Mitsubishi has been pumping out some seriously self-confident advertising these days. Seems the corporate financial woes haven’t put a damper on the mood in the advertising department. Still, you can buy all the TV time you want, showing competitors cars bowing down (or even frightened into incontinence), but what matters is the product. And there’s no more important halo product in the Mitsubishi lineup than the Eclipse–even the Evo owes its existence to this sports coupe.
It was almost symbolic, how the last Eclipse was so underwhelming right at the time that Mitsubishi started its downward spiral. Perhaps this new Mitsu will be equally symbolic of the corporate recovery.
Of course, we’re reviewing the $19,994 base-model Eclipse GS here, not the full-zoot version with the V6. (Who knows why the press fleet’s full of four-banger cars this year?) We did drive the GT at a track event briefly, and the 101 extra horsepower and uprated suspension do make a difference.
In either iteration, the new Eclipse is a good-looking car. Where the last generation veered from the course set by the original and the second-gen “fast & furious” designs, the ’05 is a genuine spiritual successor, at least visually. (Honestly, we in the automotive journalists’ ranks were pleasantly surprised when the Eclipse turned out so close to the outrageous concept car we saw in Detroit a couple years back.) The rear haunches are muscular to the extreme; sexy and sensual. The front fascia evinces a look that’s genuinely new, evoking maybe one of the spaceships out of Star Wars. Details like the lighting fixtures are well done; the headlights with their delicate spectacle design are outdone only by the clear-lens projector-style tail lamps. Rims, even on this 4-banger GS, are blade-like 17-inchers.
Inside, the Eclipse has some attractive, space-age touches as well, although it doesn’t quite pull off the feeling of quality that the rest of the car does. There’s the center console and shifter area, with accents that mimic an aluminum-tube backbone running lengthwise through the car. The molded ‘Eclipse’ text running across the hatchback’s plastic cover over the trunk storage area–visible through the rear glass–is neat as well. But the stubborn HVAC vent mechanisms are poorly designed–one had already broken on our tester–and many materials feel substandard in the less-likely-to-be-touched areas. It’s obvious that Mitsubishi held the price down on this niche car by cutting costs here. Add that to the fact that the sport-coupe design requires an almost supine seating position and the poor visibility anywhere but up front, and you’d have to be a pretty dedicated Eclipse enthusiast to want to spend every commuting hour in here. Still, you’ll look good doing it.
Cars like this, however, are (or should be) more about the drive than anything else. And here, we were pleasantly surprised. The more time we spent in the new Eclipse, the more we liked it. Don’t get us wrong; it’s not the nimble little pocket-rocket the first couple were–it almost feels more of a grand tourer. But our 170-horse 2.4-liter was a free-revving gem, and the 5-speed manual had gears perfectly spaced for speed. MIVEC variable vale timing makes up for the old-tech iron construction–at least at high rpm. Zero-to-sixty happens in about eight seconds–not stellar by any means, especially when compared to something like the similarly-priced ’06 Civic Si we like so much–but it feels quick all the same.
And the ride was pleasantly surprising, too. Not at all punishing, the suspension allows for the perfect amount of body roll without ever feeling sketchy. The suspension is independent at both ends, with disc brakes up front and drums in the rear–old-tech but it works. On the track this car would be left in the dust, but on public roads it’s a good mix of comfort and a sporty feel. Paired with the peppy drivetrain, this suspension setup makes this a car you want to break laws with–maybe not break records, but certainly laws.
The 3.8-liter six-cylinder will run you another four grand–and gets you another 100 horsepower as well. That’s more of a street-racer, and it’s likely to be the much more serious car. Still the base Eclipse–and the one that most customers will choose–turned out to be a joy, all faults aside. The Eclipse has always been a sports-car for the enthusiast on a budget. Like many of those buyers, it’s grown up some–it’s now less about speed than style; more about suppleness than sport. But it’s still fun, and unarguably good-looking. With an automatic tranny, it might be a different story–but even the 4-banger Eclipse turns out to be a ride we can respect.