Steep mountains await the new Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, an oddly appealing trucklet probably better suited to hills and big bumps.
Maybe it can get fitted with multiple pairs of La Sportiva rock-busting shoes or something.
As Mitsubishi’s latest crossover, the compact Eclipse enters a wild and noisy segment with more battles than a Kardashian family party – minus the weird photos.
So the scrappy Eclipse will likely lug a large load of hope when it begins its climb into territory owned by fierce pint-sized warriors such as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue.
They may not even notice the new kid initially.
Mitsubishi, as you may recall, strutted through the auto industry with glossy sales swagger in the ‘80s and early ‘90s before falling hard from grace.
Now, the automaker plans to hitch its revival to several crossovers and SUVs like the all-new Eclipse – a pretty obvious decision given sales trends today.
The dark-red 2018 Eclipse Cross SE I had recently should at least look pretty good trying to scale the summit.
Bigger than the Outlander Sport, but smaller than the regular Outlander, the Eclipse seeks to be the athletic spice in the Mitsubishi sandwich.
Like way too many Japanese vehicles these days, though, the Eclipse can look bold or busy depending on where you stand.
A rounded front with a big two-bar grille and large headlamps, for example, swept grandly around the base of the Eclipse’s hood.
Its slightly raised hood – pancaked in the center — maintained the aggressive vibe with lines on its edges that flowed into the front roof pillars.
Meanwhile, doors dominated the sides of the Eclipse, pushing its 225/55 tires and 18-inch multi-spoke wheels to the corners of the body.
All that sheet-metal got treated to some pretty heavy carving: Subtle lines above the front and rear fender-wells joined a deep indention beneath the door handles, as well as a swooping line down low that curved around the rear well.
It kind of reminded me of a shirt I once owned in the feverish ‘70s.
In back, Mitsu went a bit bonkers with the taillamps, first stretching them down the length of the Eclipse’s hatchback and then joining them with a light bar across the rear window.
In fact, I think the Eclipse might have more total taillamp area across its rump than the average fire truck. Still, the body is fairly attractive and will likely not go unnoticed on the street.
The Eclipse just needs some zip to match its visual zest – and I’m not sure its new turbocharged 1.5-liter motor is up to the task.
Though the 152-horsepower four-banger felt smooth and generated decent surges of low-end torque around town, it ran out of steam pretty quickly.
Moreover, the Eclipse’s weaknesses above 50 mph were accentuated by its rubbery continuously variable transmission (CVT), which moaned and brayed under acceleration.
While adequate – the Eclipse can certainly merge with traffic – it needs an estimated 9.5 seconds to lumber to 60 mph, according to Car and Driver, making it one of the slower vehicles in the compact crossover segment.
Weirdly, the little engine doesn’t even put up great fuel-economy numbers, either, with 25 miles per gallon in town and 26 on the highway – a reflection, I think, of how hard it works to keep the little Mitsu moving.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the dinky engine will be coupled at some point to a hybrid electric motor, a move that could help all involved.
However, the Eclipse’s solid, well-developed platform provided some compensation for the lack of power.
Even with all-wheel-drive, my Eclipse rolled pretty smoothly down sketchy city streets, absorbing most bumps with minimal bounce and good control.
Although the steering felt too light, it was reasonably quick. Likewise, the 3,500-pound Mitsu leaned some in corners, but kept its overall composure.
I also was fairly impressed with the light-gray interior in the Eclipse – which was a bit more upscale than I had expected from a $28,000 vehicle.
A deep black dashboard, for example, rolled pretty gracefully around an iPad-style display screen in the center of the dash, while bold faux-aluminum trim added some zing to a broad console.
Black-plastic door panels looked pretty average, but at least they sported light-gray centers and padded armrests.
In addition, the Mitsu’s gray cloth seats provided decent bolsters and wildly patterned centers that fit the trucket’s personality nicely.
If you’re one of those drivers, though, who frequently searches for radio channels – and I assume there are still a few such people left – the Eclipse may cause you to pop a vein.
Not only must the stereo be tuned through the display screen, but the volume is controlled with a touch-point on the right side of the screen – away from the driver.
Despite the large rear doors, leg- and head-room in back was fairly tight.
Incidentally, the only options on my SE model were the red paint ($595); a rear cargo-area cover ($190); and carpeted floormats ($135).
I figure Mitsubishi is about two-thirds of the way done with the new Eclipse, earning points for its reasonably good, fresh styling and its firm-footed platform.
Now if Mitsu will just go back to work on that weak 1.5-liter motor, maybe the Eclipse really can run uphill – and be more than just OK value.