As good as it looks. by Daniel Charles Ross
Let's face it, a lot of the enjoyment we get from a sporty-looking car is that people look at us driving it. It's as American as apple pie to like to be seen tooling around in a cool new ride.
We won't speculate on why that's so (save that for Psychology Today), but it explains a great deal about the appeal of the 1997 Eagle Talon line-up, as well as its tribe of identical cousins from Mitsubishi, surname Eclipse. People on the sidewalk pick this smart-looking coupe out of traffic as it flies past -- and since it's an Eagle-brand car from Chrysler, flying is, naturally, what it likes to do best.
Talons and Eclipses are built in Mitsubishi's factory in Normal, Illinois, sharing major sheetmetal and virtually identical interiors as well as subdural mechanical bits. Observations made concerning the Talon, therefore, also apply to the Eclipse.
The Talon/Eclipse duo comprise a modern range of sporty cars that provide ample driving fun, with engine options from mild to wild -- if your definition of mild power in a base model starts at a whacking 140 hp. Turbocharging and all-wheel-drive models add another order of magnitude to the driving excitement. And the Eclipse adds the option of a soft top, new to the lineup last year and available only in the Mitsubishi version.
These cars are way stylish and big fun to drive, even in entry-level form.
The four-model Talon range is diversified primarily by an ambidextrous powertrain spread. With these impressive engine/transmission combos, a buyer can customize the car to personal driving preferences while retaining a laudable edge in fuel economy. Any blend of these choices will give you a ride that can make your day on a sunny Sunday morning.
The front-drive base Talon (from $14,594, including destination) and slightly uplevel Talon ESi (from $15,365) are powered by a 2.0-liter dual overhead cam four-cylinder with 16 valves for heavy breathing. The engine sends 140 horsepower through a standard-equipment five-speed manual gearbox and runs on 87 octane unleaded fuel. If you prefer an automatic transmission, add $745.
The standard engine is a decent performer with the automatic -- and a blue-ribbon little pot-boiler with the stick, with which you can take better advantage of the available power and torque. It's a high-tech powerplant, and also hearty foundation for the turbocharged version.
The front-drive Talon TSi (from $18,550) and full-time all-wheel-drive Talon TSi AWD (from $20,806) are the turbocharged editions, with the same transmission choices -- manual standard, automatic optional. The pressurized engine pounds out 210 hp (205 hp with the automatic) on 91 octane unleaded gasoline. We gotta tell you right now that this engine is an electrifying actor, especially in the earth-magnet TSi AWD.
If you like an open air option, the soft top Spyder Eclipse is available in turbo (the GS-T, $25,960) and normally aspirated (the GS, from $20,160).
Redesigned in 1994, these are arguably the best looking small sport coupes -- and convertibles -- in the business. From a smoothly contoured front end to the rounded tail, like a high-performance aircraft there's hardly a straight edge or corner on the entire surface. The design delivers a feeling of speed before the ignition key is even turned. Eagle Talons are differentiated from their Mitsubishi Eclipse kin by unique fascias and option-package mixes, but the cars are fundamentally very similar in appearance regardless of the nameplate.
Assembly quality and overall finish is exceptionally high. Our Talon tester was as solid as a bank vault, keeping road and traffic noise efficiently at bay.
The Inside Story
A sport coupe's sleek exterior exacts its price from the interior. All of that cool, swoopy sheetmetal defines a passenger cell that is nothing short of overstuffed when occupied by the maximum of four riders. It's a problem that's inherent in all small sport coupes. The ideal solution: operate the Talon as a spacious two-seater and use the back seat as a rear-mounted package shelf. Front-seat leg room, however, is plentiful.
The interior itself is as purposeful as the flight deck of the space shuttle. The instrument panel reads at a glance, and the various controls and switches are well lighted for nighttime operations. Everything needed to operate the car is within the driver's reach, yet there's no appearance of clutter.
Standard equipment quickly ratchets up along with the price for uplevel renderings, but buyers of even the base cars can expect sport instrumentation that includes a tachometer, speed-sensitive power steering, sport wheel covers, tilt steering column, and dual remote (as distinct from power-operated) outside mirrors.
Other important standards include dual airbags and side impact door beams, a footrest for the driver's left foot, and a folding rear bench seat permitting bigger cargoes.
Our basic tester was equipped with only a few options. In Midwestern climes a rear window defroster is a bargain at $162. Air conditioning isn't quite as much of a bargain at $860, but it's essential even in climates that are short on warm weather and pays off at resale time. The only other extra-cost item was the uplevel AM/FM four-speaker radio with digital clock at $234.
Ride & Drive
A sport coupe worth the name has got to put its power down effectively, and the Talon/Eclipse range proves it has the go-power to back up its aggressive styling statement.
The non-turbocharged 140-hp four-cylinder in the base cars is a terrific little engine that takes maximum advantage of the standard five-speed stick. Closet Andrettis will get an adrenaline rush from the excellent throttle response, especially from a standing start.
If you really want to light the afterburners, though, the turbocharged engine is the way to go, with a capital G. Allied with the all-wheel-drive system, this engine gives the Talon -- or Eclipse -- serious sports car capabilities, with grip to match.
This is a point-and-shoot kind of sporty car with the terrain-following confidence of a cruise missile. With four drive wheels all scrabbling for grip at the same time, the turbocharged engine making sweet music at full song, well, for the driving enthusiast, it just doesn't get much better. Especially for this kind of money.
Spirited driving, you ask? Positively angelic. Galvanizing handling prowess across the lineup is due to double-wishbone front arms with coil springs and shock absorbers and multi-links, coils, and shocks in the rear. All anchored to a chassis that's rigid enough to make it all work.
The Talon is low to the ground and handles crisply when engaged in high-speed transitions. The speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering is a bit numb of road feel but control authority is still first-class.
There are front-drive coupes that carve their way through corners with a little more authority -- the new Honda Prelude comes to mind -- but not many.
The Talon -- and Eclipse -- represent a lot of good times for a reasonable price, and deserve a test-drive if you're shopping in this segment. With assertive styling and superlative capability in a tidy package, the car is a fine alternative in personal sporty transportation that has the added dimension of dynamite good looks.
What we appreciate most is the effort to provide exciting value and performance to a wide spectrum of drivers. From a powerful normally aspirated four-cylinder engine to a turbocharged all-wheel-drive hot-rod, the Eagle Talon/Mitsubishi Eclipse show commendable dexterity.
Even in the base car, you always feel like you're piloting a more powerful, more expensive coupe. And you know you're lookin' good.
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