This thing has such a bad case of stylistic testosterone poisoning, you’d expect it to have acne, but there were no blemishes on the lustrous silver exterior of the tester. The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder enters its second generation as a 2001 model, following its sibling, the coupe, which was redone for the 2000 model-year run. The Eclipse Spyder is positioned as an “affordable” alternative to $40,000-and-up class open-air machines, such as the Mercedes SLK-Class reviewed here recently. While it may fall short of THAT kind of delicious hedonism, it certainly does not feel like a poor man’s concession, at least in its more competent GT form.
More mature drivers may be put off by the adolescent lack of subtlety, but it may be just the ticket for the uninitiated, and it DOES have the goods to fairly well back up the visual boasting. The Eclipse convertible comes in two series, show and go, or, as the company styles them, GS and GT. Both the exciting turbo engine and the road-hugging all-wheel-drive mechanisms available in the last generation have been retired, more’s the pity.
The GS, which starts at $23,347, has the same 2.4-liter four-banger engine as the base coupe. It makes 147 hp and 158 foot-pounds of torque. While that’s certainly enough for cruising and the general sort of exhibitionism to which the breed is prone, it’s far from being up to the task of making good on the body’s bold claims. For that there’s the GT. The engine alone makes the $25,237 base price compelling vis–vis the GS, although there are many sweeteners in the deal. The GT has a 3-liter, 24-valve (single-overhead-cam) V-6, which churns out 200 horses and 205 foot-pounds. Now THAT is what it takes to get the job done in a car that weighs a bit over 3,200 pounds.
It showed little interest in plodding along at less than 1,500 rpm, came alive in a big way at 4,000, and ran to the 6,800 redline with such brio that I soon discovered ignition cutoff comes on hard at 7,000.
The standard transmission is a slick-shifting five-speed manual, though a four-speed Sportronic automatic is available. The test car had the manual, and after running through the gears a few times, I was glad of it – it’s nice enough to enhance rather than detract from the driving experience, and this peaky engine needs the extra cog. The clutch would be a good one for a learner – it’s a model of fluid grace.
Traction control, an option with the automatic transmission, is not available with the five-speed, nor did I find any pressing need for it, thanks to the car’s forward weight bias. Even with the convertible top motors at the rear, 63 percent of the car’s weight rests on its front, driving wheels.
Power is sent to the ground through massive 215/50 tires on 17-inch alloy wheels. (Even the GS has commendably meaty 205/55/16s). They’re V-rated, which means they’re good for speeds that will cost a lot of points (up to 149 mph) without bei ng quite so harsh as stiffer skins would be.
Goosing the engine up to a few grand and then dropping the clutch guarantees repairs down the road and, as I found, a good deal of squeal, smoke and torque-steer squirming. Easing out the clutch with modest throttle inputs allows brisk and not nearly so costly departures.
Though slightly larger than its predecessor, the Eclipse is still a subcompact, with but 75 cubic feet for passengers and a half-sized 7.2-c.f. trunk. It’s provided with four sets of seatbelts for those poor souls who are at that awkward age of having small children and the desire for a sports car. Those who need to haul grown-ups had best look elsewhere. The front compartment affords a nominal 13 inches more legroom than the rear and thus was able to accommodate my 6-1 frame. Headroom was surprisingly good, thanks to the low seating position, and ducking under the roof not nearly so painful as I had feared, given the low-slung 3-inch height of the .
Unfortunately, I was a few inches too tall to enjoy actually driving this machine topless. No matter how I scrunched down, I got an unwelcome scalp massage. With the top up, the Eclipse was noisier than some of the competition. Even though the roof is three-ply, considerable wind and road noise penetrated. Side sealing was excellent, however, neither rushing air nor torrential rain able to intrude. Raising and lowering the top was simple – two latches, one switch. Mitsubishi farms out the top work to the renowned American Sunroof Corp., just a few miles from the Normal, Ill., plant where Eclipses are assembled. Eclipse fails of being called domestic, however, because 32 percent of its components are from overseas, including the Japanese-made engine and transmission.
Ride quality was very good, albeit firm. The new platform has 65 percent more bending rigidity than before, and 9 percent more twisting resistance. This pays off in a tight, well-controlled feel, even over highly irregular surfaces. There was a minor rattle or two, and a leetle bit of cowl shake, but well within the tolerance for convertibles.
A GT has to have a spoiler, according to the Woodward Avenue Convention. Pity this one is so large, especially since the rear window is so small. Visibility overall is pathetic, and rather claustrophobic with the top in place. At least that aft window is glass, and has defroster wires implanted.
The stylists chose a gray outline font on a medium gray background for the instruments, which makes for terrible legibility in daylight. Well-placed, they’re fine at night.
The tester had the upgraded Infiniti stereo, which was average in FM sensitivity, above-average in tonality and powerful enough to produce tympanic effects on the cloth top.
The GT’s brakes are larger than the less-serious GS’s (10.9 inches front, 10.3 rear), and feature discs at the rear instead of the more plebeian ride’s drums. Pedal feel was good, progressive and easily tuned, and stopping distances were comforting.
Overall build quality was quite good, the top exemplary.
Neither the feds nor the insurance folks have run one into a wall yet, so no crash data are available. Neither is reliability information.
EPA mileage ratings on the GT with manual trans are 20 mpg city, 27 highway, and it does want premium fuel, despite the modest 9:1 compression ratio. I measured its thirst at 22.6 mpg, working the gears quite a bit on country roads.
Both GS and GT come with the expected array of goodies. The tester had a $2,370 “premium package.” This brings antilock brakes, the stereo upgrade, leather seating, power driver’s seat and side front air bags. Pity the safety features are inextricably intertwined with items I could pass on.
“The Gannett News Service”