Introduction

Mitsubishi says the Eclipse symbolizes what the brand is all about: style, fun, performance, and value. Eclipse comes in coupe and Spyder body styles, the latter with a soft convertible top. Their styling is bold and distinctive, suggesting a supercar, like a Ferrari.

The GT and GTS models back up this statement with a superbly smooth and powerful V6 engine. The Eclipse is agile, quick and goes where you point it. The ride is smooth and comfortable, but doesn't isolate the driver.

Eclipse does all this for a compelling price and that's why it's so popular. This is one of the most reasonably priced sporty cars on the market. The fun per dollar quotient is high.

Model Lineup

Mitsubishi builds the Eclipse as a sleek hatchback coupe or as a two-door convertible. The coupe is available in RS ($18,167), GS ($19,077), GT ($21,277), and GTS ($24,247) trim. The convertible, which Mitsubishi calls the Spyder, comes in GS ($23,917), GT ($25,997), and GTS ($28,367) trim.

RS and GS models come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 147 horsepower and 158 pounds-feet of torque. The RS is the entry-level Eclipse, but it comes with a plethora of features that make it attractive: 15-inch alloy wheels, power windows and locks, multi-adjustable front seats, folding rear seat, an interior air filtration system and a 140-watt AM/FM/CD stereo.

GS comes with a higher level of equipment, including 16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55HR16 tires for more grip, a rear stabilizer bar for sportier handling (less understeer), fog lamps, power mirrors, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, lumbar support added to all those seat adjustments, a rear spoiler, and a split folding rear seat. The GS Spyder is equipped even better than the coupe, with a 210-watt stereo and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

GT steps up to a substantially higher level of performance. The GT coupe comes with a 24-valve V6 that delivers 200 horsepower and 205 pounds-feet of torque. The GT Spyder uses essentially the same engine, but with higher-compression pistons and Mitsubishi's new Variable Induction Management (MVIM) system bumping output to 210 horses and emissions down to the Ultra Low (ULEV) range. GT coupe and Spyder both use aggressive 17-inch tires, an upgraded suspension and four-wheel-disc brakes to help keep the increased power on the pavement. Integrated fog lights, chrome exhaust tips and color-keyed ground effects add image to the GT's performance image.

GTS adds ABS, side-impact airbags, 12-way adjustable leather seats, a six-disc CD changer and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The GTS coupe gets a sunroof. GTS also gets a slightly more powerful V6 that benefits from variable induction and higher compression pistons.

A five-speed manual transmission is standard in all models. A four-speed automatic is optional for RS ($800). On GS and GT the automatic ($1000) Sportronic manual override. On GTS, the automatic ($1290) comes with Sportronic and traction control.

GS and GT coupe buyers who want just a little sunshine can opt for a power sunroof, packaged with the 210-watt stereo and steering-wheel audio controls ($1170). Leather trim is optional for the Coupe GS and GT ($1780) and Spyder GS and GT ($600).

Walkaround

Mitsubishi Eclipse has been mildly re-styled for 2003. The front bumper, front and rear light clusters, and alloy wheels on the GS, GT, and GTS are new.

Some have described the exterior design as sleek, slippery, cutting edge. Mitsubishi calls it "geo-mechanical," a term used for the original SST design concept shown at the 1998 Detroit auto show. To us it looks sort of retro-contemporary. No matter what you call it, the Eclipse gets noticed.

Fully arched wheel wells are filled with alloy wheels and performance tires. This arch theme is carried through, from the A-pillar to the C-pillar. Three strakes in each door begin at the front bumper where they resemble the brake cooling vents of a race car. A round fuel filler door adds to the racy theme; an aluminum alloy lid for it is available as a dealer-installed accessory. The lever-style door handles are aerodynamic, but harder to grab.

With its top up, the Spyder looks hunkered down, rounded and smoothly contoured. With the top down, it looks rakish yet handsomely finished, thanks to black rubber folding boot cover that conceals the retracted top. When the sun shines and the summer breezes blow, you need only release two ratchet latches and press a button for 15 seconds to deliver all the fresh air and open sky you'll ever need.

Interior Features

Mitsubishi Eclipse gets upgraded upholstery for 2003: better fabric for the RS, GS and GT, and better leather for the GTS. Eclipse interiors are now available in two color-coordinated themes that Mitsubishi calls Midnight and Sand Blast. The former is primarily black with dark blue accents, the latter black with taupe accents. The leather Sand Blast (beige) seats in a 2003 Eclipse coupe we drove were nice, but the hard plastic on the dash looks like hard plastic. The silver trim around the shifter matches the door trim okay, but the hard interior materials are mediocre.

The gauges have been redesigned for 2003, making them easier to read.

The center stack has an unusual look with readouts for the radio, temperature and compass in an information module atop the dash, just above the controls. 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. It's easy to see and read, however, better than those for a Mercedes-Benz. The audio controls for the Infinity stereo are excellent, big clearly marked buttons and knobs for changing stations, volume, seek, track, etc.

Located just below the stereo controls are three rotary dials for heat, ventilation and air conditioning. These switches are positive to the touch and are intuitive, though you have to push the fan knob in to turn the air conditioning on. The controls look like they came from a compact, though. Cleverly designed round dash vents swivel and turn to direct airflow just about anywhere you could want it; they also fold flush and snug when they aren't needed.

There isn't a lot of headroom in an Eclipse coupe, especially with a sunroof, less than in an Acura RSX or Ford Mustang. The Spyder has a quite bit more headroom than the Eclipse coupe (yes, with the top up). Like most sport coupes, the Eclipse is not the ideal car for picking up dry cleaning. However, a hook on the driver's side works okay for a few items, which drape well over the front of the rear seat.

The Spyder surrenders back-seat space to the coupe. It loses less than an inch of leg room, but more three inches of hip room are consumed by the top and its storage well.

A more serious drawback to the Spyder is a shortage of luggage space as the folded top and its operating mechanism intrude into the cargo bay. While the Eclipse coupe offers a cargo capacity of 16.9 cubic feet, the Spyder offers just 7.2 cubic feet. That means golf clubs have to go in the Spyder's back seat.

Driving Impressions

On the road the Mitsubishi Eclipse offers a smooth ride. At the same time, it keeps the driver feeling connected with the road rather than feeling isolated. Give it a wide-open highway or a twisty country two-lane and the Eclipse handles well.

The four-cylinder engine that comes in RS and GS models delivers adequate performance.

But the flexible torque and exciting thrust of the V6 really gives you your money's worth in terms of driving enjoyment. When turning the key we were immediately struck by the sporty exhaust sound of the V6. This is a truly flawless engine, as smooth running as an electric dynamo. The GTX induction system gets a little extra boost from variable induction and higher compression pistons. A dual-path intake manifold switches from longer to shorter intake runners as engine speed increases, improving efficiency at all engine speeds. This yields a 10-horsepower increase. Peak torque remains 205 pounds-feet, but arrives at 3750 rather than 4000 rpm. The V6 delivers about as much power as we want for a front-wheel-drive car. Stand on it and the Eclipse is at the threshold of wheelspin. Any more power and the Eclipse would need all-wheel drive, which is not available. Our Eclipse GTS came with traction control.

The Sportronic four-speed automatic transmission on our 2003 Eclipse GTS offered positive shifting.

The five-speed manual transmission coupled with the V6 is something desperately close to the perfect drivetrain. The clutch take-up and smoothness of the five-speed manual, much aided by its heavily counterweighted shifter, is incomparably fine. An excellent selection of gear ratios helps the five-speed make the most of the engine's power. If there is any way that you can justify a manual transmission (and if you commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic, there may not be), we strongly recommend the amazing combination of the V6 and the five-speed.

The Eclipse feels rock solid in long, sweeping turns, and compliant over rough surfaces. A low roll center, combined with pillow-ball links to the front anti-roll bar, contribute to its flat cornering attitude. The suspension lacks sophistication when it comes to handling big bumps, however.

Power rack-and-pinion steering is speed-sensitive, and feels very light at low speeds. The turning radius seems big at 40 feet, larger than that of an Acura RSX or Ford Mustang (each 38.1), and we frequently found ourselves backing up to get into tight parking spaces.

Eclipse GT and GTS models come with a great set of brakes. Large ventilated discs with dual piston calipers cover the front wheels while solid discs watch over the rear wheels.

With the top down, the Eclipse Spyder is a serious good-times car. However, it does suffer from 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.

Summary

Mitsubishi Eclipse offers wild design and sports-car exhilaration, all at a relatively low price. It offers a smooth ride and sporty handling.

The RS and GS models with their four-cylinder engines are good sporty car buys. But the V6 engine transforms the Eclipse into an exciting sports car. Don't buy the RS or GS before driving the GT or GTS.

Our favorite Eclipse is the V6 Spyder, an entirely grown-up, four-place convertible that makes you feel good and look good. Not only is the Eclipse a more sophisticated alternative to a Detroit pony car, it is also a serious challenger to some much more expensive European convertibles.


Model Line Overview

Model lineup: RS coupe ($18,167); GS coupe ($19,077); GT coupe ($21,277); GTS coupe ($24,247); GS Spyder ($23,917); GT Spyder ($25,997); GTS Spyder ($28,367)
Engines: 147-hp 2.4-liter SOHC 16-valve inline-4; 200-hp 3.0-liter SOHC 24-valve V6; 210-hp 3.0-liter SOHC 24-valve V6 with variable induction.
Transmissions: five-speed manual; four-speed automatic; four-speed Sportronic
Safety equipment (standard): dual front airbags standard, CRS child-seat anchors
Safety equipment (optional): ABS, side-impact airbags, traction control
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in: Normal, Illinois

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): Mitsubishi Eclipse GTS Coupe Sportronic ($25,537)
Standard equipment: air conditioning, power doors and locks, power mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, AM/FM/CD audio, cruise control, 12-way adjustable seats with leather seating surfaces, ABS, side-impact airbags, traction control, 210-watt Mitsubishi/Infinity AM/FM/CD stereo with six-disc in-dash changer
Options as tested (MSRP): none
Destination charge: ($595)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $26,132
Layout: front-wheel drive
Engine: 3.0-liter SOHC 24-valve V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 210 @ 5750
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 205 @ 3750
Transmission: 4-speed automatic Sportronic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 20/27 mpg
Wheelbase: 100.8 in.
Length/width/height: 176.8/68.9/51.6 in.
Track, f/r: 59.4/59.4 in.
Turning circle: 40.0 ft.
Seating capacity: 4
Head/hip/leg room, f: 39.4/51.9/42.3 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: 34.9/44.7/30.2 in.
Trunk volume: 16.9 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: N/A
Suspension, f: independent
Suspension, r: independent
Ground clearance: 6.4 in.
Curb weight: 3307 lbs.
Tires: 215/50VR17
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity: 16.4 gal.

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of February 06, 2003.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges.

N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-888-MITSU2003 - www.mitsubishicars.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc. 
New Car Test Drive

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

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