by Ron Moorhead
New design and engine broaden appeal.
Base Price $17,697
As Tested $22,772
Mitsubishi's Eclipse has entered the main stream for model year 2000. We loved last year's radical styling, violent, turbocharged response, and optional all-wheel-drive. But this year, that's all gone. In its place is a normally aspirated V6 engine that delivers smooth, linear power, a new body style and, overall, a more comprehensive package that broadens the appeal of the Eclipse. The good news is that it's just as much fun to drive as it was before. And it's less likely to spill your coffee on the way to work.
Three models are available: RS, GS and GT.
RS and GS models come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 154 horsepower and a healthy 163 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. At just $17,697, 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, an interior air filtration system and AM/FM/CD. An automatic brings the total to $18,497.
The $19,047 GS comes with a higher level of equipment, including 16-inch alloys with 205/55HR16 tires for more grip, a rear stabilizer bar for sportier handling (less understeer), fog lamps, power mirrors, power sunroof, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a better stereo, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, adjustable lumbar support and the all-important split folding rear seat. Rear spoilers cost about $400.
While the RS and GS make good sport coupes, the GT is a real stand out. Its new V6 delivers 205 horsepower and 205 foot-pounds of torque -- more than enough to give the Eclipse GT the performance it deserves. It comes with aggressive 17-inch tires along with suspension and brake upgrades to help keep the increased power on the pavement. Eclipse GT retails for $20,187. A GT Premium leather package adds $1,750.
Some have described the exterior design as sleek, slippery, cutting edge. Mitsubishi calls it "geo-mechanical," a term it 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 2000 Eclipse gets noticed. It generates conversations every place it goes. It projects an image of performance with aerodynamic headlamps, scalloped doors and contoured rear light assembles.
Before we saw the 2000 Eclipse, we had hoped it would resemble the SST concept car. Futuristic concept cars often do not see production, but this time our hopes were answered. However, the new Eclipse takes the SST design a step farther with styling cues from Mitsubishi's 3000 GT. One of our sources said parts of the design were inspired by the old Ferrari Dino. The result is that the Eclipse projects a new, yet classic, character that makes it enjoyable to look at.
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 is designed to add to the racy theme and an aluminum alloy fuel lid is available as a dealer-installed accessory.
The interior design is as modern as the exterior. A speedometer and tachometer that slightly overlap one another are prominently displayed in the center of the instrument panel, making them easy to read through the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Two smaller cylindrical pods hold the fuel and temperature gauges. While these extended tubes fit the overall styling theme, they make the small gauges difficult to read, especially in certain light conditions.
The center stack is given a new look as Mitsubishi designers have located the readout display for the sound system and information module atop the dash, just above the controls. Located just below the stereo controls are three rotary dials for controlling heating, ventilation and air conditioning. These switches are positive to the touch and are intuitive, having the normal operating modes. Round dash vent outlets swivel and turn to direct airflow just about everyplace in the car. These vents were cleverly designed to fold flush and snug when airflow was not needed.
Out on the road is where the Eclipse really shines. Give it a wide-open road or a twisty country two-lane and this Mitsubishi will show you why it is so popular. This is one of the most reasonably priced sport coupes on the market. The fun per dollar quotient is high. The Eclipse is agile, quick and goes where you point it.
The 2000 Eclipse uses the suspension design from the previous-generation car, but with some significant upgrades. The result is a more compliant ride over rough road surfaces and improved handling. Mitsubishi's engineers were able to lower the roll center of the chassis, which keeps the front tires more perpendicular to the to the road as the suspension moves up and down. New pillow-ball links to the front stabilizer help reduce body roll -- or lean -- in corners. The entire body and chassis structure is much more rigid than before, which provides a more solid platform for better handling and ride. A strut-tower crossbrace gives the front structure a little more rigidity, contributing to the solid handling. This car is rock solid in long, sweeping turns.
Eclipse GT's 24-valve, twin-cam V6 is smooth, quiet and powerful. Tromp on the accelerator and you'll enjoy smooth, linear power. Gone is the slight lag of last year's turbocharged engine that was followed by a burst of power. With 205 foot-pounds of torque available at 4,500 rpm and 205 horsepower at 5500 rpm, the new V6 delivers power to pass at a moment's notice.
Gear ratio spacing helps the 5-speed manual transmission make the most of the engine's power. Mitsubishi has redesigned the shifting mechanism and the new shifter is one of the most solid cable types we have seen in recent years. We had no problem with the gears even when shifting quickly. Quick, accurate and easy to use, the manual transmission in the Eclipse is a great partner for the enthusiast driver.
The Eclipse also comes with a great set of brakes. Large ventilated discs with dual piston calipers take on duties at the front wheels while solid discs watch over the rear wheels.
Mitsubishi's Eclipse has become one of the most popular alternatives to the brute power of Detroit's pony cars. The new Eclipse offers near-exotic car design and backs it up with good performance, all at a relatively low price.
From its inception the Eclipse has offered sports car exhilaration at affordable prices. Fortunately, the 2000 Eclipse continues that tradition into the next millennium.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.