Although Mitsubishi's Eclipse claims the crown as the best-selling import coupe for the last fifteen years, over the last few years the car's mainstream popularity has waned.
The Eclipse—particularly the second-generation version—has been a favorite of tuners, as customizing and performance modifications for sporty, front-wheel-drive cars gain popularity among younger drivers. In fact, the Eclipse had one of the starring roles in the 2003 film 2Fast 2Furious.
With a bold, new design first revealed in the Eclipse Concept-E at the 2004 North American International Auto Show and delivered to consumers as the all-new fourth-generation 2006 Eclipse, Mitsubishi intends to put its Eclipse back on the radar of the street tuner set.
But bold styling and more powerful engines are just the beginning of the story for this new Eclipse, which delivers a higher level of sophistication that Mitsubishi hopes will impress a new group of buyers.
"Given its size, sophistication, appointments, and price structure, the Eclipse is positioned to attract a wide variety of coupe buyers who appreciate sporty styling and performance at an attainable price," said Richard Gilligan, president and chief executive officer of Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.
Bold Styling, Both Inside and Out
The aggressive styling of the Eclipse Concept-E remained pretty much intact in the final production version, with a steeply raked wedge shape and wheels that are pushed out to the corners of the body for a broad stance. The wide-open split grille, boldly arched fenders, bobbed-tail, and chrome-under-glass rear spoiler all add interesting design elements and give the Eclipse a new, distinctive look.
"Our goal with the design was to create an attainable exotic," said Daniel Sims, general manager of Mitsubishi Design America, who lead the Eclipse design team. "With the Eclipse interior, we wanted to create that 'wow' factor, so that the first time you look inside you see it as an exotic machine."
The Eclipse will never be mistaken for a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but it does bring a level of style to the sport coupe market. The overall goal was a design that is innovative and youthful, but also sophisticated and upscale.
The bold styling theme carries through to the driver-oriented interior that includes a very unique wave-shaped, horizontal soft-touch pad across the dash that adds a modern, artistic feel, particularly in one of the optional contrasting colors. The gauges are inspired by motorcycle instruments with two prominent round metal bezels housing the speedometer and tachometer, illuminated by ice-blue LEDs at night.
Styled to emulate a high-tech home audio system, the optional Rockford Fosgate audio system sits at the center of the dash, with the climate control system located below. The center console includes two large cupholders and a covered storage compartment with a 12-volt power outlet.
New Engines Deliver More Power
The 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse is offered with two new engines, both delivering more power and more driving enjoyment. The top-of-the-line Eclipse GT is powered by a high-output 3.8-liter V6 engine with the Mitsubishi Innovative Variable timing and lift Electronic Control (MIVEC) system that delivers 263 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, mated to either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed Sportronic automatic transmission.
The Eclipse GS also receives the benefit of MIVEC for the 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder that now produces 162 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque, with either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed Sportronic automatic transmission.
To handle the additional power and improve driving dynamics, the 2006 Eclipse is built on a new unibody frame based on the same platform used for the Galant sedan, which was designed and built specifically for the North American market. The result is a stronger and more rigid platform, more interior room and improved ride and handling characteristics.
The front suspension uses MacPherson struts with steel lower control arms and a rigid steel crossmember that connects to the control arm mounting points, eliminating lateral movement for improved handling. The independent rear suspension is a low-mounted, multi-link system that helps lower the center of gravity for improved handling without intruding on cargo capacity.
Our first opportunity to drive the new Eclipse was in the Eclipse GT with the 263-horsepower 3.8-liter MIVEC V6 and the new 6-speed manual transmission. The first impression conveyed by the new Eclipse is a solid feel to the chassis, with a low center of gravity and a wide, stable stance.
These characteristics contribute to a feeling of confidence for the driver; the new 6-speed manual shifts smoothly and precisely—certainly one of the best experiences we have had with a manual transmission in a front-wheel-drive car. The 3.8-liter V6 delivers excellent power—it was very easy to inadvertently chirp the tires when starting out from a stop, even without accelerating excessively hard.
Mitsubishi officials told us their engineers had worked to virtually eliminate any torque steer, but experience tells us that the 263 horsepower may be more than a front-wheel-drive car can handle without occasionally upsetting the balance.
When we pulled out to pass on a narrow two-lane road, accelerating hard while crossing over the crown of the road compromised the car's stability. It was difficult to tell if it was torque steer, bump steer, or a subtle combination of both, but the lesson learned was a good one: Accelerating hard with any kind of transition in the road requires being prepared for the car to move around a little, which was something we adapted to quite easily.
That said, we continued to enjoy the power and overall balance of the Eclipse on twisty two-lane roads, knowing that moments of hard acceleration would require a little extra attention to keep the car on its path.
We also drove the Eclipse GS with the 162-horsepower 2.4-liter engine and 5-speed manual transmission, and found it fun to drive as well. Of course the GS was a step down from the GT, but the 2.4-liter actually provides good power; the 5-speed manual is direct and shifts well, although it's not quite as smooth and precise as the 6-speed in the GT.
Colors, Equipment, Packages
Inside, a unique Terra Cotta interior is offered in combination with the Sunset Pearlescent exterior color and the Premium Sport Package for the Eclipse GT, adding a bold element to the interior while complementing exterior styling.
Standard equipment for the Eclipse GS includes a 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers, 17-inch alloy wheels, electronic air conditioning, power windows, remote keyless entry, a split-folding rear seat, ABS, a rear spoiler and six airbags. The Eclipse GT adds traction control, a front strut tower bar, parabolic fog lights, and a center display with outside temperature and compass readings. The Eclipse GS starts at $19,399 plus $595 shipping.
An optional Sun & Sound Package for the GS adds a power sunroof, a center display with outside temperature and compass, and a premium 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system featuring nine speakers, including a 10-inch trunk-mounted subwoofer, digital processor, steering wheel audio controls and an in-dash 6-disc CD changer.
For the GT, a Premium Sport Package includes a power glass sunroof, a power driver’s seat, heated leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, aluminum pedals, 18-inch lipless aluminum alloy wheels and the 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system. The Eclipse GT starts at $23,699 plus $595 shipping.
Style With a Price
Make no mistake about it, even though the new Eclipse has more interior volume than its predecessor, this car is definitely a 2-plus-2 coupe. Drivers of four-person carpools should probably not choose this car. For those who typically drive alone or with one other person, there is always the capacity to add two additional passengers at any time, at least for short trips.
The stylish curve of the roofline decreases rear-seat headroom, and many drivers will prefer to slide the seat back and use the majority of the rear-seat legroom to be comfortable in the driver's seat.
For a sporty coupe, the all-new 2006 Eclipse delivers a large dose of style and an impressive level of performance, with the ability to transport four adults in a pinch. Although it may not offer the ultimate level of performance delivered by the Mitsubishi Evolution IX, the 2006 Eclipse is a fun-to-drive, sporty car with GT credentials that won't break the bank.