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Spyder blows top off of Eclipse

The coolest version of Mitsubishi’s new Eclipse is on its way.

It’s the all-new Spyder, the convertible model of the redesigned Eclipse subcompact coupe that made its debut last year amid great accolades and rabid consumer interest. But if you thought the Eclipse coupe – particularly the snazzy GT model – was beautiful, wait until you see the Spyder.

It comes with a high-tech convertible top that disappears completely when lowered. For performance addicts, it also offers an optional V-6 engine that cranks out a pleasing 260 horsepower, turning the Spyder into a sports car that can easily keep up with its peers.

Mitsubishi introduced the new Spyder at the recent Detroit auto show, and it will begin arriving in dealer showrooms in early spring.

Expect limited availability, at least early on, however. It will take a while to get sufficient numbers to the dealers, Mitsubishi said.

The best part: Prices will begin under $26,000 for a car that looks like it could cost much more. It’s easily as sexy-looking as the BMW Z4 (if not more so), which starts at $35,000.

“Designed to appeal to convertible and sports car enthusiasts of all ages, the 2007 Eclipse Spyder echoes the concept-car design of its coupe sibling with sleek, taut, muscular lines and engaging details such as bright finish LED tail lamps and monocle-lens head lamps,” Mitsubishi said of the car in a product news release accompanying the Detroit unveiling.

“The new Eclipse Spyder captures the essence of Mitsubishi by offering customers a stand-out design and performance at an affordable price,” said Rich Gilligan, co-president and chief executive of Mitsubishi Motors North America.

“Its high-quality automatic top makes Eclipse Spyder a convertible for all seasons and has features you would expect to see on a $40,000 car rather than one that starts under $26,000.”

The Spyder is part of a barrage of new products Mitsubishi has promised its beleaguered dealers.

The company pledged to roll out six new models within three years, beginning with the Eclipse coupe early last summer and the Raider midsize pickup in the fall. Coming later are a redesigned compact Outlander SUV, a new compact Lancer sedan, and a new version of the street-legal race car, the Lancer Evolution.

Two trim levels are offered on the Spyder. The base model GS is the most-affordable, with the under $26,000 pricetag. It comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 162 horsepower. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and a four-speed automatic is optional.

The GS engine’s power is comparable to that of the new Mazda MX-5 (Miata) and Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky roadsters. While the Eclipse Spyder technically isn’t in the same class because it has a back seat, in base form it will compete against the MX-5, Solstice and Sky.

To get the V-6 engine requires an upgrade to the GT model, which will compete more with vehicles such as the Nissan 350Z roadster and even the Z4.

The GT’s V-6 turns out 258 foot-pounds of torque, and is connected to a six-speed manual gearbox or optional five-speed automatic.

With the manual transmission, the GT can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about seven seconds, Mitsubishi said.

Both engines have electronic variable valve timing “to help optimize engine efficiency and power across a broad engine speed range,” the automaker said. And the exhaust systems for both models have been tuned to produce a sexy growl. The GT comes with a chrome tailpipe.

Despite its sportiness, the GS is EPA rated at up to 29 miles per gallon on the highway with either manual or automatic transmission, allowing for economy of operation.

The power-operated cloth top will be one of the favorite features of Spyder owners. It’s designed to open or close in about 19 seconds, and when open, it folds under a “flush-fitting powered tonneau cover,” the company said. “This premium-level design eliminates a visible top stack that gives some convertibles a ‘baby buggy’ look.”

The top has several layers, including a full headliner, to give the occupants a quiet ride when the top is up, nearly like a vehicle with a hard top. Mitsubishi said the top also is designed to resist “ballooning” at highway speeds. The rear window is glass, and has a defroster.

Careful attention was paid to the interior, and it includes such features as “motorcycle-inspired gauges and ice-blue” illumination, the company said. Three interior color schemes are offered: charcoal, medium gray and terra cotta.

Other special features include a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio-system controls, and one-piece, high-back front bucket seats “inspired by Mitsubishi rally cars,” the automaker said.

Standard equipment on both models will include 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, air conditioning, advanced dual-stage front air bags and seat-mounted side air bags, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, cruise control, engine immobilizer security system, power door locks with remote keyless entry, and power windows and mirrors.

Additional features of the GT model, besides the V-6 engine and upgraded transmissions, will include electronic traction control and a standard outside temperature/compass display.

Of course, with cars such as these, the audio systems are important, so Mitsubishi has taken care to provide a great system that is standard on both models.

It’s a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate setup with a six-disc, in-dash CD changer that can play MP3 CDs. An eight-inch subwoofer is included, and is built into the back seat. Separate options packages adds leather to the GS or GT.

With the GS package comes leather seating surfaces, heated front seats and heated exterior mirrors, along with the temperature/compass display that is standard on the GT. The “Premium Sport Package” for the GT brings leather seats along with 18-inch alloy wheels and 235/45 R18 tires, a six-way power driver’s seat, aluminum pedals, automatic climate control, and heated front seats and outside mirrors.

Mitsubishi says the ragtop’s body structure is designed to be nearly as rigid as that of the coupe.

The platform of the new Eclipse was designed to accommodate both a coupe and a convertible, so this is not a case where the manufacturer built a coupe, then chopped its top off later to create a convertible. Sometimes, those arrangements create a convertible that shakes and shimmies on every bump.

The car was engineered to drive like a sports car, Mitsubishi said.

It has four-wheel independent suspension, which gives the car “both sporty road manners and a compliant, comfortable ride,” the company said.

The GT model has larger, ventilated disc brakes compared with the GS model’s solid rear brake discs.

No detailed pricing has been released yet, but expect the GT model to start at about $30,000.

As for EPA ratings, they have not been finalized yet, either, but will be similar to those of the coupe models, which use the same model designations and same engines. Coupe fuel-economy ratings are 18 miles per gallon city/27 highway for the GT with manual gearbox, and 23 city/30 highway for the GS with manual.

G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; chambers@star-telegram.com.

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