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Review and photos by Michael La Fave
I have to admit something: I cribbed the “Attainable Exotic” directly from the Mitsubishi Eclipse’s press release. That tagline is how head designer Dan Simms describes the new Eclipse, and you know what? He’s right.
By comparison, the Acura RSX is far more exciting to drive, the Mustang has a ton more grunt and the Mazda RX-8 is a unique experience with increased practicality and thrilling rear-wheel-drive dynamics.
Where the Eclipse delivers is in its styling. Bold curves, a wide stance, swooping roofline and dramatic detailing deliver a supercar-like styling punch, especially in orange. The disappointment is the overly high ride height. Apparently, Mitsubishi requires that all its cars be able to use snow chains, which necessitates extra wheel clearance. My suggestion, of course, was forget the snow chains and slam the car like the German automakers do. Alas, they didn’t ask and have yet to follow my advice.
The dramatic styling continues into the interior, which has an unusually wide cabin for this type of car. The surfeit of interior space, for a coupe, is attributable to the fact that the car shares its platform with the Galant. That, in turn, is the basis of the Endeavor SUV. Depending on the interior trim level, the seats are covered in cloth or leather, which is available as part of the premium package on the GT. Average-size adults will fit in the back seat and a 50/50 folding rear seatback allows for even more utility from the large trunk area.
On both the inline-four and the V6 you can opt for a powerful Rockford Fosgate 650-watt ear-bleed stereo with a ten-inch subwoofer and a six-disc, in-dash CD/MP3 player. Suffice it to say that the stereo plays loud.
My favourite of the two drive-trains is the 162 hp four-banger. You aren’t going to win a whole lot of drag races with this particular engine, but it pays huge dividends in handling thanks to a significant reduction in weight over the front wheels. Over a set of tight winding curves the V6 is no quicker than the four, and the base car’s cornering speeds might actually be higher, despite less aggressive tires and smaller rear anti-roll bar, thanks to its better balance and stronger initial turn-in bite.
A benefit of the family sedan/SUV underpinning is that the car rides comfortably and cruises quietly on the highway. The structure is also very solid and the car has an overall high-quality feel to it.
The six does have its appeal, however. With 263 hp on tap, it handily out-powers an RSX or even an RX-8. It’s a dramatic difference over the four-cylinder, which can struggle to overtake long lines of cars at high speeds. The V6 pulls the Eclipse over 160 km/h with ease, not that you would ever need to do that. But overall, the V6 is too much power for the chassis and makes the car sloppy in its transitions.
In many ways, the four-cylinder is the more interesting car. You can get it with all of the features of the V6 (except for the six-speed manual and the vented rear brakes) but it should come at a very attractive base price. That leaves plenty of budget to lower the car on some aggressive tires and even consider forced induction as a way of increasing straight-line performance.
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Though final pricing has not been announced, I expect the various models to span a range of $26,000-$36,000 for the GS four-cylinder to the GT V6 with the Premium Sport Package, which includes the 650-watt stereo and 18-inch wheels. All GS models will come with standard air conditioning, 17-inch aluminum wheels, six-way adjustable driver’s seat, ABS and keyless entry.
Though diehard driving enthusiasts are better off with any of the other cars mentioned, there are those who want a dramatically-styled car with plenty of practicality as well. The new Eclipse certainly offers the visual drama of cars costing twice as much and can thrill with the accelerative power of its V6, albeit at the expense of an overall balanced-package feel. The cheaper four-cylinder, with its sharper turn-in, lower cost, greater tuning potential and better fuel economy gives Mitsubishi the best chance to retain its grasp on the minds of young enthusiasts.