Story and photos
by Laurance Yap
So, like, just how superficial are you?
Let’s be honest here. You want a Mitsubishi Eclipse – tested here in 3.0 V6 GT – premium form – because it’s a great-looking car, all muscular and mechanical, with broad shoulders and hewn-from-metal flanks that look like nothing else on the road. You’re attracted by Mitsubishi’s fantastic TV commercials, which pair stunning visuals with some of the best music you’ve ever heard in 30-second snippets. You’ve wanted one ever since the Americans got them three years ago, and who cares how it drives?
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The Eclipse competes in the sports coupe class, after all, and looks are more important than anything in this ultra-hip segment. With seventeen-inch wheels, a big rear wing, and a new second chin on its jutting, aggressive front spoiler, this Mitsubishi packs enough visual aggression to take on all of its competitors combined; with its solid-looking side strakes, its jewelled lights, and low, low roofline, it looks way more exotic than its $34,000 sticker price would suggest (four-cylinder Eclipses start in the mid-twenties, and look almost as good were it not for their weenie wheels).
All the bulging and thrusting sheetmetal, however, starts to come across as mere surface excitement the moment you sit inside. Sure, the driving position is low and sporty, but the seat itself has squishy cushions, not-very-bolstery side bolsters, and an angle that even at its most upright is still too reclined; visibility, already poor because of the narrow side glass and monster rear wing, isn’t the greatest.
Click image to enlarge
Fit and finish of the various blue and black dashboard pieces doesn’t come close to matching the Eclipse’s fine paint and narrow panel gaps outside: the plastic for the mirror control is shiny while the window switches have a pebbled finish and the trim pieces on the doors have silver paint. And even though there are space-invaders shapes on the instrument cluster and console, the arrangement of the controls (save for the dislocated radio display, a foot up from the radio controls) follows coupe convention.
Which is okay. Because perhaps the Eclipse’s greatest strength is that it’s an extreme-looking car that can be driven by non-extreme people in non-extreme ways and still be, um, extremely satisfying. After a couple of days, the driving position stops grating, and you notice nice touches like the audio controls on the back of the steering wheel, or the one-touch-open sunroof. You marvel at how something with such wide, skinny-sidewalled tires can ride so well over pockmarked pavement. Or how the hatchbacked trunk can be so huge on a car with such a low roof, despite a high liftover.
Yes, big wheels, big wings, and big jaw notwithstanding, the Eclipse is a cruiser rather than a sports car, despite a snarly-sounding and quick-revving V6 engine. You want to pound through the gears, but progress is hampered by a shifter that’s alternatively floppy and clunky; swapping cogs smoothly means being deliberate, and lifting off the gas. The brakes have a soft, squishy feel to them that makes in-town driving smooth as can be, but country hairpins invoke heart-in-mouth moments. On challenging roads, the suspension starts to bounce and bob fairly early, the tires start to squeal before you’d expect them to, given the amount of rubber in contact with the road, and understeer sets in early.
In all conditions, the steering has a liquid quality to it, with light weight and easy-twirl motions, but there’s little feel for the road. Floor the gas in one of the lower gears, and surface information washes out completely, as the torque steer washes you toward the edge of the road. Best to treat it more gently and enjoy the cabin’s surprising silence and the quality of the Infinity 6-CD stereo’s sound.
There are a lot of better choices for extremist drivers in the Eclipse’s price range. Toyota’s Celica has scalpel-sharp steering – but an engine that delivers all its performance above 6000 rpm. Acura’s RSX Type-S handles and grips better than the Mitsubishi despite its smaller wheels and high driving position, but doesn’t ride as well, and has a much smaller back seat. A Ford Mustang offers true rear-drive thrills and an engine note to die for – at the expense of tricky wet-weather handling and a cramped, ergonomically-challenged cabin. None offers the Eclipse’s unique balance of show-car looks and everyday-driver ease.
Look, even us car testers are superficial sometimes. As much as I like waking up early Sunday mornings to go corner-carving in some roadbound racer, like most of you, I spend most of my driving life mired in traffic, slogging through downtown streets, or cruising to the movies late at night singing in tune with the radio as loudly and obnoxiously as possible. Often, like in Mitsubishi’s latest commercial for this car, there are people in the back seat doing the same. For these purposes, the Eclipse is as good as any other car in its class, and has the advantage of being the newest, and newest-looking, entry to boot.
Novelty’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Five years from now, when Mitsubishi has introduced a new Eclipse, we’ll wonder why we were so strangely attracted to those reverse-Ferrari side strakes and the enormous wing, just as much as we wonder why we liked a certain song, wore certain clothes, or styled our hair in a certain way. But for now, the newness of the brand in Canada, the uniqueness of the styling, and the way the ads are so amazingly in-touch with that nebulous twenty-something vibe, are all things that make Mitsubishi, and the Eclipse, well – rather cool.
For most people, including me for now, that’s more than enough.