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First Drive: 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press

 

 

LOS ANGELES – Mitsubishi is about to put itself back on a lot of Americans’ shopping lists.

If you asked me 18 months ago, I’d have given long odds that would never happen. Mitsubishi was on the verge of dissolution, reeling from a scandal over lying about the fuel economy of cars it sold in its home market of Japan.

Then Carlos Ghosn…..stop me if you’ve heard this one before….. walked into the room, and everything changed.

For those of you who didn’t follow Mitsubishi’s travails, the Cliff’s Notes version:

  • The brand was popular in the U.S. a couple of decades back, then slipped into irrelevance. Most observers figured it would follow the likes of Isuzu and Suzuki and stop selling cars here.
  • Then Japanese authorities discovered Mitsu had been cheating on its fuel economy ratings. Executives resigned in disgrace. Its stock value cratered.
  • Ghosn, who built the mighty Renault Nissan alliance by acquiring troubled automakers for pennies on the dollar and returning them to health, swooped in and bought a controlling interest.
  • Ambitious new leadership saw Mitsubishi as the missing piece to make the alliance the world’s largest automaker, passing Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors. Through the first half of this year, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi was #1 with 5.27 million sales.
  • The newly relevant brand launches the Eclipse Cross, a major step in its plan to resume meaningful U.S. sales.

Voilá, as Ghosn might say from Alliance HQ in Paris.

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So here I am, driving the eye-catching compact SUV in the hills north of Los Angeles, convinced Mitsubishi matters for the first time in decades.

But is it any good?

You bet. The Eclipse Cross should attract droves of young buyers who may not even have known Mitsubishi built cars a year ago.

It competes with such compact SUVs as the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5, but is a bit smaller at 175.5 ins. long with a 106.4-in. wheelbase.

Prices start at $23,995 for a base, front-wheel-drive model. AWD raises the tab $600, and is standard on all models but the base. I tested a loaded SEL Touring with torque-vectoring AWD, a big double sun roof – front pane opens, rear is fixed – heated front and rear seats, leather upholstery, blind spot alert, adaptive cruise control and more. It will sticker at $30,995 when Eclipse sales begin in March.

 

The interior has plenty of space, with seating for five and 22.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. The rear seat has 8 inches of fore/aft travel for leg room.

Power comes from a brand new engine Mitsubishi has not used before: a 1.5L four-cylinder turbo with direct fuel injection, 152 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. A continuously variable transmission is standard.

The engine is small for a vehicle that weighs up to 3,516 pounds, but it was more than capable in an afternoon drive up and down twisting mountain roads inland from Malibu.

 

The drivetrain labored a bit on the highway, shifting automatically in spite of paddles that claim to let drivers control the CVT for maximum acceleration.

The Eclipse Cross was surprisingly quiet at highway speed and on rough mountain roads. The steering is precise and nicely weighted, and the suspension kept the car stable and level.

From behind the wheel, it felt more like driving a competent compact hatchback than a 67.3-in. tall SUV.

That combination of responsive handling and affordability with the looks and high seating position of a small SUV should attract young buyers.

 

The interior looks better than many entry-level compact SUVs. The materials aren’t fancy, but they look fine. The touch screen is large and clear, but it stands up from the dashboard for a look that’s less integrated than vehicles that incorporate the screen into the center stack with audio and climate control.

Mitsubishi doesn’t offer a navigation system on the assumption that owners will use the standard Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and get directions from their phones.

The center console has a small touch pad, a feature I’ve never found useful in moving vehicles.

A color head up display is projected onto a flip-up piece of glass above the instrument panel. I found it better than most HUDs that don’t project onto the windshield itself, but shorter drivers may find the additional screen disrupts their line of sight.

The Eclipse Cross’s appearance is attractive and sporty. The grille features a big, shiny version of Mitsubishi’s triple-diamond badge. The roof trails downward toward the rear for a sporty look with a fast hatchback and LED taillights.

The Eclipse Cross promises to be a formidable competitor for small SUVs looking to attract young buyers.

Contact Mark Phelan: mmphelan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan.

 

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross at a glance

Vehicle type: Compact SUV

Base price: $23,995

Price as tested: $30,995 for AWD Eclipse Cross SEL Touring

Key Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue Sport, Toyota RAV4

Engine tested: 1.5L turbo 4-cylinder

Power: 152 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic

EPA fuel economy rating: TBA

Wheelbase: 106.4 in.

Length: 175.50 in.

Width: 71.9 in.

Height: 67.3 in.

Curb weight: 3,516 lbs.

Assembly site: Japan

 

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