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Auto review: Mitsubishi shows signs of life with 2018 Eclipse Cross

Back when I was learning how to drive and presidential scandals focused on interns with blue dresses, Mitsubishi sold sports coupes in the United States. My dad bought into the fastest growing car company of the ’90s with a 195-horsepower Mitsubishi Eclipse with a five-speed manual. It might have been an Eagle Talon. Same difference.

When the all-new 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross showed up in my driveway, there was what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Memories of a manual sports coupe clashed with a crossover with more safety aids than a preschool. A sign of the times, to be sure.

Aside from the budget-or-bust Mirage, Mitsubishi only sells crossovers in the United States now. The strategy has resulted in year-over-year sales growth since 2012. Other automakers are ditching cars for crossovers too. It’s hard to say the comparatively tiny Japanese brand is influencing the market, but the diamond star is currently the only automaker offering a vehicle at the convergence of two unstoppable trends in the plug-in hybrid midsize SUV Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

The Eclipse Cross is the most important vehicle for the brand’s survival and growth in the United States. It is a compact crossover competing with the Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and so many others in America’s bestselling segment.

The Eclipse Cross is not sporty like its namesake but is very well appointed at a very good price. The tester came with all-wheel drive, power folding side mirrors, adaptive cruise control, Apple CarPlay and all the latest modern touches for just over $31,000 in top SEL trim. That’s at least a few thousand less than the competition. Undercutting the competition is a strategy that has worked well with the Outlander too.

It has the edgy angularity of the latest crop of Japanese crossovers, with a sloping rear and rising beltline that gives it a pinched end. There’s an integrated roof spoiler, but then things get odd; to improve rear visibility, or to stand out in a cookie-cutter class, there is another spoilerlike bar that splits the rear windshield, not unlike the Toyota Prius.

From the inside, the split rear glass is annoying in the rear-view mirror. Because the rear roofline is so tapered I’m not sure how else Mitsubishi could have increased visibility. It’s cramped to look out, but not cramped to sit in for rear seat passengers or for cargo. This class is all about compromise.

The soft-touch black surfaces contrast nicely with the chromelike trim pieces for an upscale feel. The center console houses a touch pad to control the 7-inch display screen. Touch pads have proven sensitive to use while driving, but the larger display on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto simplifies the process. The steering wheel controls are basic, which is good, but then there’s another button behind the steering wheel to scroll through the vehicle info display, which is mildly inconvenient.

The 152-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine is new. It’s not powerful, but it delivers enough burst to make passing moves with confidence. Power is transmitted to all wheels via a continuously variable transmission that has paddle shifters, which was another source of dissonance for my psychologist. You can make it feel like you’re shifting gears, but the system will override you pretty regularly.

The ride is on the louder side on the highway, but minor complaints aside, the Eclipse Cross is crucial for the brand and a good option for value-oriented consumers. The powertrain and ride quality is not as refined as the Honda CR-V, but it would be hard to notice if you haven’t had a new car in some time. The price and the timing are right.

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL

Vehicle type: Compact crossover

Base price: $27,895 (SEL trim)

As tested: $31,315 (excluding $995 destination)

MPG: 25 city, 26 highway

Engine: 152-horsepower 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder

Transmission: CVT with “eight-step sport mode”

Bottom line: Budget price with top-level feel

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