Performance, performance, performance. by Paul A. Eisenstein
Base Price $22,380
As Tested $24,669
Did somebody say "whoosh"?
Now, we've tested some speedy sport coupes in our day. But when we ponder the decision made by Mitsubishi designers to drop a 210-horsepower engine into a car that weighs less than 3000 pounds, we can only wonder: in their previous jobs, did these guys design rocket boosters for NASA?
The Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T's brawny engine muscle and relative light weight makes for such startlingly brisk out-of-the-blocks acceleration that it's somewhat akin to being hurtled from a slingshot.
Clearly, Mitsubishi designed this car for hot rodders. It's a great choice for weekend warriors who once envisioned themselves strapped in a Formula 1 car, racing around Monza, but instead settled into a career in marketing -- or maybe engineering.
It's not just the Eclipse's powertrain punch that appeals to closet Grand Prix hopefuls. There's also styling to consider. Its stance is so aggressive, its lines so sleek, its visage so predatory, that the Eclipse looks like it's going a hundred miles an hour when it's sitting in the driveway. The rear spoiler, which comes on the turbocharged models, may be overstated for some, but appeals to the younger performance set.
Assembled in a Mitsubishi plant between Bloomington and Normal, Illinois, the Eclipse comes in four trim levels: RS, GS, GS-T and GSX. The RS and GX come equipped with a 16-valve, 2.0-liter DOHC engine that produces a highly competent 140 horsepower at 6000 rpm. The GS-T and GSX are powered by a turbocharged and intercooled version of the same engine that puts out 210 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque at just 3000 rpm.
If you choose the four-speed automatic transmission, the turbocharged engine delivers slightly less horsepower -- 205 -- but produces more torque -- 220 lb-ft. All models are front-wheel drive except the GSX, which comes with all-wheel drive.
Also available is the Spyder, a slick convertible that comes with either the normally aspirated or turbocharged engine. The Eclipse Spyder starts at $21,875.
The Eclipse's excellent handling and well-damped ride are the result of a sophisticated four-wheel independent multi-link suspension with coil springs front and rear. The multi-link design 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. Like the GSX, our GS-T came with specially calibrated gas-charged shock absorbers.
The current Eclipse design was introduced for the 1995 model year, but received numerous updates in 1997. A few changes were made for the '98 model as well. They include:
On the RS, an AM/FM/cassette stereo with six speakers is now standard equipment and a CD player has been added as an option. New chrome-plated 16-inch alloy wheels are standard on the GS-T. And the GSX's generous list of standard equipment now includes a power glass sunroof, leather front seating surfaces, power driver's seat and a security system with remote entry and panic-alarm feature.
We tested the $22,380 GS-T, which came standard with dual front airbags, side impact door beams, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, air conditioning, Infinity audio system with cassette, CD player, eight speakers and amplifier, cruise control, power door locks, windows and antenna, power six-way driver seat, 50/50 split-fold rear seat, illuminated passenger-side visor mirror, rear spoiler and side air dam, rear wiper/washer/defroster, tinted glass, fog lamps, and halogen headlamps.
Our GS-T tester was equipped with the following options: Anti-lock brakes ($716), floor mats ($51), keyless security and alarm system ($334), leather front seats ($457) and power sunroof ($716). All told, those items boosted the total price to $24,669.
The Inside Story
It should come as no surprise that the dramatic exterior lines and readily-accessible power come at the price of cabin space. Testing this car during the Thanksgiving holiday, we quickly discovered that my 87-year-old grandmother was not amused by having to be shoehorned in and out of the Lilliputian back seat. And she's barely five feet tall. But what did she expect? I certainly wasn't going to ride back there when driving this hot rod was an option. She probably would have been a lot happier behind the wheel.
Up front, the Eclipse is a lot more comfortable--assuming you're not over six feet tall. And forget about wearing a hat. Racing helmets are okay though, because all these concerns are forgotten when the green flag waves.
The wrinkly leather seats are fashionable and comfortable. Some drivers find the cockpit-like foot well a bit uncomfortable, though. My knee rubbed against the transmission housing. All controls and dials were plainly visible and well-lighted, and the cupholder configuration was steady and solid.
Naturally, visibility in such a small cabin is always a problem, and the Eclipse is no exception. Indeed, when peering through the rear windshield in nighttime backing-up situations, the tall, looming spoiler reduces rearward visibility considerably. Out front it's better, but it doesn't offer the panoramic view found in the Honda Prelude.
Ride & Drive
The payoff for the tight quarters is big, however. Performance, handling, and braking are phenomenal and the Eclipse scores a thumbs-up on all fronts. Our front-wheel-drive GS-T test model was equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission, by far the most entertaining combination.
There's nothing that makes the heart of an automotive enthusiast sing like the sound and feel of 16 valves and 210 ponies, all purring in perfect, turbocharged, road-gobbling synchronization. These ponies allow the Eclipse to accelerate quicker than the Prelude.
But be ready! Punch the throttle from a standing start and the front-wheel-drive GS-T shoots forward like it was shot out of a cannon. When the car first begins taking off, the steering wheel pulls to the left, which can catch an unsuspecting driver by surprise the first time it happens. This phenomenon, known as torque steer, occurs when massive amounts of horsepower are sent to the front wheels of a front-wheel-drive car. It's not a problem once you know it's there and it arguably adds to the fun of driving this highly entertaining sport coupe. Torque steer was quite common on front-wheel-drive cars in the 1970s, but manufacturers have been able to engineer most of it out -- on lower horsepower cars, that is.
Those who don't want torque steer in their lives can do one of two things: Order the less powerful normally aspirated (non-turbo) Eclipse or -- a better solution for performance enthusiasts -- order the all-wheel-drive Eclipse GSX. Torque steer is absent from both of these cars. Ordering the automatic transmission on the GS-T is another way to reduce torque steer.
The all-wheel-drive GSX has the additional advantage of offering incredible grip and roadholding in slippery conditions, whether those conditions be rain, snow, ice, mud, sand or wet leaves. Even on dry pavement, the GSX is much easier to drive fast than the GS-T. The all-wheel-drive system on the GSX features a center differential and viscous coupling with an optional 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.
We're happy to put up with a little torque steer, however. The front-drive Eclipse GS-T is the most entertaining among the Eclipse lineup and, on a dry race track, it's the fastest. We recommend it to anyone who appreciates a truly high-performance sport coupe.
Fortunately, the Eclipse comes with high-performance handling to go with the high-performance acceleration. It's nimble and precise when blasting down twisty roads. Hats off to the designers of the speed-sensitive steering, which subtly decreases the power-assist as engine speed increases -- resulting in more graceful handling at lower speeds and more confidence-inspiring road feel at higher speeds.
The Final Word
The Eclipse brings everything to the table a serious enthusiast needs, performance, handling and braking. If that's what butters your bread, then the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T awaits your call.
Order our 200+ page magazine of reviews. Send $8.00 (S&H included) to New Car Test Drive, 2145 Crooks Rd. Suite 200, Troy, MI 48084
©1998 New Car Test Drive, Inc.