EXPERT REVIEW

KansasCity.com's view

The young man jerked his car to a stop as I walked across the church parking lot.

“How do you like your Eclipse?” he said, sticking his head out the car door. “That’s my favorite car.”

His question caught me off guard. I had just parked a dark red coupe, one I was evaluating for this article.

This enthusiastic questioner is the ideal definition of Mitsubishi’s target audience for its sports coupe: a young buyer who puts style and performance ahead of all else. The small sport coupe segment continues to be in a state of flux. Ford’s Probe is gone, as is the Eagle Talon, but Mercury has a new Cougar on the way. Mitsubishi continues to refine its Eclipse with styling updates.

Last year the front fascia was restyled with large air intakes for an even more aggressive look. A large, basket-handle spoiler arcs across the rear glass. Not only does it interfere with rear vision, but it makes this handsome coupe look like a show-off.

A convertible Eclipse called the Spyder is also available, and I saw a ton of those on a recent trip to Florida. It is a great deal of fun in nice weather and one of the better small convertibles.

I was driving the turbocharged GS-T, a dashing hatchback that sits low to the ground and looks tough and fast. The turbocharger generates 210 from this 2.0-liter, dual-overhead-cam (DOHC), 16-valve four-cylinder engine. The five-speed manual gearbox allows the driver to probe the depths of its performance potential, but our test car did not shift as easily as I like. Pumping this much power through the front wheels is a bit of a challenge, and full throttle results in the front wheels darting back and forth as they search for traction. This is called torque steer, and it is fairly common on high-powered front-wheel-drive cars. Mitsubishi also offers an all-wheel-drive version called the GSX for optimum traction in all conditions.

For those who like the look but don’t need 210 horses, the less-powerful and less-expensive RS and GS models with 140 horsepower are an alternative.

The GS-T’s suspension is tuned to complement the speed potential of this powertrain. Blast into a turn and the low-profile, high-performance tires on 16-inch wheels stick to the pavement like lint to velvet. The body refuses to lean much regardless of how aggressively you drive.

The downside to this agility is a firm ride that pounds middle-aged bodies more than they might like. Youthful drivers, on the other hand, will revel in its go-kart responses.

Out on the highway, I detected quite a lot of noise coming from the rear hatch area; so much so that I had to turn up the radio to maintain volume. I have not noticed this on previous models, so the sound may have been generated by the tire tread pattern or poor sealing around the glass hatch.

Inside, the cockpit is snug. Legroom is decent, but the seating position is low and close to the floor. A tall center console divides the front seats and contributes to the sense of confinement. The back seat is so tiny as to be unusable, but that is pretty much standard fare for coupes in this class. At least it tumbles forward to expand the trunk.

The front seats, with modestly pronounced side bolsters to hold the driver in place during fast driving, are firmly padded and reasonably comfortable.

Large gauges dot the instrument panel, which has its center section curves into the console and creates a cockpit-like feeling for the driver. Secondary controls are angled slightly toward the driver to they can be reached easily.

While the radio has good sound, the knobs and buttons are small and complex.

Turbocharged sports coupes like the GS-T are the teenagers of the car market: They have great reflexes, are full of energy and tend to be boisterous. But as with teenagers, they tend to get restless when you want them to behave quietly.

Price

The base price of our test car was $21,960. The lis of standard equipment was long, including air conditioning, power windows, power locks, cruise control, 16-inch chrome alloy wheels, rear spoiler, electric outside mirrors, tilt wheel and AM/FM stereo with compact disc player and eight speakers.

Options included anti-lock brakes, power sunroof, leather seats and security system. The sticker price was 424,669.

Warranty

The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.

Vehicles for The Star’s week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.

Point: The turbocharged GS-T is as fast as it looks. The suspension is firm, the cockpit snug and the engine muscular.

Counterpoint: The ride is choppy, the cabin crowded and the back seat is too small for normal use.

SPECIFICATIONS:

ENGINE: 2.0-liter, 4-cyl.

TRANSMISSION: Five-speed

WHEELBASE: 98.8 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 2,921 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $21,960

PRICE AS DRIVEN: $24,669

MPG RATING: 23 city, 31 hwy.

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