No, sorry, Mitsubishi is not on its deathbed. Far from it.
There are two reasons why. One, Fred Diaz is taking over as the head of its USA operations. As of April 1, the Texas-born-and-bred Truckmaster General will shift from Nissan's North American headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee to Mitsubishi's Cypress, California center.
Since witnessing Diaz at work, I have absolute confidence that he will spur on further growth in a brand that still has the hearts of enthusiasts and a small core of owners. Diaz will be in the mix of a program that Renault Mitsubishi Nissan has undertaken for 2022 to further streamline operations and product development that will include a lot of cross-cooperation for technology and engineering across all three members of the Alliance.
If it means a complete overhaul of the Mitsubishi lineup, so be it. I have a feeling Diaz will facilitate the next generation SUV and small car products for our market in quick order. Could we see an expanded lineup featuring larger, more capable SUVs, a pickup truck, and other sedans/hatchbacks? Not sure what the future will hold, but I have a feeling we'll see some exciting stuff coming from Diaz's USA team and their global counterparts running up to 2022 and beyond.
The second reason is the 2018 Eclipse Cross compact SUV. This is Mitsubishi's newest addition to the lineup worldwide. In the USA, it signifies its presence in a hot segment by being completely different in design, engineering, and overall product approach.
I had the chance to drive one briefly. I know you are all curious as to what I thought about it…
First, this will be a winner for Mitsubishi. There are many reasons that I come to this conclusion. Some are obvious. Why don't I talk you through all of this…
Looking at the exterior, you try to find what the rear end will remind you of. Don't. I already heard and thought of equivalents to the Pontiac Aztek, Volvo V90, and Toyota Prius. If we must focus on the coupe-like rear end with its split rear window, then we need to throw all reminders out the window. It is not different, but maybe better executed. Below the lower glass is a three-dimensional panel housing the license plate and badging. The rear bumper sets it all off. Yet, the main thing to look at is the lighting assembly that goes down the edge of the liftgate but splits off the two panes of rear glass with a light bar effect. This includes the middle brake light.
The profile does not warrant a piece of glass for the rear quarter pillar of the roofline. The rear blind spots may be questionable, but the rear glass area does make up for any shortcomings from the side area. Perhaps we should face the fact and kiss the rear quarter glass goodbye since they have become useless over time in smaller SUVs. On the flip side, the profile gives the Eclipse Cross a really cool look with its fastback roofline.
Step inside to what will be the best interior on any Mitsubishi in decades. This is a heck of a pronouncement but considers where Mitsubishi has gone since before it instituted Project America back some time ago. The quality is up, and the switchgear and readouts have improved. The trackpad on the console is much more intuitive than the one seen on several Lexus models. It has more functionality and finger control recognition than you think.
This is the first time we see Mitsubishi work with a tablet-like infotainment screen. From the touchpad, you can control this very intuitive screen, including smartphone connectivity functions. The content on the screen alone tops plenty of the Eclipse Cross' competitors. Rockford Fosgate provides a cleaner sound than other Mitsubishi models equipped with similar audio options. That was the biggest surprise of them all!
More so was the surprise from under the hood. The 158-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides nominal lag from the turbo and ample power across the rev band. It also helps to have a superb low end – rated at 184 pound-feet of torque. The continuously variable transmission works superbly with this engine and Super All-Wheel Control adds better traction in every condition and surface.
Where the Eclipse Cross will win you over is in the suspension. The ride is fine, but the cornering ability will excite you. It handles superbly by providing aggressive feedback through the turns and keeping an even keel in evasive maneuvers. The brakes are good with a solid pedal feel and stopping power. The steering is also sharper than the rest of the Mitsubishi family. In all, the Eclipse Cross offers a better driving experience in its class.
Pricing for the Eclipse Cross starts at $23,295. Our tester was the top-of-the-line SEL model, which is priced from $27,895. Our tester also had the Touring Package which adds another $2,500 to the sticker price.
A quick drive can yield so much. I am looking to get one in for the standard evaluation period to see if these initial impressions hold up. A lot is riding on the Eclipse Cross for Mitsubishi to help grow this brand again. You can hire a proven and successful leader to run the company, but you need the product to make his/her job easier. This is a hell of a good start!
However, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross represents marked and positive progress for a lineup that needs every bit of help it can get. This is the kind of vehicle Diaz needs to help foster Mitsubishi's continued upward trajectory towards turning the brand around in time for the 2022 Alliance project date.
For those of us who simply want a small, fun SUV and not worry about who's running the company or sales figures and their impacts – just pick up one at your local dealership. I think you will enjoy driving the Eclipse Cross more than any Mitsubishi in recent history.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by White Bear Mitsubishi, White Bear Lake, MN