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    Nice Experiences in Small Crossovers

    By Philip Ruth–

    Pleasant and functional: for many car buyers, those two adjectives are enough to close the sale on their new steeds.

    It sounds mundane, but that combo can be fleeting among smaller vehicles in which niggles like a raucous engine or a cheaply-finished interior can prompt prospects to keep on walking.

    The two budget-friendly rides examined here—Kia Soul and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross—are both free enough of brambles to recommend to those needing space while wanting an amenable overall experience. Neither has glaring flaws, and they both generally seem content in their work.

    That’s especially notable with the Eclipse Cross. Some quibble with the Eclipse name being pried off a legendary sporty coupe from the 1990s and placed on a mild compact crossover. But the fact that this storied name ended up here points to the popularity of these mini-SUVs, along with the evaporation of the coupe market.

    Name and market segment aside, the Eclipse Cross is big for Mitsubishi because it’s an offering from this brand that evinces a commitment to consistent quality—not just in the materials, but also in the way this CUV behaves.

    Previous generations of Mitsubishis typically have had at least one disqualifier. Whether it’s the Outlander Sport’s gravelly powertrain resonances, the Lancer’s dark and depressing interior or Mirage’s inescapable crudity, these errant elements negate their host’s comparatively lower prices. (That inconsistency appears to extend to the brand’s website—as I write this, the blurbs on the Eclipse Cross pages describe the Mirage.)

    But the Eclipse Cross is well-rounded, and that’s real progress. I ran it down the highway and all over the city and came away thinking, “Nice car.” Mine was the fourth-highest of five trim levels, the SE 1.5T S-AWC, and its $28,015 asking price included all-wheel drive, snazzy 18-inch wheels, a seven-inch center screen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. No sunroof, though—the $2,500 Touring Package includes that, along with Forward Collision Mitigation, which really should be standard across the Eclipse Cross line.

    The same is true of the 2020 Kia Soul I drove, which at $22,485 lacked the active safety features that have become essential in our time of distracted driving. You’d have to climb further up the Soul food chain for the option of blind-spot warnings and such, but there’s still no Soul with a complete suite of crash-mitigation items, like Toyota Safety Sense or Honda Sensing.

    The Soul, however, does offer the increasingly rare manual transmission. It’s restricted to the cheapskate LX trim, which nevertheless ships with Apple/Android, rear camera, and a seven-inch screen. That screen swells to an impressive ten inches in more expensive trims, and you would think that those dazzling dashboard visuals would make collision prevention a Kia priority, but it’s not there yet.

    The tested Soul mirrored the Eclipse Cross’s perky acceleration, and it felt more planted in curves, although adverse conditions might favor the Mitsu’s all-wheel traction. They’re both pleasant and functional, and that might be all you need to know.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant ( www.gaycarguy.com ). Check out his automotive staging service at www.carstaging.com .