EXPERT REVIEW

KansasCity.com's view

As I zipped Mitsubishi’s Eclipse Spyder GT through the cool morning air on my way to the country, I realized once again why convertibles are so much fun.

Driving a convertible on farm roads feels almost like riding a motorcycle. You can feel the wind and smell the freshly cut grass. It’s a little hard to hear the radio at highway speeds, but the GT’s exhaust note is so pleasant I would rather listen to the engine anyway.

The convertible version of the Eclipse GT has the bold styling for which Mitsubishi has become popular. The massive rear fenders look like haunches, and the side windows are cut deeply into the doors. The sweptback windshield does a great job of keeping wind out of the cabin, even at 70 miles per hour.

Convertibles often exhibit some windshield or cowl shake over rough roads, but the Spyder felt surprisingly solid.

If a convertible top isn’t easy to put down, it won’t be used very often. The Spyder’s power top folds completely out of sight under a flush-fitting powered tonneau cover in about 19 seconds. The top occupies a fair chunk of trunk space, but you can still fit a couple of duffel bags.

Space in the back seat of the coupe is tight, and even tighter in the Spyder. I was able install my granddaughter’s booster seat, but I had to move the driver’s seat forward so she would have room for her feet.

The 650-watt Rockford Fosgate premium audio system has been specifically engineered for the Spyder, and it automatically equalizes the sound for top-up or top-down driving. The subwoofer speaker outlet sits in the center of the rear seat.

The Eclipse Spyder GS, with a 2.4-liter, 162-horse engine, starts at $25,389. The GT, with a 3.8-liter V-6 and 260 horsepower, starts at $28,269. Automatic transmissions add $900.

Even when the Spyder GT is equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, a six-way power driver’s seat, leather seats, aluminum pedals, automatic climate control system, heated front seats and heated exterior mirrors, its sticker price just barely breaks $30,000. That’s a very competitive price for a convertible with this much zip.

The Eclipse and Eclipse Spyder are built on the same assembly line at the plant in Normal, Ill.

The new Eclipse Spyder GT is more of a grand touring car than an all-out sports car, but the 3.8-liter V-6 has plenty of muscle. Running through the six-speed manual transmission was a blast, particularly because the exhaust sounds so good. The manual transmission shifts nicely.

The engine makes good torque across a wide power band, so dipping into the throttle results in instant motion. The engine’s tractability is one of its most endearing traits.

When you want to hurry, bringing all 260 horses to attention is easy, but full throttle often results in fairly heavy torque steer as the front wheels tug to one side or the other. This was especially noticeable accelerating out of a turn.

The GT’s suspension has been tuned to provide a purposeful ride without being overly harsh, even with the optional 18-inch wheels. The Eclipse’s handling isn’t as accomplished as competitors such as the Nissan 350Z or Mustang GT, but the ride isn’t as demanding, either.

Mitsubishi’s designers wanted a bold interior, and they succeeded. The instrument panel has a small pod for the speedometer and tachometer, while the center section houses the radio and climate control. Some Eclipses have gaudy interiors, but the test car’s two-tone gray interior was subdued.

The deeply contoured seats had excellent support and were comfortable for long periods of time.

While I would prefer a more subdued instrument panel, the layout and display was good with one exception. The speedometer had numerals for even numbers and small hash marks in between. I found it hard to read the speedometer accurately because the marks and numbers were fairly small. That was pretty crucial on the highway because the car feels so comfortable at elevated speed that I had to be especially cautious to stay under the speed limit.

Ice-blue night lighting of the gauges and controls is visually quite arresting. An LCD screen high in the center of the dash provides readouts for the audio system.

Price

The base price of the test car was $28,269. Options included leather front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic air conditioning, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors and aluminum pedals. The sticker price was $30,624.

Warranty

Five years or 60,000 miles and a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Engine: 3.8-liter, 260-hp V-6

Transmission: Six-speed

Front-wheel drive

Wheelbase: 101.4 inches

Curb weight: 3,737 pounds

Base price: $28,269

As driven: $30,624

Mpg rating: 17 city, 26 hwy.

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