For many years, Mitsubishi marketed the Eclipse sports coupe and Lancer Evo firecracker as the vanguard of its line, but times change. Enter the Eclipse Cross.
Time to get sensible. While Gen-X and Millennials still yearn for a sporty eye-turning ride, as did their elders, they insist on stretch-out room for four and safety over excitement.
So Mitsubishi crosses over into delivering precisely what focus groups report they want. "We're focusing on an SUV strategy, our strong emphasis into the future will be on SUVs," Tony Laframboise, Mitsubishi Canada president and CEO, told journalists before they took to Malibu's canyon roads to test the chops of the new vehicle, going on sale in March.
The compact Cross becomes Mitsubishi's third SUV offering – crossover may be the more correct categorization, but the term SUV was freely employed in the presentation – priced between the RVR ($22,998 as a front-drive base model) and the Outlander (base $28,998).
As for the car business? Yesterday's news. The Lancer may be Mitsubishi Canada's best-selling model, but it's being dropped, though inventory will remain into 2018, leaving the midget Mirage hatchback alone among the crossovers until Mitsubishi introduces new car models in 2020 and beyond, Laframboise says.
A 30 per cent increase in sales by 2020 is the target with new corporate parent Nissan in charge. This is a tall order for the RVR/Cross/Outlander lineup, which will also include a new plug-in hybrid version of the Outlander, also due in March.
The Cross presents its user-friendly case from the moment the driver's door is opened. While rubber/plastic shielding at the door's bottom wards off mud, the higher floor affords a more accessible entry, reminiscent of Saabs long past. It's the polar opposite of a sports car's requisite contortions.
Now try the back seat on for size. Your legs stretch out without contacting the high-mounted front seats; the rear seat slides back and forth, balancing cargo and passenger needs. The Eclipse Cross is taller than the compact crossovers Laframboise identifies as targets – the Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5 and Kia Sportage – with premium passenger space the payoff.
All commendable, but if any justification exists for the resurrection of the Eclipse name, it needs to be in the driving. On the same canyon roads where Ford showcased its latest Mustangs not all that long ago, the Cross never feels at risk of soaring into any of the multitude of abysses unshielded by guard rails.
The suspension inhibits lean. The steering follows input precisely. No, it's not a sports car, but the Cross is no softy either. The powertrain may be the least-sporty active ingredient: the turbocharged 1.5-litre engine's 152 horsepower and 185 lb-ft. of torque feels strongest within a narrow band of engine rpm, say from 2,000 to 4,000 rpm, and the continuously variable automatic transmission isn't keen on targeting that power band.
Laframboise expects the SE to pace sales of the all-wheel-drive lineup. At $29,998, that includes blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, much coveted by younger drivers. A heated steering wheel and rear seats, panoramic roof and head-up display are the province of the $35,998 GT. The Diamond Edition, $37,498 with five-coat red and clear applications, is limited to the first 150 buyers who pre-order online before February.
- Base price: $27,798
- Engine: 1.5-litre, turbocharged four
- Transmission/drive: CVT/all-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): N/A
- Alternatives: Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Qashqai
Mitsubishi hired Tsunehiro Kunimoto away from Nissan as its new design chief in 2014, long before Nissan took over its smaller rival. The big-butted Cross is the first evidence of Kunimoto's commitment to waking up the design department.
Exceptionally supportive seating for four (plus one) and ample head and leg room are competitive advantages. Too bad the heated rear seats and steering wheel appear only at the $35,998 price point. Focus group-think is probably responsible for the total disappearance of knobs, even for radio volume.
Mitsubishi's new turbo 1.5-litre engine pales in comparison with Honda's; they say it's tuned for fuel efficiency, not power, but Transport Canada ratings aren't yet available. It's a reasonably quiet engine and no weakling, but it still leaves room for improvement.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard in all models at the cost of sat-nav no longer being available. Blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert are added in SE; collision mitigation, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise in SE Tech.
Interior design favors passenger space over cargo capability, although the near-horizontal upper portion of the split rear window is said to create room for taller loads.
The Cross is user-friendly by any reckoning: comfortable, quiet and reasonably responsive to driver input. But exhilarating? It's no sports car.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject approval.