670 mm (105.1 in) wheelbase, while it stretches 1,805 mm (71.1 in) wide and stands 1,685 mm (66.3 in) tall. This makes its wheelbase identical to the brand’s Outlander that in fact measures 290 mm (11.4 in) longer overall, while its width is a mere 5 mm (0.2 in) thinner and height 25 mm (1.0 in) lower to the ground. This means it’s about the same size as the Outlander other than length, which combined with its sloped rear roof section, makes for a much more exciting looking SUV.
As for styling, the Eclipse Cross wears Mitsubishi’s bold new “Dynamic Shield” design language rather well, better in my opinion than any other model in the lineup, other than the new 2020 RVR that takes this look to new heights. The drama continues around both sides where sculpted cutlines emerge about a third of the way through the front doors before slicing through the handles and meeting up with the lower edge of an even more enticing combination of LED tail lamps, these visually tied together by a narrow strip of lighting that separates two panes of back glass in similitude to Honda’s 2nd-generation (1988-1991) CRX or more recent (2011–2016) CR-Z, plus the Japanese brand’s defunct mid-size (2010–2015) Crosstour, although these three Hondas never included the Eclipse Cross’s light strip. Additional body sculpting along the rocker panels bends upward before rounding the rear fenders, these matching the Eclipse Cross’s muscular front fender design with a slight nod to the past (2004–2011) Endeavor mid-size crossover SUV, a long-term tester I had the pleasure of living with for more than a few months way back when.
Framed behind a sharp looking set of standard 18-inch alloy rims on 225/55 all-season rubber is a fully independent MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear setup incorporating stabilizer bars at each end, all of which combines for ample grip to keep its 1.5-litre turbo-four in control. The diminutive engine, good for 152 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, sends its output through an innovative continuously variable transmission (CVT) complete with eight forward gears, or should I say simulated gears, shiftable via two of the best magnesium column-mounted paddles in the business.
Why the best? Unlike most anything else in the entire industry, these longer than average paddle shifters are fixed to the steering column rather than the steering wheel, exactly like with the fabulous Evo X MR (RIP) and plenty of other Mitsubishi models, allowing accurate upshifts and downshifts even when the wheel is being turned.
This Eclipse Cross GT moved along well when pushed hard, feeling more energetic than its horsepower rating led on, without doubt due to its sizeable torque figure. Steering effort was firmer than most other compact SUVs I’ve driven, although light enough for easy daily use, while its ride quality was a bit more rigid, yet never uncomfortable. Its firm stance helped amid tight twisting curves, the Eclipse Cross feeling rock solid when getting aggressive, but this said I wouldn’t have thought it would be as good as it is when running errands around town or otherwise driving normally, as the powertrain responds like it’s in eco mode even when it’s not. Yes, you can still press the green “Eco Mode” button on the centre console if you want an even more relaxed experience, plus the fuel savings to go with it.
Unfortunately there’s no Sport mode, my right foot on the go-pedal the only way to extract all of the engine’s energy, and even with those aforementioned shift paddles the CVT isn’t the sportiest of transmissions (I’m being nice). It’s smooth, however, and therefore just what most buyers in this compact SUV class want, plus it’s very effective at moving this little utility down the road quickly while using as little gas as possible.
In the wet, much of the Eclipse Cross’s straight-line speed and cornering capability is directly due to its standard Super All-Wheel Control, those four words collectively designated to Mitsubishi’s all-wheel drive system, which is an advanced torque-vectoring AWD honed from decades of rally car racing. True, it’s difficult to accept that this “performance” SUV is now the sportiest model in Mitsubishi’s once very racy lineup that previously offered the superb Evo X noted earlier, an all-wheel drive super compact that easily out-handled the Subaru WRX STI of the era, but Mitsubishi’s focus has changed now, with practical SUVs front and centre, one of which is a plug-in electric that’s giving it a good green image if not much in the way of profits.
Rather than cry over the Evo’s demise, it’s probably best to praise Mitsubishi for the Eclipse Cross’s fuel-efficiency. It’s rated at 9.6 L/100km city, 8.9 highway and 8.3 combined, which is good when compared to the segment-sales-leading Toyota RAV4 that can only manage 10.5 city, 8.3 highway and 9.5 combined, although it’s not quite as stingy on gas as the Honda CR-V’s estimated rating of 8.7 city, 7.2 highway and 8.0 combined.
The previously noted turbocharged four-cylinder and CVT combination is identical no matter which of its three trim lines gets chosen (not including special editions), but like usual in this business Mitsubishi provided my Eclipse Cross tester in top-tier GT trim so I could experience all of its available goodies. This model hits the road for $35,998 plus freight and fees (check right here on CarCostCanada for all the pricing details, including dealer invoice pricing and rebate info that could save you thousands), and came well equipped with LED headlights, a head-up display unit, a multi-view rearview camera with active guidelines, an excellent 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Punch audio system featuring nine speakers including a 10-inch sub, a heated steering wheel, two-way heatable rear outboard seats, leather upholstery, a six-way power driver’s seat, a two-pane panoramic glass sunroof, plus more.
This top-line GT also boasts everything from the mid-range SE trim’s available Tech Package, including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation with pedestrian warning, lane departure warning, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated universal garage door remote, roof rails, and a stylish silver-painted lower door garnish.
Items grandfathered up to GT trim from the just-noted SE include those paddle shifters mentioned earlier, plus proximity keyless entry and pushbutton start/stop, an electric parking brake (the base model uses a classic handbrake), a leather-clad steering wheel rim and shift knob, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, two-zone auto HVAC (an upgrade from base trim’s single-zone automatic climate control), blind spot warning, etcetera for just $29,998, while items pulled up from $27,998 base ES trim include LED daytime running lights, fog lights, LED side mirror turn signals, LED tail lamps, a tilt and telescopic steering column, a colour multi-information display in the primary gauge package, the “ECO” mode mentioned a moment ago, micron-filtered auto climate control, two-way heatable front seats, plus more.
Eclipse Cross interior quality is good, including a dash completely made from a premium-like pliable composite that bends all the way down to the middle portion of the instrument panel, while nice soft synthetic front door uppers add to the luxury feel, along with even plusher door inserts just below, and a comfortable set of armrests with contrast stitching. Their orange contrasting thread matches with the seat bolster stitching nicely, while all added colour is applied tastefully (unlike some in the compact SUV category).
Mitsubishi has organized the primary instruments well, with an amply sized colour trip computer between its two conventional dials, while over on the centre stack its 7.0-inch centre display offers an upscale look. Tap, pinch and swipe finger prompts can be used in the usual smartphone/tablet-style touchscreen way, but that’s not all as Mitsubishi provides an impressive touchpad on the lower console for those who’d rather not reach all the way to the dash when entering commands. I’m impressed at this entry-level brand incorporating such a sophisticated infotainment system as standard equipment, its features and layout comparable to a number of premium SUVs on offer.
Within the bright, graphical interface is standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a big backup camera with active guidelines (my tester including an upgraded multi-view version), Bluetooth with audio streaming, satellite radio, two USB charging/connectivity ports, and more.
The Eclipse Cross’s driver’s seat is comfortable, thanks to good powered adjustability. I was able to set up an ideal driving position due to ample rake and reach via the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, but alas the seatback didn’t include any adjustable lumbar support. Still, its ergonomically shaped design provided good lower back comfort anyway, although as I’ve experienced during countless road trips, the ability to make periodic seat adjustments so as to ease acquired pain is important.
The steering wheel mentioned a moment ago is nicely designed with a reasonably thick leather rim, while the ability to heat it up was appreciated. The front seat heaters cooked up a storm too, but with just two temperature settings available I found my driver’s seat was either too hot or too cold, never just right.
The second row of seats offers up a lot of space and comfort, plus it includes a flip-down armrest in the middle that integrates the usual set of cupholders. The rear seat heaters on the backside of the front console are an easy reach, while my test model’s rear glass sunroof joined up with this SUV’s ample visibility out the rear windows for a really open and airy experience in back.
The Eclipse Cross doesn’t offer a powered tailgate, which wouldn’t matter to me personally, but something that would truly sway my vote would be more accommodating 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks than the 60/40 division provided, or at the very least a centre pass-through so I’d be able to load skis down the middle while my rear passengers enjoyed those previously mentioned seat warmers on our way back from the mountain, but for reasoning that can only come down to cost savings, only a couple of mainstream volume-branded rivals offer this premium-level convenience. Then again, it’s not like this new Mitsubishi breaks rank when it comes to cargo flexibility, yet the automaker may want to reconsider this because it could be a leader and therefore garner sales it hasn’t been able to thus far.
Continuing on this practical train of thought, even this segment’s sportiest SUV has to measure up when it comes to hauling gear, so it’s good the Eclipse Cross provides plenty of luggage capacity to go along with its sizeable passenger compartment. By the numbers, the Eclipse Cross offers 640 litres (22.6 cu ft) aft of the rear seats, and 1,385 litres (48.9 cu ft) behind the front seats when the rear seatbacks are lowered, making it 26 litres (0.9 cubic feet) more voluminous for cargo than the subcompact RVR when both model’s rear seats are in use, albeit 17 litres (0.6 cubic feet) less so when those seatbacks are dropped down. Hence, the compromise of a sporty SUV-coupe compared to a more conventional crossover SUV.
When comparing the Eclipse Cross to its bigger Outlander brother, which is closer in most external dimensions, it’s a full 328 litres (11.6 cubic feet) less accommodating behind its back row, and a whopping 407 litres (14.4 cubic feet) less so when both SUVs’ have their rear seatbacks lowered. Mitsubishi helpfully includes a removable cargo floor to expand on cargo space by unveiling a fairly large stowage compartment underneath.
On the negative, when I pulled those rear seatbacks up so they could be used again, I found their headrests almost impossible to yank up from their deep-set lowered positions. It really took all of my strength, and while I’m no Charles Atlas, the level of effort needed bordered on the outrageous. I’m sure the headrest mounts would free up in time, but this presupposes that an owner is capable of pulling them up in the first place. I recommend you find out if you can do so even before going on a test drive, and also that Mitsubishi dealers make sure their service departments check this as part of their pre-delivery inspection regimen.
Now that I’m griping, I experienced way too many annoying creaks and squeaks from the rear when underway. It’s possible this has something to do with the removable cargo floor noted earlier, but I doubt it. It’s more likely due to the fitment of the rear sunroof, or even more likely the rear seats, as some of the squeaking sounds seemed more like leather rubbing together. Therefore I’d really like to test the Eclipse Cross with its fabric seats, and find out just where all the noise is coming from.
On a more positive note, I liked having separate power sunshade controls for both front and rear sunroofs, as it allowed rear passengers more overhead light while front occupants were shaded, or vice versa.
Another thumbs up goes to the rear wiper that engages automatically when reversing if the windshield wipers are on, while the previously noted head-up display (HUD) was a helpful tool being that it provides key info directly in front of the driver where it can be seen easily without taking eyes off the road. Rather than projecting images directly on the windshield, which is the usual way an HUD works, Mitsubishi’s design is near identical to the HUD used by Mazda, in that a small transparent plastic reflector screen powers up atop the instrument hood, but the only problem with the Eclipse Cross version is that it’s somewhat distracting. It doesn’t really block the view ahead, but it kind of interrupts the mind’s eye. I did get used to it after a few days, to the point that it didn’t bother me at all, but I could understand if some others didn’t like it.
After pointing out the various Eclipse Cross positives and negatives that you may or may not agree with, I think we can all commend Mitsubishi for its industry-leading 5-year or 100,000-km basic (almost bumper-to-bumper) warranty and 10-year or 160,000-km powertrain coverage. No other manufacturer comes close to providing as much peace of mind, with the majority providing 2 years or 40,000 km less basic coverage, and 5 years or 60,000 km less powertrain warranty. This, and the fact that Mitsubishi is one of the more well respected automakers in global markets due to superb engineering and better than average dependability, makes its excellent warranty a top selling point that every consumer should factor in when purchasing a new vehicle.
Mitsubishi should also be commended for creating the Eclipse Cross’s compact SUV-coupe niche within its mainstream volume-branded class. True, the model’s year-to-date 2019 sales figure of 4,159 units (as of Sept 2019) leave it dead last in its segment, but when combining that number with Mitsubishi’s second-to-last Outlander sales of 8,568 units, its 12,727-unit overall brand impact on the compact SUV segment positions it above Subaru, GMC and Kia; an impressive accomplishment for one of Canada’s newest automotive brands (Mitsubishi Motor Sales was established here in 2002).
This, combined with the Outlander PHEV, the only plug-in hybrid in the volume-branded compact SUV segment, shows that innovation remains a key component to Mitsubishi’s continued market presence and future growth, and despite some of us lamenting the loss of performance-first models like that Evo mentioned earlier, or the Eclipse sports coupe this crossover SUV pays tribute to, we need to acknowledge Bob Dylan’s famous line, the times they are a changin, and appreciate that only those willing to adapt will survive when times get tough.