SANTA MONICA, Calif. • The smallest of the Japanese car companies, Mitsubishi Motors doesn’t often generate headlines with its product lineup of cars and crossovers that are, to be charitable, “mature.”
So, when a brand-new vehicle emerges from the company’s Okazaki plant, it tweaks the interest of the curious, especially when it’s the right product at the right time. Which, in this case, is a compact crossover competing against a very established list of competitors in one of the hottest automotive segments.
The name might be awkward, trading on the goodwill of what was once, a couple of decades ago, a very sporty car, but the Eclipse Cross is not the automotive equivalent of someone showing up to a gunfight with a Swiss Army knife. It’s a well-planned and executed effort, showcasing bold exterior styling, competitive features and an interesting powertrain setup.
Getting to the heart of the matter, the Eclipse Cross sees — like Honda’s CR-V — a 1.5-litre turbocharged (a first for Mitsubishi crossovers) four-cylinder (with direct injection) under its hood, mated to a continuously variable transmission. While Honda’s engine pushes out a solid 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque, the Mitsubishi engine is not quite as formidable — a middling 152 hp at 5,500 rpm, though a stronger 184 lb.-ft. at 3,500 rpm.
The morning was spent cruising the ever-inspiring Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu and just beyond before turning inland and upward, tackling the canyon roads connecting to the Mullholland Highway, which zigzags through the Santa Monica Mountains from Oxnard to Hollywood. The turbo four is a willing little unit, happier on the flatter stretches of the PCH, where it provided measured if not scintillating acceleration when required. It worked much harder on the canyon roads, still delivering the needed power, though with a much gruffer tone. The CVT held up its end of the bargain with smooth operation, and it also comes with paddle shifters and an eight-speed sport mode manual override for when the occasion calls for higher revs.
While straight-line performance was decidedly middle-of-the-road, the Eclipse Cross was well planted on the twistier sections of tarmac. Kudos to the Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC), Mitsubishi’s integrated vehicle dynamics control system, which incorporates a brake-activated Active Yaw Control system. (Tech-geek sidebar here: AYC manages the torque feed and brake force at individual rear wheels to help the Eclipse Cross behave as the driver intends, using information on steering angle, yaw rate, drive torque, brake force and wheel speed to determine driver operation and vehicle behaviour.) Furthermore, the addition of a three-point strut tower brace at the front and the use of structural bonding at the rear help increase body rigidity.
Style-wise, the Eclipse Cross takes its two-box crossover layout and gives it a sharp and athletic personality. Features include a wedge profile with a sloped roofline (Mitsubishi insists on calling the four-door SUV a coupe), short overhangs and well-defined belt and character lines. One of the vehicle’s most distinctive characteristics is its rear design, highlighted by the high-mounted rear lamps and by how they horizontally divide the rake rear window in two. When illuminated, the tubular LED brake lights and the central LED high-mount stop light form a single bar of light running across the tail.
Inside, the cabin is far more conventional, with a lot of hard plastic, silver metal frames and a black/silver monotone colour scheme. The dashboard is oriented horizontally and features a colour multi-information display atop the centre stack. The infotainment system, with a smartphone-link and seven-inch thin display, comes with Android Auto support and Apple CarPlay compatibility. There’s also a touchpad controller in the centre console, looking remarkably like the fiddly remote touch interface found in some Lexus models.
Other standard features across the model line-up includes heated and powered side-view mirrors, steering wheel audio/cruise/phone controls, rearview camera, automatic climate control, power windows and door locks and remote keyless entry.
There’s plenty of headroom and legroom up front for those on the plus side of six-foot and, once inside, a decent amount of room for back-seat occupants. However, taller passengers will have to duck when climbing into the rear seats, a compromise of the sloping roofline. (I smacked my head a couple of times on the doorframe before I smartened up!)
To maximize cargo space, the rear seat uses a 60/40 split with long slide-and-recline adjustment (actual cargo capacity numbers were not available.)
According to Mitsubishi Motors Canada, millennial and Gen X-age consumers who want a stylish, tech-laden vehicle — but not necessarily one associated with outdoorsy adventures — will constitute the majority of the Eclipse Cross’s buyers. And, to be fair, there’s enough to the new crossover to at least satisfy their curiosity. The biggest obstacle to its success in the marketplace, however, is the existence of more than a dozen very established players in the compact segment, led by the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Nissan Rogue. Frankly, it will be interesting to see if the ‘gun’ Mitsubishi Motors has brought to this fight is big enough.
The Eclipse Cross complements Mitsubishi’s SUV lineup, currently comprising the RVR, Outlander and Outlander PHEV (which shows up in showrooms this December). When it arrives at dealerships in March next year, the new crossover will be offered in ES, SE, SE Tech and GT trim levels. S-AWC is standard. Pricing starts at $27,798 for the base ES and tops out at $35,998 for the GT.