The Mitsubishi 3000GT Spyder VR4 comes with a potent 3-liter, 24-valve, twin turbocharged V-6 engine that generates 320 horsepower-enough kick to propel you from 0 to 60 miles per hour this fast-and a large rearview mirror so you can watch your fellow motorists disappear in your wake.But that's not why you should amble down to the showroom to check one out. The Spyder VR4 comes with a smooth-shifting 5-speed manual that requires only minimal effort to coax the most power from each gear. If all five speeds were this effortless, more folks might be willing to learn how to use them. But that's not why you should check it out, either. The car comes with dual air bags and four-wheel anti-lock brakes plus all-wheel-drive and four-wheel power steering for instant and precise response to any directional input fed through the steering wheel to the 18-inch, speed-rated radial tires. With only light pressure applied to the steering wheel, you scoot in and out of the passing lane or, as we encountered, around the semi that suddenly brakes in the lane ahead. The car goes where you point without lingering. This is one of the more user-friendly cars on the road-enough power when you want or need it, but not flame thrower explosions off the line each time you press the pedal. And you don't need to work out at the gym daily to develop the muscle to work the clutch, as is all too common on sports coupes. The car has plenty of room, comfort, smoothness, quiet, along with ease of maneuvering, thanks to the all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, which provides the added benefit of making this a sports car that doesn't have to be garaged in the winter. But that isn't why you should plop onto the leather seat covers of the one in your dealer's showroom, either. The Mitsubishi 3000GT Spyder VR4 comes with a power-retractable metal hardtop that, at the push of a button, lifts/retracts/stores itself so you can enjoy open top motoring. Push the button again and it reverses the process-on its own. The only finger you lift is the one to press the button to initiate the Automatic movement. Someday, perhaps, there will be voice activation, as there is with phones, but flexing a single digit is a small price to pay for the enjoyment you receive. And, we repeat, lest you missed the significance, that's a metal hardtop that retracts like a vinyl or canvas top. The '59 Ford Skyliner was the last model to attempt the retractable hardtop feat. Mercedes-Benz goes the automatic up/down route, but with a softtop in its SL roadster models. A metal top that motors out of sight when you want the sun tickling your noggin and you want everyone around to clearly spot who it is tooling around in a $65,000 machine: That's the reason you need to visit the showroom. Mitsubishi brought a few Spyder VR4s to a Lake Bluff retreat last week for the local media. An outfit called ASC Corp. of Long Beach, Calif., takes the regular 3000GT hardtop and provides the hardware to make it into an open-when-you-want Spyder sports coupe. The up/down process takes 34 seconds and requires enough amperage that you must have the engine running or you might have to call the motor club for a battery jump. The Spyder retractable has been in the Midwest about a week. Mitsubishi planned to build 1,000 but has 1,800 orders and hopes to get ASC to churn out at least 200 more this year to reduce the number of unhappy non-customers. By the way, the ASC contract runs only through 1998, the year before the next generation 3000GT is slated to appear for 1999. Though the sports car market has been experiencing a slump, Mitsubishi insists that Mazda with its RX-7, Toyota with its Supra and Nissan with its 300ZX have been the slumpees, not Mitsubishi with its 3000GT, whose 1994 sales rose to15,200 units in 1994 from 13,000 in 1993. Howeve r, in the first six months of this year, thanks in large part to buyers riding the sidelines in the flap over U.S./Japan trade, sales are off by 2,000 units. Mitsubishi insists the 3000GT line is holding up rather well because it offers a variety of models, whereas the competition basically has one model at one price. The base GT is powered by a 3-liter, 222-h.p., V-6 and starts at $28,000; the SL with the same engine and leather interior starts at $35,000; the Spyder SL with the same engine and automatic transmission plus the retractable hardtop starts at $57,000; the VR4 with the same engine with twin turbos for 320 h.p., all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering, but not the retractable hardtop starts at $44,000; and the Spyder VR4 with the twin-turbo V-6 and a 6-speed manual only, all-wheel drive and steering and the retractable hardtop starts at $65,000. If you like the sporty 3000GT look but are willing to accept the tamer engine and more construction zone friendly automatic transmission, the Spyder SL is most pleasant. How can you not love a car that tips its own top? When you check out the Spyder VR4, note that cargo capacity is minimal. The rear seatbacks retract to provide more room. You'll need it. The cupholders are in the center console, and the ashtray is in easy reach and sight on top of the console. Mitsubishi should borrow a page from Chrysler and make the ashtray convert into a more visible cupholder. And 3000GT fans take note: Optional yellow is dropped for 1996 in favor of a dark green, and automatically adjusting suspension no longer will be available in 1996. Next spring, Mitsubishi will bring out another convertible, the Eclipse, built at its Downstate Normal plant. It will be unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show in February before going on sale in April. There's speculation Mitsubishi would like to add a retractable hardtop version of that car as well, but sources say conversion cost could dash hopes of that. >> 1995 Mitsubishi 3000GT Spyder VR4 Wheelbase: 97.2 inches Length: 179.7 inches Engine: 3-liter, 24-valve, 320-h.p., V-6 Transmission: 6-speed manual EPA mileage: 16 m.p.g. city/24 m.p.g. highway Base price: $65,000 Price as tested: $66,599. Add $699 for compact disc player and $900 for freight, the latter charge nearly double the normal $470 because the vehicle must be shipped from Japan to the U.S. port and from there to the conversion house to add the retractable top, then back to the port. Pluses: Nifty retractable hardtop to make it an all-weather, year-'round car. Plenty of punch, but without intimidating the driver. Smooth, quiet operation and a rigid body that minimizes road harshness. A sit-flat suspension system and four-wheel steering precision and nimbleness. Wide, comfortable s eats for long distance cruising without fatigue. Minuses: Take another look at base price. Rear seat only for appearance purposes. Yellow being dropped in favor of green for 1996. >>
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