2002 Mitsubishi Eclipse Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The bargain-basement luxury convertible.
If you don't recognize at a glance what makes the 2001 Eclipse Spyder attractive, then no words will suffice to explain it. Typical of current Mitsubishi products, this car's styling is bold, extremely individualized and, to our eye, simply smashing.
Without apology, it borrows from the forceful stylistic themes of the Ferrari 355 Spyder supercar. And in GT form, it backs this up with a superbly smooth and powerful V6 engine that can set the pace both at the green light and on the Interstate. Best of all, it does all this for thousands of dollars less than its swank, top-down good looks might suggest.
Mitsubishi's 2001 Eclipse Spyder is available in two basic variants: the four-cylinder GS and the V6-powered GT. The base GS can be had for $23,347 and can be nicely equipped for just under $25,000.
However, starting at $25,237, the GT's exemplary 200-horsepower 24-valve V6 utterly transforms this convertible to a profoundly exciting open sports car. Don't under any circumstances buy the GS before driving the GT. You owe it to yourself.
Sleek and chic are the words. The Eclipse Spyder, like the similarly attractive Eclipse Coupe, has a handsomely sculpted form as intensely contemporary as any open car in the marketplace. Its styling is closely related to the recent Mitsubishi concept cars seen at auto shows around the world.
With the top up, it has a hunkered down, rounded and smoothed contour. But when the sun shines and the summer breezes blow, releasing two ratchet latches and pressing a button for a mere 15 seconds delivers all the fresh air and open sky you'll ever need. Mitsubishi supplies a neat black-rubber folding boot cover that conceals the retracted top, giving the Spyder a handsomely finished look.
Inevitably, of course, this retracting top, for all its benefits, exacts one considerable penalty -- its stowage area and operating mechanism seriously intrude upon the Eclipse's trunk space. Golf clubs, for instance, will have to go in the Spyder's backseat.
Our test GT had handsome ten-spoke alloy 17-inch wheels. Wide 215/50VR17 tires admirably filled the Spyder's flat-sided, designer wheel arches. And our car also had the extremely attractive optional aluminum fuel-filler door, which really dresses up the car. The impression made by this design is altogether more grown-up, more adult than the previous rendering, which had become a sort of bad-boy street-racer weapon. From the minute you approach the new Eclipse -- Spyder or Coupe -- you know it belongs at the country club, not the IHOP.
The cabin of the new Eclipse Spyder further confirms its adult identity. Its dashboard is extremely modern, highly stylized, yet it avoids mere flash or showiness. An analog speedometer and tachometer are nestled in the center of the display and are easily read both in daylight and when illuminated at night. Water temperature and fuel gauges, however, can be hard to read due to glare in bright sun despite being deeply inset in their own little tunnels.
To the right of the instruments is an audio readout mounted on top of the dash. However, the audio controls themselves are mounted lower down in the center console. You have to look at the controls to manipulate them, then look up at the readout. If the two were closer together, the eye would do less rushing around, causing less distraction from the road.
Otherwise, climate control and audio controls on the center console are compactly packaged, befitting this very sporting car. We found the A/C control, which is switched on by depressing the fan-speed selector knob, hard to find; but that is the kind of complaint a regular user would quickly solve. Our car had the optional leather interior, which was sumptuous. We also had the Premium Package, which included a power driver's seat and an excellent Mitsubishi/Infinity sound system with a splendid six-disc in-dash CD changer, as well as side airbags, antilock brakes and traction control (the latter available only with automatic transmissions).
We mentioned the advisability of driving the V6-powered GT for a reason. The GS's four-cylinder is an altogether adequate engine, but the flexible torque and exciting thrust of the V6 really gives you your money's worth in terms of driving enjoyment. This is a truly flawless engine, as smooth running as an electric dynamo. Indeed, since the Eclipse Spyder uses front-wheel drive, we would not want anything significantly more powerful under the hood, because the present engine is already at the threshold of wheelspin when vigorously used. With more power, we would want all-wheel drive, an option on the previous model that, due to low demand, has been discontinued. As it stands, the present engine and drive package -- especially with our car's traction control -- is a fine combination.
But it could be better. As mentioned, we had the Sportronic 4-speed auto/manual transmission. This allows the convenience of an automatic, important in bumper-to-bumper traffic, with the added benefit of manual gear selection whenever you wish. The Sportronic was reasonably good, though it doesn't always give you the gear you want when you want it. For instance, when first gear was selected, the transmission would not downshift until the Eclipse was virtually stopped.
We have also driven the Eclipse 5-speed manual, which, coupled with the V6, is something desperately close to the perfect drivetrain. We've already described the pleasures of the V6, but the clutch take-up and smoothness of the 5-speed manual, much aided by its heavily counterweighted shifter, is incomparably fine. If there is any way that you can justify a manual transmission -- and if you commute at drive time there may not be -- we strongly recommend this amazing combination.
With the top down, the Eclipse Spyder is a serious good-times car. Mitsubishi says that structurally it has been greatly stiffened over its forebear -- and we realize that stiffening an open car is a considerable challenge. However, the Spyder had a little more cowl shake than we would have liked. It's less pronounced than in some of its competition, but over rumpled roads the windshield and chassis juddered discernibly. This wouldn't be enough to discourage us, though, from committing to such a congenial new convertible.
If you are looking for a sporty, stylish, great-handling convertible, the 2001 Eclipse Spyder should be on your list. Its standard features - air conditioning, power windows and locks, power mirrors, cruise control - are impressive.
With the V6 engine, this is an entirely grown-up four-place convertible that makes you feel good and look good. The Eclipse has stepped away from the previous model's twentysomething flashiness to become serious competition for some much more expensive European convertibles - cars that really aren't accustomed to being challenged by mid-priced Japanese cars.
GS ($23,347); GT ($25,237).
Options As Tested
Sportronic 4-speed manual/auto transmission ($1000); Premium Package ($2650) includes side airbags, traction control, ABS, power driver's seat, AM/FM/CD w/6-disc in-dash changer.
Eclipse Spyder GT ($25,237).
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