Changes in the auto industry are happening frequently, and rapidly. In a week that saw GM, Tesla and Nissan advocate for continued (and increased) taxpayer-funded EV subsidies — because each automaker has reached their subsidy support limit — Toyota announced that it was cutting back both production and models of its now slow selling Prius. Down the street, however, Hyundai was busy rolling out its new Kona EV — an affordable crossover with 258 miles of electric range — with no complaints about subsidies or worries about consumer interest. The shifts in consumer wants and needs are readily on display — crossovers, pickup trucks and versions of each that have sensible electric vehicle technology.
Into this shifting marketplace, Mitsubishi rolls out the 19th version of its venerable Outlander platform, the new Eclipse Cross. Okay, it’s only the fourth Outlander variation, slotting in the lineup between the Outlander Sport, smallest, and Outlander, largest, with a coupe-like five-door that sacrifices rear cargo room for a shapely body. The reality: Outlander models are the vast majority of sales coming out of Mitsubishi showrooms right now, so why not borrow a hallowed name from their past and slap it on another crossover and keep momentum rolling.
There is no denying that this is a sound strategy. Model expansion is the core of many automakers’ strategies right now, as a flexible base platform reduces R&D cost plus tooling for different chassis and powertrains. Toyota does it, Subaru, Nissan, Chevy, Ford and virtually everyone else too.
The Eclipse Cross debuts a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has been programmed to work through an eight-speed shift process. There are even paddle shifters if you want to be engaged in gear selection. Base models come with front-wheel drive only, $23,295, while LE, SE and SEL trims each feature Mitsubishi’s all-wheel control AWD system. Engine output is 152 hp — right in the middle of a segment that includes the Subaru Crosstrek, Honda HR-V, Nissan Rogue Sport and the Jeep Compass — plus the turbo’s 184 pound/feet of peak torque gives the Eclipse Cross decent low-end thrust as well as reassuring passing power. The Eclipse Cross measures 173 inches long atop a 105-inch wheelbase and tips the scales at over 3,500 pounds — a few hundred pounds more than most rivals.
Fuel economy is EPA rated at 25/26 mpg with AWD; low for this class, and lower in realized fall driving — barely 24 mpg, which might reflect a willingness to use the turbo-motor’s power. Front-drive models earn EPA ratings of 26/29 mpg.
In SE trim, the Eclipse featured push-button ignition and access, heated leather seating, dual panel sunroofs with power shades, plus a heated steering wheel. There is a well-positioned touchscreen at the top of the center dash, accompanied by a touchpad on the console. While redundant steering wheel controls help with audio volume and station selections, the system cries out for some kind of tuning knobs to simply engagement — the kind of elegantly simple controls that are employed for the dual-zone climate system.
Drivers will embrace the information displayed on the heads-up display, a powered screen that rises from the top of the dash like Mazda uses — however, some shorter drivers may dislike how this screen sits in their field of view forward. All drivers will dislike the interrupted view out the rear, where the rakish hatch has two divided window panels, ala the Toyota Prius design. It wasn’t a great idea with the Prius, and doesn’t improve here. There are now full-time rear camera applications that would enhance rearward vision and make this a non-issue.
Riding on a complaint fully-independent suspension, the Eclipse Cross may lack the superior handling of the sporty Mitsubishi coupe for which it is named, yet it doesn’t lack appeal. There are a lot of pieces and features supplied; the deep crimson paint was beautifully applied, plus the sloped hatchback design lends visual separation in a segment where conventional reigns supreme. Rear seat space was ample, with very good access, plus the seatbacks fold easily, but buyers should know that large square-ish packages may not fit under the split-glass liftgate.
The Jeep Compass and Subaru Crosstrek dominate sales here, as the market is adding lots of small, stylish crossovers like the Eclipse Cross. Buyers have spoken with their wallets that this is the type of car that they intend to buy. Mitsubishi has revived its American business model with this Outlander series; don’t expect the plan to change.