Boy, do we miss the Eagle Talon and the Plymouth Laser. For years, those two Chrysler Corp. products shared their basic underpinnings with the Mitsubishi Eclipse, which has been extensively overhauled for model year 2000.

Too bad those two cars are long gone. We'd love to see what the Chrysler designers could do with this latest iteration of what had been one of our favorite small car designs.

The revamped 2000 Eclipse, in fact, is probably the best of the breed, mechanically. Unfortunately, the new exterior look doesn't measure up to that of its immediate predecessor - Paul's pick for best-looking sport coupe of the Nineties. What an odd concept: A new car that's been eclipsed by the previous generation. Not an auspicious start for this $23,000 two-door.

She: Before we talk about styling, I have to get the cup holder issue off my chest. So I'm reading all this baloney in the press material about the "geo-mechanical" wonders of the new Eclipse. But nobody seems to have tested the cup holder, which is so close to the gear-shift lever that if you choose to use it, your beverage container can interfere with the shifting. I'd call that "goofy mechanical." Besides, the redesigned Eclipse looks too much like a Pontiac to me, especially with those caricature-like ribs along the body side panels. Why can't Mitsubishi make an elegant coupe instead of one that looks like an athletic shoe?

He: Sorry, I didn't really notice the cup holder problem you described, maybe because I don't often try to carry coffee or water in a manual-shift car. Not a good idea, sports fans. As for the exterior design, I absolutely agree. It looks cartoonish - not even a good Pontiac knockoff. Why would any designer in his or her right mind even want to copy Pontiac, for Pete's sake? Thank goodness the Eclipse drives like a real sport coupe. The new V-6 is smooth and powerful, and the suspension and steering feel nicely balanced. Still, I can't help but think that competitors like the Mercury Cougar and the new Toyota Celica are going to eat this car's lunch.

She: But Mitsubishi's advertising says you can "be the person the chat room thinks you are" if you drive an Eclipse. Why does that sound creepy?

He: What, you can't picture an overweight underachiever with no life named Bubba tooling around in a poor man's Pontiac?

She: Now, in fairness to Mitsubishi, that overweight chat-room participant is going to be a lot more comfortable in the new Eclipse than in the old. The 2000 model is longer and wider, with more cargo and rear-passenger room. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised sliding into the Eclipse. So many coupes feel like you're just shoe horned into them. But the seats in the Eclipse are really comfortable, and you get the sensation that you could even be in a sedan. That's a breakthrough.

He: Not if you've driven the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger, which have always been among the roomiest two-doors in the class. But, yes, Mitsubishi deserves credit for these improvements. We drove the top-of-the-line GT edition, which is pretty well loaded, although you have to order the optional $2,600 GT Premium package to get equipment like antilock brakes, side air bags and a power driver's seat. I am impressed with the new twin-cam 3.0-liter V-6, which makes 205 horsepower, but I have to add that I miss the old turbocharged four-cylinder, which was even more powerful and considerably more entertaining. I'm also disappointed that Mitsubishi has discontinued the four-wheel-drive Eclipse GSX, which with the turbo was a real screamer.

She: I didn't notice so many squeaks and rattles in the 2000 model, probably because it has a stiffer body structure. The ride quality was better than I anticipated, too. I always expect to get bounced around in a small coupe like this, so the comfort level was a pleasant surprise. But the overall impression of the Eclipse is one of unevenness. Yes,they've improv the cabin, the ride quality and the interior space, and there's the new V-6 engine. But the styling is questionable - definitely not an improvement by my extremely pedestrian standards of automotive design. So are we both giving this car three stars? Are we getting too mellow to be real critics?

He: Last year's Eclipse was definitely four stars. The new one is no beauty, and they've taken away the turbo engine and four-wheel-drive option. I'd say that's a big step backward, not forward. But the 2000 Eclipse is more civilized, if not nearly as much fun to drive. That sounds like three stars on my clipboard.

2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT

Anita's rating: above average

Paul's rating: above average

Likes: More civilized and refined than its predecessor, with more interior space; above-average ride and handling; fewer squeaks and rattles; new V-6 engine option; competent sport coupe, if not as entertaining as last year's model.

Dislikes: Hey, what happened to that great turbo engine and four-wheel drive from last year's car? The new styling is distinctive - unless you've been to a Pontiac dealer lately; at the top of the price ladder in this segment; side air bags and antilock brakes cost extra, even on top-of-the-line GT; dumb placement of cup holder makes shifting a little dicey

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, four-passenger compact.

Price: Base, $20,187; as tested, $23,222 (inc. $435 destination charge).

Engine: 3.0-liter V-6; 205-hp; 205 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,385