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2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Small CUV Road Test By Martha Hindes


By Martha Hindes
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

Just when everyone probably is thinking not another small CUV! maybe Mitsubishi, with its new 2018 Eclipse Cross, has a better idea.

Consider this. You're the smaller guy in town and you don't want to disappear into the din of the auto industry galloping into the blazing crossover market as buyers continue to abandon autos at breakneck speed. So you need to think of something different. Such as what can be left out.

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The size – a five seater, midway between Mitsubishi's larger Outlander and smaller Outlander Sport SUVs – should be just right for your anticipated market that includes younger millennials. The starting price, a slice under $24K, should be right, inching below similar sized crossovers from competitors.

Mitsubishi could have added layer upon layer of costly, turgid multimedia technology – almost every advanced system in use today has been added to at least a half dozen competitive vehicles. But it didn't. Mitsubishi had younger, trend-setters among its target audience in mind when scoping out what makes sense to include.

After all, many potential buyers are likely to be those millennials of driving age, but not a lot older, who have decided they actually like driving.. They've landed good paying jobs following college, although they're still paying off a chunk of student loan. So price is a major consideration. And it goes without saying they undoubtedly will be tethered to some smart device – likely the phone variety.

If that doesn't set off a “ka-ching” moment, maybe nothing will.

We discovered what we feel is Mitsubishi “think” during a driving event in December shortly after press days at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

We set out on a balmy day that, at the time, coincided with some wildfire inferno blazes just starting to crop up threatening prime areas of LA, and that possibly could overlap with the road course staked out as a driving route meant to give us wheel time under different driving conditions.

As always with these programs, my driving partner and I were provided with a booklet and map outlining the day's travel plan, marking off course turns, expected odometer numbers at key intersections, express road entrance and exit ramps and an exhilarating driving course. Leaving our Santa Monica starting point and heading north westerly toward Malibu, it carved its way through mountain passes and canyons guaranteed to separate out anyone tentative behind the wheel.

While we hadn't thought of the Eclipse Cross as mountain-worthy at the start, although Mitsubishi assured us it was, we were determined to test its spunk. So, as the roads climbed with steepening grades, we headed around a day-long series of hairpin curves at speed bordered by rock walls on one side and 3,000 foot drops on the other as each tight turn brought a new dimension for the kind of handling that demands all of one's driving attention.

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An adjustable head up color display on the windshield of the top-line, SEL-trim level showed our 40 to 45 mph speed at key points and eliminated a need to look down at the speedometer in mid-turn. That also prevented a white knuckle ride for my co-driver. With Mitsubishi Super All-Wheel Control System (S-AWC) underfoot, we felt secure in the grip and control during tight curves as we lapped up miles of pavement without straining the new 1.5-liter aluminum block direct-injection turbo-engine. The 152-horsepower and 184-lb-ft. of torque seemed more than adequate.

The S-AWC and the MacPherson strut front suspension with stabilizer bar and multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar felt firm and controlled when we finally found enough straightaway to give it some tight, sharp test turns. So did disk brakes at all four corners during sudden stops. A fast U-turn to avoid a traffic problem proved a no brainer for the Cross that eased through the maneuver with an unexpectedly tight turning radius. We didn't need the Hill Start Assist on this trip.

The 8-speed CVT automatic transmission with manual paddle shifters had sport mode. But a handling question at day's end by almost every driver: “Will Mitsubihi add a sport mode option to the changeable eco and standard modes on a future edition?” was left unanswered, just hinted that it might.

Another unanswered question is fuel economy. Mitsubishi claims excellent fuel efficiency, but the Cross that goes on sale in March 2018 is still being tested for those numbers.

Our program version CUV's all had the dual-pane, power-sliding panoramic roof, a first for Mitsubishi. It let us breath air swept clean of wildfire ash that day by the same infamous Santa Ana winds that had turned minor fires in the area into ones threatening major devastation, although we never encountered any sign of flame.

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The instrument panel on the Eclipse Cross we were testing had all the requisite internet and bluetooth connections in a thin 7-inch smartphone link audio display controlled by touch that protruded neatly from the center of the dash. But not a hint of a navigation system.

We soon discovered why. One set of driving directions, perhaps done deliberately, indicated a wrong turn which we followed only to realize it was taking us away from our destination. With no nav system to check, we turned to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto voice compatibility recognition for help and quickly were following accurate voice directions that easily completed the route.

Isn't that how a millennial raised on mobile technology would handle it – with a simple smartphone app? We doubt they'd ever bother with yesterday's costly, complex navigation system technology. That's a reality that is saving Mitsubishi a few thousand dollars per vehicle in the production cost of the Cross.

The company also just introduced a subscription-based connected vehicles program, MITSUBISHI CONNECT that launches on the Eclipse Cross.

That doesn't mean Mitsubishi has skimped on the feel good amenities or “must have” accessories for any driver. The top-line SEL Touring Package comes loaded with such treats as heated front and rear seats, and heated steering wheel. Rear seats have available recline and about an 8-inch track to move fore or aft for a passenger with long legs or to expand rear storage space. We tried it. It would work well on a long drive.

Amenities depend on the trim level from the base ES to LE, SE and SEL with its top-line Touring package. The S-AWC system that's standard on all other trims is a $600 add-on for the base ES that starts at $23,295. A new vehicle warranty includes 10-years/100,000 mile limited powertrain and five years, unlimited mileage roadside assistance.

Outside the Cross has a somewhat chiseled look with dominant styling cues that follow an overall wedge shaped design. A long, oblique belt line incorporating door handles slashes upward and back toward the extended rear spoiler that encases a series of high mounted LED tail lamp lights. The nose bears what Mitsubishi calls its Dynamic Shield look that signals an aggressive, yet sturdy nature.

Colors include a new, rich Red Diamond, named to capitalize on Mitsubishi's signature logo, that's expected to get high marks.

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While Mitsubishi doesn't suggest off-roading for the Eclipse Cross, it does include Snow and Gravel as well as Auto in its S-AWC modes. Expected safety features are there, including yaw control, blind spot, lane change and lane departure, cross traffic, forward collision mitigation and lane departure. Warnings show on the head up display if it's turned on. In addition to seven airbags, there's automatic high beam and a multi-view camera system for parking assistance.

Oh, and about that Eclipse name. If you were in the car market about a decade ago you might have considered an Eclipse Coupe with the styling punch of a sporty car. That faded from production. But Mitsubishi puts value on one of its most recognizable company product names of the past.

It didn't hurt that the Cross was being announced last August just as America had a total solar eclipse, one of its most stellar events in a century.

A video of the Eclipse Cross filmed during the few minutes of total eclipse got national television coverage. Not bad for the kid down the block making sure it gets noticed.

Copyright, 2017, Martha Hindes, Automotive Bureau, all rights reserved

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