2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross First Drive

Mitsubishi Goes in Bold New Direction With Eclipse Cross

The 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross is not, as you might assume from the historic nameplate, a revived version of the sporty coupe and convertible Mitsubishi sold from 1990 to 2012. Instead, the Eclipse Cross is a subcompact crossover that slots between the marginally smaller — but far less expensive — Outlander Sport and three-row Outlander. The "Eclipse" moniker comes from its swoopy profile, meant to invoke the image of a two-door vehicle; the "Cross" portion is derived from the fact that, hey, it's a crossover.

It might seem strange that a relatively low-volume manufacturer such as Mitsubishi produces two cars that ostensibly compete in the subcompact crossover category, but the Eclipse Cross and Outlander Sport could not be more different. With a starting price of $21,360, the Outlander Sport is a bare-bones entry aimed at consumers who just want a drivable SUV for a reasonable monthly payment. The Eclipse Cross, like the Toyota C-HR and Nissan Juke before it, places a greater emphasis on style for a slightly higher price. The result is one of the best cars Mitsubishi has produced in recent memory, though it's not without its faults.

Distinct Styling and a Well-Executed Interior
One look is all it takes to know the Eclipse Cross represents a departure for Mitsubishi. Its sloping roofline and pronounced, upturned character line running from the middle of the front door to the taillights give it a sporty appearance. Out back is a huge window providing excellent rear visibility, split by a spoiler incorporating a full-length LED taillight bar. The rear pillar isn't unnecessarily wide, so there's a good view out the rear quarter windows, too.

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

Step inside and you'll find a cabin that looks similar to those of other Mitsubishis, but with decidedly nicer materials than most cars in the automaker's lineup. Our Touring Package-equipped SEL tester boasted a leather-wrapped steering wheel, black leather upholstery with orange stitching, and acres of glossy black plastic trim throughout. SEL-exclusive column-mounted paddles give the Eclipse Cross a sporty touch, and the faux-leather-lined door pockets look downright luxurious for a car at this price point. There are hard touch points, of course, on the dash and center console, but fewer than you'd think for a budget-oriented subcompact crossover. Unfortunately, the piano-black surfaces reflect sunlight to an annoying degree; take a test drive on a sunny day to make sure you can cope with the reflectivity.

A quick glance at the center console was enough to fill us with dread. Adjacent to the shifter is a touchpad used to control the central display screen. We've used this type of controller in newer Lexus products, and overall we think it's fairly difficult to use in those applications. Lexus' cluttered screens and the pad's vague responses to user inputs lead to seemingly endless frustration. Initial apprehensions aside, the touchpad is better suited to Mitsubishi's new technology interface than Lexus'. The system is tile-based, so you simply swipe left or right to the primary heading (Phone, Sirius XM, Bluetooth, etc.), click the pad and select from vertically oriented submenus. It's easy as cake, but if you prefer a good old touchscreen, the central display does that, too. And unlike Mazda interfaces, this one retains its touchscreen capabilities even when the car is moving. There's no onboard navigation, but the Eclipse Cross supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality for connected smartphones on most models.

The back seat has surprises, too. There's a reasonable amount of legroom, so a 6-foot passenger won't feel cramped sitting behind a similarly tall driver. Rear headroom might be an issue for taller occupants since the roof slopes sharply downward behind the driver and all the way to the rear window. Though the seatback offers a whopping nine reclining detents for passenger comfort, it doesn't help tall people get below the roof slope. With the exception of tall guests, most people will find there's plenty of room in the front and back seats.

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

There's even a decent amount of storage space in the back. These cars aren't known for their cavernous cargo areas, but the Eclipse Cross' is one of the largest in the class. With the rear seats in place, the hold measures 22.6 cubic feet on most models (22.1 cubes with the subwoofer added by the Touring package). Space increases to 48.9 cubes with the seats folded. That's significantly smaller than what you'll find in a standard compact crossover such as a Honda CR-V, but it's far more than what you get in the Toyota C-HR or Mazda CX-3.

Strong Engine Can't Make Up for Mediocre Handling and Ride
Behind the Eclipse Cross' Gillette-inspired grille lies a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). With the exception of the Outlander GT's and the Mirage's five-speed manual option, CVT automatics are used extensively throughout Mitsubishi's lineup; this is the first application that really plays to the transmission's strengths. Variable ratios keep the motor churning in the turbocharger's boost range, and because there's a decent amount of power available, you won't have to keep the pedal pressed very long to get up to speed. As such, the droning engine noise typically exhibited with CVT automatics is kept to a minimum.

The engine is hesitant to respond to pedal pressure, so you might have to push a little bit more to get the acceleration you want coming away from a stoplight. There's a manual mode (and, for the SEL, column-mounted shift paddles) for those who want to control engine revs through eight simulated ratios, but it's really not necessary unless you're on a twisty mountain road with lots of elevation change. As with most automatics and CVT automatics, the transmission tries to keep the engine in the most fuel-efficient operating range possible. On uphill sections, the Eclipse Cross frequently drops revs to save fuel, leading the driver to constantly mash and release the gas pedal. In this instance, it's better to shift to manual mode and keep the revs comfortably high.

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

If you live in the mountains, however, the Eclipse Cross might not be for you. It flops around tight switchbacks and heaves mightily when there's a dip in the pavement. Our drive through the Santa Monica Mountains (coincidentally, on the same roads that constitute our standardized test loop) revealed the chassis does not like to be pushed; slow, deliberate turns will make passengers the least queasy. The ride itself is similarly problematic, harsh over most surfaces, even on pavement that appears perfectly smooth. There's not much of a ruckus underhood unless you mash the accelerator, but tire noise is irritatingly loud at highway speeds.

Plenty of Features, for a Price
The base ES model starts at $24,235, including the $940 destination and handling charges. Its features include 16-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a roof spoiler, a rearview camera, automatic climate control, a height-adjustable driver seat, a 7-inch touchscreen, and a four-speaker sound system with HD radio and a USB port. Mitsubishi's Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) all-wheel-drive system is a $600 option. All other models are equipped with S-AWC as standard equipment. The LE model (which Mitsubishi projects will be the most popular version) rings in at $25,835. It builds on top of the ES, adding 18-inch wheels, the touchpad controller for the infotainment system, satellite radio, a second USB port, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Next up is the SE ($27,335), which bolsters the Eclipse Cross with automatic headlights and wipers, exterior styling enhancements, keyless entry and ignition, heated front seats, upgraded cloth upholstery, a six-speaker audio system, blind-spot monitoring and a two-year trial of Mitsubishi Connect services (which allow remote vehicle controls and a parental monitoring system, among other features).

The range-topping SEL ($28,835) is loaded with LED headlights, a power driver seat, leather upholstery and a 360-degree camera system. A Touring package is available for the SEL (bumping its price tag to $31,335), further adding a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system, and a suite of advanced driver aids — including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and automatic high-beam control.

The LE and SE models are priced right for a stylish subcompact crossover loaded with features. For comparison, a 2018 C-HR in the XLE Premium trim retails for $25,345. It approximates the SE's feature content, including a few more safety features but without Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or a sprightly engine. Consider the SEL, however, and you enter a price point that now includes superlative compact crossovers such as the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. Indeed, the all-wheel-drive CX-5 Grand Touring and CR-V EX-L match up with the Eclipse Cross in terms of price and features, and those cars offer far more passenger and cargo room — not to mention, they're more enjoyable to drive.

The Bottom Line
Mitsubishi has surpassed our expectations by making a small crossover that looks good, has a peppy engine, sports a surprisingly nice interior, and is loaded with safety and luxury features. It has its drawbacks, to be sure — the handling and ride are subpar, the back seat doesn't accommodate tall passengers, and the SEL's price tag might have you cross-shopping it against superior cars. Mitsubishi hasn't produced a car outside of its low-cost, low-quality mantra in recent years, but this new crossover might be the turning point for the relatively small Japanese manufacturer.