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Mitsubishi catapults into crowded compact crossover market.

Mitsubishi Motors is on the move of late, committing to a new partnership generating improved worldwide economics of scale while retooling management personal in the U.S. market.

In the fall of 2016, fellow Japanese automaker Nissan and its strategic partner Renault of France purchased a 34-percent stake in Mitsubishi, forming the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance.

Since then, Mitsubishi has slowly grown its number of vehicle choices, jump-starting U.S. sales, which basically had nowhere to go but up. Veteran auto executive Fred Diaz, who logged time heading Fiat-Chrysler's upstart Ram truck division before heading over to Nissan, now holds the title of Mitsubishi's North American president and CEO.

Our tester this week, the wedge-shaped Eclipse Cross, debuted in the 2018 model year, joining the popular compact crossover craze and reintroducing an impactful nameplate from Mitsubishi's past (1989-2011). Also in the 2019 lineup: the mid-size five-passenger Outlander Sport and three-row Outlander, a plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) version of Outlander, and the high-mileage, three-cylinder Mirage wagon and Mirage G4 sedan.

For 2019, its second year on sale, Eclipse Cross changes are minimal, but include a roof rail accessory option available in all trims.

In 2015, Mitsubishi bid "sayonara" to its sole U.S. production facility located in downstate Normal, about 2 1/2 hours south of Chicago. The plant started production in 1988 and built several generations of the Eclipse coupe. The new occupant, Michigan-based upstart Rivian Automotive, plans to assemble all-electric pickup trucks and seven-passenger SUVs by 2020.

Mitsubishi offers one of the industry's longest powertrain warranties: 10 years or 100,000 miles for original purchasers. In addition, Mitsubishi includes a five-year/60,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty covering a majority of Mitsubishi supplied parts. Most automakers choose a three-year, 36,000-mile time horizon. The new vehicle limited warranty is transferable to a second owner who receives the remaining balance of the five-year/60,000-mile span.

Four returning trims from 2018's inaugural year include ES, LE, SE and top-notch SEL. Factory option packages remain at a minimum, easing the purchasing process. All trims come well equipped with more "stuff" standard the higher one travels up the trim ladder. One of the only factory bundles, a Touring Package available in SEL, includes a power sliding dual-pane sun roof, heated steering wheel and high-tech safety items (lane-departure warning, forward-collision mitigation).

Eclipse Cross visually stands apart within the crowed compact crossover class, most notably when the sun sets. A high-mounted, neon-like light bar extends across the horizontal heart of the hatchback window, creating upper and lower spheres. End points remain constantly illuminated while the center is darkish, glowing only when applying the brake pedal.

Powering all trims is a turbocharged, 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine generating a workable 152 horsepower. It teams with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT takes advantage of an infinite number of gear ratios (in place of five or six planetary forward gears) through belt-driven mechanics with reduced noise and smoother operation. A CVT favors pleasantry over performance and often perks up fuel mileage numbers. Not so for Eclipse Cross, as fuel mileage rates average at best with highway estimates failing to reach 30 miles per gallon, commonplace among segment top-sellers.

Eclipse Cross includes the latest iteration of "super all-wheel control" (S-AWC), a distinguishing element Mitsubishi introduced a dozen years ago. This technology expands traditional full-time all-wheel drive traction by automatically mixing together active factors such as stability control and anti-lock brake feedback to react optimally to changing road conditions. It's standard in all trims except for entry ES.

Three S-AWC settings are available via a push-button located near the floor-mounted transmission shifter, although utilizing the default "auto" setting suffices for a majority of driving situations. If necessary, gravel and snow selections remain on call. An electronic parking brake tab also resides nearly between front bucket seats, along with dual, in-line cup holders.

Our bronze-colored tester, a midlevel SE, included a starting price of $26,695. With $325 worth of dealer extras (carpeted floor mats, etc.) the bottom line reached $28,085 when factoring in a $995 factory-to-dealer destination charge. Starting price for an entry ES: $23,595.

The audio system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, two in-demand platforms allowing smooth transfer of Smartphone apps and stored info to a 7-inch center screen.

The instrument panel's logical design reads easily at a glance without high-tech overkill. Two circular analog gauges (left-side tachometer, right-side speedometer) flank a constant digital readout with animated vertical fuel gauge and range-to-empty display.

Standard electronic push-button start locates on the dash, but one's hand must maneuver around the turn signal stalk before ignition.

Ventilation controls include a series of well-marked, but rather diminutive push buttons and no dials. In fact, the audio system design is sans volume and station select dials as well. The 7-inch, flat-screen monitor rises up from the center dash. It's touch-sensitive, a welcome decision, but primarily interacts with a finger-sensitive touch pad controller nestled between the front buckets. It's not dissimilar to designs found in some upmarket manufacturers, most notably Lexus.

With second-row seat backs folded flat, 48.9 cubic feet of cargo space is available, relatively tight in comparison to rivals. Expect decent headroom parameters front and back. Eclipse Cross conveniently includes a temporary spare tire residing under the cargo floor.

* Dave Boe began reviewing automobiles for the Daily Herald in 1991. He's a founding member and past president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association.
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Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Jan 4, 2019
Words:907
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