Versus the competiton:
The Mitsubishi Eclipse is a rare creature indeed: one that made the transformation from bold concept car to production vehicle without becoming dowdy, bland or in any other way regrettably lame. The feature that seemed least likely to survive was, and now is, its defining one: haunches. The car’s athletic appearance comes from rear fenders that recall a cat in a ready-to-pounce stance.
If the look is what turns you on, you might be happy with the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine of the Eclipse GS. Would-be pouncers will prefer the Eclipse GT’s 3.8-liter V-6, the version I tested.
@ 6,000 rpm
@ 5,750 rpm
@ 4,000 rpm
@ 4,500 rpm
|Fuel Economy, Manual*
|Fuel Economy, Automatic*
What the table doesn’t reflect is the character of the engines, both of which employ variable valve timing. This is what gives the V-6 a very broad torque curve — plenty of grunt from low engine speeds all the way up the tach. Despite its considerable 3,545-pound curb weight (as equipped) — a far-reaching drawback — this is a lot of engine for the Eclipse. It has an old-school iron block, but it’s a smooth operator nonetheless. What surprised me most is how much range the ever-ready torque gives you to work with, all the way up to the 6,500-rpm redline — even with the standard five-speed-manual transmission. With many close-ratio gearboxes, the redline seems to arrive so quickly, even if the car itself isn’t all that swift.
That’s not a problem here. 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’s substantial feeling. While I’m making the comparison, if the Z’s pedal softened up for 2005, the Eclipse’s went the other way in the 2006 generation. It’s less forgiving and wouldn’t flatter a novice.
I experienced some torque steer in straight-line acceleration, but not nearly as much as I expected from this drivetrain. There’s no limited-slip differential, but the ABS-based traction control did its job without bucking the steering wheel left and right. Overall, the steering is appropriately weighted with a nicely paired ratio and turn-in. Once you get aggressive, though, the car’s dynamics start to spoil the party.
Typical of front-wheel-drive cars, the Eclipse is front-heavy, with a front/rear weight distribution of 62/38 percent. Understeer is prevalent, on or off the throttle. The effect of the imbalance was tough to determine because the optional tires, rated P235/45R18 (tire codes), howled at the slightest provocation and never let me get near the limitations of the car itself. From the driver’s seat I theorized Mitsubishi had chosen cheapo tires, knowing that enthusiasts “upgrade” their wheels and tires these days whether they need to or not.
I dumped that theory when I saw the Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season words on the sidewall, and the associated eye-popping retail price of $255.95 apiece. Maybe it’s just a mismatch in this application — too much weight for the tire patches. Mitsubishi uses different tire brands and models of the same size, so if you have any experience with these or other types, email me and tell me how they worked for you.
The suspension comprises MacPherson struts in front and a multilink arrangement in the rear. The ride is sports-car firm but livable. The standard higher-series tires, size P225/50R17, might soften things up a bit. The car exhibits some body roll, which also might be exaggerated by the car’s weight.
I like the interior design, though my test vehicle’s color scheme would be too much for some. The materials quality is pretty good, as are the ergonomics, overall. The driver’s seat has a height adjustment — manual is standard, and power comes in the optional GT Premium Sport Package along with leather upholstery and a host of other features. Unfortunately, they only come in this package, which costs a suggested $3,270.
For the money, these sport seats do a good job holding you in place, but the driver’s only adjusts up and down a couple of inches. Headroom is decent otherwise, and it seems that the optional moonroof makes little or no difference in the headroom dimension, as some moonroofs do. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope. The blue-backlit gauges look pretty cool, but blue isn’t the most legible color in the spectrum, especially as we age. (I know, I know: “If it’s too blue, you’re too old.”)
Visibility to the rear is typical of a coupe. The C-pillar is broad, but the car and its belt line are low enough that passenger cars are visible. I found the interior to be rather quiet, though some noise comes from the hatch area. When they weren’t squealing, the tires were reasonably quiet, too.
Also typical of coupes, the backseat is of limited usability. It has two seating positions, with the easiest ingress on the front passenger’s side where the seat tilts and slides forward. There isn’t enough headroom for a passenger anywhere near 6 feet tall, and the rear window is directly overhead. 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.
As for infants and wee tots, beware: Even though there are LATCH anchors in the backseat, the cushions are contoured in such a way that a child-safety seat might not fit. My convertible seat, which isn’t LATCH compatible, wouldn’t secure laterally because of the cushions and the location of the seat belts. Another child seat might work out, but bring one to the dealership and try it out if you intend to cart the little ones.
Mitsubishi clearly lost its way with the previous-generation Eclipse, a loose, average car that was lighter but felt heavier — at least when compared to the new GT. The 2006 isn’t quite a return to the sportiness of the early Eclipse generations, but it’s a decent compromise for the mass market. When driving it, it’s much easier to remember that Mitsubishi is the same company that builds the Lancer Evolution.