The Eclipse, available in coupe and convertible (Spyder) body styles, is Mitsubishi's front-wheel-drive sports car. The curvy, haunchy design surprised all by appearing in dealerships looking almost exactly like the exotically styled concept car on which it's based.
Previously, the Eclipse came as the GS with a four-cylinder and the GT with a V-6. Among the changes for 2008 is the addition of an SE (Special Edition), a limited-production coupe-only trim level that has the GT's firm suspension but comes with either the four- or the six-cylinder engine. It also has some distinguishing exterior and interior characteristics.
Another notable change for 2008 is the first-ever electronic stability system in an Eclipse, exclusively on the SE with the V-6 engine.
Design touches include a split grille flanked by large headlights. In profile, the Eclipse has an arched roofline and what Mitsubishi calls flexed surfaces. An integrated rear spoiler is standard, and the GT coupe has a large stainless-steel tailpipe. The new SE trim level adds a chin spoiler, trunklid spoiler and SE body graphics.
Aluminum-alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires, and GT coupes have 18-inch wheels as standard equipment. The optional GT Premium package gives these wheels a "sword silver" finish. Built on a 101.4-inch wheelbase, the Eclipse is 179.7 inches long overall.
Although the Spyder's resemblance to the coupe is apparent, particularly in the beltline and the rear end, its retractable top gives the Spyder an identity separate from the teardrop-shaped coupe. The cloth top folds under a tonneau cover that keeps the Spyder's lines clean.
New paint colors for 2008 are called Optimist Green, Rave Red and Northstar White.
The four-seat cabin has high-back front sport seats with integrated head restraints. The eight-way manually adjustable driver's seat incorporates adjustable lumbar support. The driver faces a four-spoke steering wheel and a soft-touch instrument panel. Motorcycle-inspired gauges are backlit in blue. The SE trim level includes dark charcoal leather and a terra cotta color pallet, and it adds logo floor mats and aluminum scuff plates. The plates can be added to the Eclipse GT by optioning the Premium package.
In the Spyder, as in any convertible, the backseat has to sacrifice to make room for the top and its machinery. It's tiny back there; don't expect to be able to carry four full-size adults in this car.
Elsewhere, though, the interior is largely the same as in the coupe, including the deep cutouts in the doors that give front-seat riders extra elbowroom. The biggest difference up here is that the Spyder's 650-watt stereo system automatically adjusts the volume when the top is lowered.
The coupe's cargo volume totals 15.7 cubic feet, and the 50/50-split rear seatback folds down for more capacity. The convertible's trunk is just 5.2 cubic feet.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning; remote keyless entry; cruise control; power windows, locks and side mirrors; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; and a 140-watt six-speaker CD stereo that plays MP3 files on CD-ROM discs. The car doesn't have an auxiliary input for connecting a portable player like an iPod.
A Premium Sport Package for the GT coupe adds heated leather front seating surfaces, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, aluminum pedals and a Rockford Fosgate audio system.
The GS coupe is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 162 horsepower and 162 pounds-feet of torque; it teams with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The GT's 3.8-liter V-6 develops 263 hp and 260 pounds-feet of torque and can work with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic. The new SE trim level comes with the four- or six-cylinder. The SE V6 is the first Eclipse ever to include an electronic stability system.
The automatic transmission incorporates Sportronic, which permits manually selectable gear changes. The Spyder has the same mechanicals as the Eclipse coupe.
MacPherson struts are used in the front suspension, while a multilink configuration goes in the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard, with a stiffer rear one in the GT. The GT also has larger ventilated rear disc brakes and traction control.
The coupe's six standard airbags include the required frontal-impact airbags and seat-mounted side-impact devices to protect front occupants. Oddly, there are side curtain airbags, but they only protect front, not backseat, occupants. Typical of convertibles, the Spyder does without the curtains altogether; they're mounted in the coupe's door frame, which goes away when a soft-top is added.
Antilock brakes are standard in both the coupe and Spyder, and a tire pressure monitoring system is now standard. As noted above, the Eclipse's first electronic stability system comes on the V-6-equipped Eclipse SE.
If the look is what turns you on, you might be happy with the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Most will prefer the Eclipse GT's 3.8-liter V-6 we tested. The V-6 has a very broad torque curve — plenty of grunt from low engine speeds all the way up the tach. Despite its considerable weight — a far-reaching drawback — this is a lot of engine for the Eclipse. The ever-ready torque gives you much range to work with, all the way up to the 6,500-rpm redline. The Eclipse GT can get to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. The shifter and clutch pedal have a sports-car feel. The stick isn't particularly precise, like that in the Nissan 350Z, but it feels substantial.
There's some torque steer in straight-line acceleration, but not nearly as much as expected. The ABS-based traction control did its job without bucking the steering wheel left and right. Once you get aggressive, though, the car's dynamics start to spoil the fun. The Eclipse is front-heavy and understeer is prevalent, even when off the throttle.
The driver's seat has a height adjustment — manual is standard, and power is available. Visibility to the rear is typical of a coupe; the car and its belt line are low enough that passenger cars are visible. The backseat is of limited usability. Children should be OK back there, but it depends: The front seats move back far enough to practically eliminate backseat legroom. There are no cupholders or storage provisions back there. The cushions are contoured in such a way that you're unlikely to get a child-safety seat to secure properly.