by Kevin Ransom

It's even faster than it looks.

Base Price $16,185
As Tested $24,818

Some cars try to conceal their performance with conservative styling in order to appeal to a broader market. Others flaunt their performance, wearing it like a badge. Take the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T. Its stance is so aggressive, its lines so sleek, its visage so predatory, that it looks like it's going a hundred miles an hour when it's sitting in the driveway.

The performance of the Eclipse GS-T backs up its visage. A turbocharged 210-horsepower engine muscles it out of the blocks like a slingshot. It accelerates quicker than a Honda Prelude or Acura Integra GS-R. It gets to a hundred in a hurry and keeps on going.

Walkaround

One of the hottest selling sport coupes available, the success of the Eclipse is partly due to its exterior design. Though it's been with us for a few years now, it could still double as an auto show concept car. Styled at Mitsubishi's design center in Southern California, the Eclipse has an aggressive front fascia with large air intakes, flowing roofline and full-width taillamps.

Eclipse comes in four trim levels: $16,185 RS, $18,345 GS, $23,645 GS-T and $26,995 GSX.

RS and GX come with a 16-valve, 2.0-liter dohc engine that produces 140 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. This is a competent package that puts the Eclipse in the same general performance envelope as a Dodge Neon R/T. Buyers get all the style of the Eclipse without the higher purchase and insurance costs of the turbocharged engine.

The entry level Eclipse RS has body-color bumpers, full wheel covers, dual mirrors and a rear window defroster; inside, are woven cloth bucket seats, a full console with dual cupholders, and an AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers. Option packages allow RS buyers to add air conditioning, alloy wheels, cargo cover, rear spoiler, power windows, power door locks and cruise control.

Eclipse GS, the most popular model in the Eclipse line, comes with low-profile rear spoiler, side cladding, fog lights, 50/50 split rear seat, 16-inch wheels and tires, four-wheel disc brakes and a rear stabilizer bar designed to reduce understeer.

The GS-T and GSX are powered by the turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter engine that puts out 210 horsepower and 214 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm. They are distinguished by a huge rear spoiler, black on white gauges and a higher level of standard equipment.

All Eclipses are front-wheel drive except the four-wheel-drive GSX.

Also available is the Eclipse Spyder, which comes with a power insulated soft top with a glass rear window. The $22,145 Eclipse Spyder GS comes with a 2.4-liter engine, while the $27,395 Eclipse Spyder GS-T comes with the 2.0-liter turbo.

Five-speed manual gearboxes are standard, but an optional $880 4-speed automatic transmission is available.

Most of the changes for 1999 have to do with packaging. There's more standard equipment: Eclipse RS gets AM/FM/CD standard. GS-T gets a power glass sunroof and keyless-entry security system. GSX comes standard with anti-lock brakes, a limited-slip rear differential and a leather interior. That last part is a bit unfortunate for budget hot rodders as it raises the entry price of the GSX.

Our GS-T was equipped with two options: anti-lock brakes ($716) and leather front seats ($457), which boosted the total price to $24,818.

The Inside Story

The Eclipse is a comfortable coupe. Headroom is limited, however, so drivers over six-feet tall may find it a bit confining. Some drivers find the cockpit-like foot well a bit uncomfortable. Others like the jet fighter school of interior design. The switchgear is canted in toward the driver and the Eclipse features a nice set of gauges that are easy to read.

The wrinkly leather seats are fashionable and comfortable. But we prefer the nice cloth that comes standard on the GS-T.

Visibility is limited. The tall rear spoiler reduces rearward visibility, particularly when backing up at night. Out front it's better, but the gun-turret windshield doesn't offer the panoramic view found in the Honda Prelude. The payoff for the tight quarters is big in terms of performance, however.

Ride & Drive

Acceleration performance, handling, and braking are phenomenal and the Eclipse scores a thumbs-up on all fronts. The GS-T offers the most entertaining combination in the Eclipse line with the turbocharged engine, 5-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive.

The Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T accelerates from 0-60 miles per hour in about 6.5 seconds. That's quicker than a Honda Prelude, Acura Integra GS-R and pretty much every other car in its class. All that raw power going through the front wheels makes it fun to drive and, on a dry race track, it's faster than the heavier GSX. Torque steer, the force that tugs at the steering wheel of front-drive cars under hard acceleration, is present in the GS-T, but it is manageable. It can be eliminated by ordering either the all-wheel-drive GSX or the less-powerful GS or an automatic transmission. We prefer to simply drive the GS-T accordingly.

With 214 foot-pounds of torque available at just 3000 rpm, the engine provides smooth, linear acceleration around town. Keep the throttle down and the turbo spools up and suddenly pressures the engine into turning out 210 horsepower. A whoosh of rushing air accompanies a blast of acceleration. The standing quarter-mile is covered in just over 15 seconds and 100 mph is reached in 18.5 seconds.

The Eclipse GS-T is nimble and precise when blasting down twisty roads. Speed-sensitive steering subtly decreases the power-assist as engine speed increases -- resulting in more easier steering at low speeds and better road feel at high speeds.

The suspension is fully independent with coil springs front and rear. The Eclipse uses a multi-link design that keeps the tires perpendicular to the road, whether cornering, braking, accelerating or traveling over rough pavement, so the tires maintain firm, consistent grip. Front and rear anti-roll bars reduce body lean in corners for sharp handling. Specially calibrated gas-charged shock absorbers improve the GS-T's grip in bumpy corners by keeping the tires in contact with the road. Mash the throttle when exiting a turn and the Eclipse shoots out like a cannon.

Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS make stopping quick and uneventful. The Eclipse GS-T stops at least as quick, if not quicker, than a Prelude or Integra GS-R.

The all-wheel-drive GSX has the additional advantage of offering incredible grip and road holding in slippery conditions, whether those conditions be rain, snow, ice, mud, sand or wet leaves. Even on dry pavement, the GSX is easier to drive fast than the GS-T. The all-wheel-drive system on the GSX features a center differential and viscous coupling with a limited-slip rear differential. When the GSX encounters slippery conditions, power is automatically apportioned to the wheels with the best traction. All of this happens seamlessly as the driver rockets around a corner in control. The GSX comes standard with a leather interior, 17-inch wheels and a long list of features, which boosts its price to $27,055.

Final Word

Last year, we would have recommended the GSX for its extraordinary all-wheel-drive system. It's still there and it's still wonderful, but the GSX comes fully loaded with a leather interior that boosts its price. If you want a leather interior and a turbocharged engine, proceed immediately to the GSX.

But if you want maximum performance for the minimum investment, then choose the front-drive turbocharged GS-T. The Eclipse GS-T is an excellent performance value. Comparing the purchase costs, insurance and maintenance of all sports coupes over a five-year period, IntelliChoice named Eclipse GS-T and GSX a "Best Overall Value" in 1998. Few cars in this price range offer its acceleration performance combined with its handling and braking capabilities.

The other two Eclipse models can keep up with a Dodge Neon R/T and do it with a lot more style.

© New Car Test Drive, Inc.

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

Find Cars for sale near you:

Research by Vehicle Type

  • Convertible
  • Coupe
  • Hatchback
  • Hybrid
  • Luxury
  • Sedan
  • SUV
  • Truck
  • Van/Minivan
  • Wagon

Shopping Tools

For Sale on Autotrader.com

Please enter your ZIP to see prices and listings near you.

Loading Ajax Content Loading Ajax Content