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2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

BENGT HALVORSON

Mitsubishi has a plan to break out of its current austerity mode, during which the brand’s occasional sparks of edgy design and performance-oriented engineering have remained in a deep slumber. The 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross is the first fruit of that effort, and it’s intended to signal a course correction toward a more compelling lineup.

In the interest of survival, Mitsubishi decided a few years ago to pin its hopes on offering value while at the same time going all-in on utility vehicles. If non-SUVs (other than the Mirage) reappear in the lineup, they almost certainly will be in the form of rebadged Nissans, thanks to Mitsubishi’s new alliance with Renault-Nissan. Meanwhile, the new Eclipse Cross splits the size difference between the larger Outlander and the smaller Outlander Sport and aims to be more athletic than either, in looks at least. Its design is driven by the same extroverted ethos as the Toyota C-HR and the Mazda CX-3, although this Mitsubishi is a size larger and definitely roomier inside than those models.

Ready for Another Crossover Coupe?

Don’t let the splashy aesthetics or the fact that Mitsubishi is using the nameplate from its former coupe lead you too far astray, however. There’s no sports-car gravitas to the Eclipse Cross, which Mitsubishi says is focused on styling and technology. According to Nathan Berg, senior product manager for Mitsubishi Motors North America, the project was inspired by a desire to bring vehicles in the mold of the BMW X4 to the realm of mainstream crossovers. “[The] Eclipse Cross really appeals to a much different mind-set [than the two Outlander models], somebody who wants a vehicle that really looks good before anything else,” he explained.

The Eclipse Cross is a mashup of the front-end appearance of the brand’s other compact crossovers and an entirely different design at the rear—one that looks more athletic and rakish from some angles yet busier from others. Inside, the dash has a bisected, cockpit-style layout with a lot of brightwork.

The driver interface has two features of special note. Top trim levels include a head-up display that tucks away when it’s not being used, and the infotainment system in all but the base ES includes a 7.0-inch tabletlike display that sits atop the dash. The latter supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and will feel instantly intuitive to all but the most steadfast Luddites, although it lacks a simple volume knob. What won’t feel as straightforward is the touchpad used to control the system that’s set into the center console; it combines attributes of Lexus’s trackpad and Audi’s MMI system.

Tiny Turbo

Less exciting than the styling but perhaps more important is the new turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four under the hood. Part of a new engine family, it makes 152 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque from 2000 to 3500 rpm. (The Euro-spec Eclipse Cross we drove over the summer had nine more horsepower but the same torque figure.) It’s happy on a diet of regular unleaded, although EPA fuel-economy ratings are not yet available.

The engine is smooth and sounds pleasant, pulling without complaint from about 1500 rpm and really coming to life by 2500 rpm—although it’s pointless to rev it past 5000, where the power trails off (the engine redlines at 6000 rpm). Moving the shift lever over to the left into its manual gate gives the ability to lock in one of eight preset ratios, allowing you to keep the turbo on boil and deliver on forced induction’s promise as a substitution for a larger, naturally aspirated engine. But left to its own devices, the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) mutes the engine’s sharpness and torque rather than showcasing them. It’s less of a bummer in relaxed city cruising, so long as you don’t mind the accompanying slurred revs. An Eco mode button further softens accelerator inputs and amplifies the CVT’s unease in any attempt to keep up with speedier traffic. Freeway driving brings out a restlessness in the transmission, as it raises the revs far higher than necessary when gently adding speed and hunts around with its ratio choices on slight uphill grades.

Interestingly, Mitsubishi fits big, satisfying shift paddles worthy of a sports car on the Eclipse Cross’s steering column, where they should be. Yank the left one entering a tight hairpin turn and the revs rise lazily, yet there’s not much forward thrust when you get back on the accelerator. Mass may be part of the problem. Mitsubishi’s stated weight for a fully loaded Eclipse Cross SEL AWD—3516 pounds—is nearly 250 pounds heavier than the last Outlander Sport we tested, a 2.0 AWD model. So, we’re not expecting this model to lop much if anything from that vehicle’s 9.5-second zero-to-60-mph time.

Happily, the Eclipse Cross tracks exceptionally well and has precise steering. That’s perhaps an outgrowth of the work Mitsubishi has done to give this model more body stiffness and rigidity than it did for the Outlander Sport. But the compliant suspension and the limited grip from the 18-inch Bridgestone Ecopia low-rolling-resistance rubber (the tire for all but base ES models, which get 16-inch Falkens) combine to make this crossover feel less than spry when chucked hard into corners.

All versions of the Eclipse Cross, save for the base ES, come standard with an all-wheel-drive system that Mitsubishi calls Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC). As in the Outlander and Outlander Sport, this system uses an electronically controlled viscous center differential to modulate the flow of torque between the front and rear axles. The Eclipse Cross has open differentials front and rear like the Outlander Sport, but it adds more sophisticated software that uses the brakes to control torque flow between the left and right wheels. The Outlander, however, has a more nuanced system that also finesses torque delivery between the front wheels without requiring the brakes, instead using a second clutch pack. The all-wheel-drive and stability-control systems in the Eclipse Cross also have Gravel and Snow modes, and ground clearance on AWD models is a generous 8.5 inches, but off-roading isn’t intended to be a core competency.

Face Value

The Eclipse Cross doesn’t miss a beat in terms of seating space and cargo-carrying practicality. The 60/40 split-folding rear seat slides fore and aft through nearly eight inches of travel to apportion space between rear legroom and luggage capacity, and the rake of the rear seatback is adjustable. There’s enough headroom for adults in back, but it can be rather cramped for three occupants. We’ll nitpick that the cargo floor is quite high, the rear seatbacks don’t quite fold flat, and a cover for the cargo area is a dealer accessory.

As much as Mitsubishi would like the Eclipse Cross to mark a turning point in the brand’s development, one of its chief selling propositions is value for money. All but the base ES trim level include all-wheel drive; that model starts at $24,290, with all-wheel drive a $600 option. The LE model ($25,890) gets appearance upgrades and the touchpad and tabletlike infotainment system; the SE ($27,390) adds niceties like heated front seats; and SEL models ($28,890) come with leather and the head-up display. We drove a top-level SEL equipped with the Touring package, which stickers for $31,390 and piles on adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a premium sound system, and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof.

The brand’s 10-year warranty on powertrain components remains another value selling point. And a new set of telematics services called Mitsubishi Connect will be making its debut in the Eclipse Cross, offering an all-you-can-eat buffet of connectivity including remote climate-control preconditioning, a car finder, parental controls, automatic collision notification, and emergency assistance. Besides being app-based, it can be paired with Amazon Alexa devices and the Google Assistant. The first two years are free; after that it’s $99 annually.

We’re glad to see signs of life at Mitsubishi, and the Eclipse Cross is undoubtedly a better market proposition—if not as exciting—than would be an Eclipse coupe. Although this crossover is a decent step on the path back to relevance, we hope the brand’s plan includes models that have more of the ingenuity and driving pleasure for which Mitsubishi was once known.

Specifications >

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback

BASE PRICES: ES, $24,290;
ES AWD, $24,890;
LE AWD, $25,890;
SE AWD, $27,390;
SEL AWD, $28,890

ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 91 cu in, 1499 cc
Power: 152 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm

TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic with manual shifting mode

DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase: 105.1 in
Length: 173.4 in
Width: 71.1 in Height: 66.3–66.5 in
Passenger volume: 94–95 cu ft
Cargo volume: 23 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 3550 lb

PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 9.0 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 28.0 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 17.1 sec
Top speed: 120 mph

EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
Combined/city/highway: 28–29/26–27/31 mpg