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2012 Mitsubishi Eclipse: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Josh Sadlier May 2012

Pros: Aggressive styling, strong acceleration from optional V6.

Cons: Outclassed base inline-4 with outdated four-speed automatic transmission, no manual offered with V6, subpar fuel economy, unrealistically high pricing.

Introduction

The 2012 Mitsubishi Eclipse gives us occasion to reflect on where Mitsubishi's sporty coupe/convertible has been-and where it's going. When it burst on the scene back in the early '90s, the Eclipse was a breath of fresh air, offering neat features like a powerful turbocharged inline-4 and all-wheel drive. That basic philosophy continued until the late '90s, when the Eclipse adopted new styling and a naturally aspirated V6. The current Eclipse is that model's sequel, continuing to offer edgy styling and a naturally aspirated V6. But it's also on the verge of extinction, as 2012 will be the Eclipse's final year of production.

So what happened to Mitsubishi's once-proud icon of affordable sportiness? Without question, the Eclipse has been hurt by the general decline of two-door sales over the past couple of decades. But if you ask us, a central problem has been the Eclipse's steadily rising price. The 2012 model is a perfect example: the desirable V6-powered GT model starts at over $29,000 in coupe form and over $32,000 as a convertible ("Spyder"), which puts it up against impossibly stiff competition like the BMW 1 Series and Ford Mustang GT. And you can't even get one with a manual transmission. Moreover, cars like the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Ford Mustang V6 and Chevrolet Camaro V6 offer more power and better handling for much less.

That's a shame, because the 2012 Eclipse really isn't a bad car. Its styling-recently refreshed-still turns heads, and that V6 is still pretty muscular. You can specify a kicking Rockford Fosgate stereo, too. It's just that Mitsubishi hasn't kept up with the latest two-door trends in performance and value, which is why you'd better get a new Eclipse soon if you want one, or forever hold your peace.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Mitsubishi Eclipse is offered in GS, GS Sport, SE and GT trim levels.

The base GS, which is only available as a coupe, comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, a tilt-only steering column, cruise control, air-conditioning, power accessories and a six-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio input.

All other Eclipse trim levels are available on both the coupe and Spyder. The GS Sport trim loses the option of a manual transmission but adds xenon headlamps, a sunroof, a rearview camera with a small rearview-mirror display screen, heated leather seats, a power driver's seat, Bluetooth and a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with satellite radio. The similarly equipped SE tacks on dark-finish 18-inch alloys, black side mirrors and SE decals. The top-of-the-line GT adds the V6 engine, fog lamps and automatic climate control.

An iPod adapter is a standalone $180 option on every Eclipse.

Even after all these years, the Eclipse still has a cool interior. The dashboard is sporty looking and intimate, with soft-touch material liberally applied. The "ice blue" lighting remains a distinctive touch, but the gauges are almost too simple-they'd look more at home in the staid Galant sedan, with which the Eclipse incidentally shares some underpinnings. The stereo controls could be more intuitive, but we have no such complaints about the climate system, which is idiot-proof in both manual and automatic forms.

The Eclipse's front seats are low-slung and well-bolstered. Outward visibility isn't great, but it's hard to see out of many sporty cars these days, so the Eclipse could certainly be worse here. The steering wheel doesn't telescope, but we haven't found that to be a huge issue in the Eclipse. Drivers of various sizes seem to be able to find a comfort zone.

The Eclipse technically has a back seat, but you'll want to save it for cargo unless you've got a couple of very small humans to transport. Headroom is particularly limited, though the Spyder naturally solves this problem with the top down.

The Eclipse is a hatchback, so while Mitsubishi doesn't specify how much cargo space is available behind the rear seatbacks, you can fold those down to open up 15.7 cubic feet. That's tiny. As for the Spyder, its trunk holds 10.3 cubic feet with the top up, but just 5.2 cubic feet with it down.

Speaking of that top, it's a three-layer vinyl job with full power operation and a 19-second power-down time. Notably, it has an integrated hard tonneau cover that folds into place automatically, unlike the Camaro convertible's ridiculous manually installed tonneau cover.

Technology

Since this is the Eclipse's final year, Mitsubishi must have decided it wasn't worth it to include the latest features from the company's technology bin. That means the new FUSE voice-recognition system is unavailable, and you can't get a navigation system, either. But every Eclipse stereo comes with an auxiliary input jack, and an accessory iPod adapter can be added. Also, Bluetooth is standard from the GS Sport on up.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Every Eclipse is front-wheel-drive, and every trim level except the GT is powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 rated at 162 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. The base GS offers a five-speed manual transmission, but all other four-cylinder Eclipses have a four-speed automatic. With the automatic, the four-cylinder Eclipse has the same powertrain as the Galant family sedan, if that tells you anything about its performance. Put simply, every rival sport coupe offers more.

Best to step up to the GT, which boasts a 3.8-liter V6 hooked to a five-speed automatic. Output is rated at 265 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. You'll read elsewhere that this engine is "underpowered" relative to competing V6s, but that's just based on numbers. In real life, the Eclipse GT is a pretty fast car. Two issues, though: a manual transmission is no longer offered, and the GT costs thousands more than other V6-powered sport coupes. The fact that you could get a V8-powered Mustang GT for about the same coin tells you all you need to know about the Eclipse GT's pricing problem.

The four-cylinder Eclipse is EPA-rated at 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway (20/27 mpg for the Spyder), while the GT is rated at 17/25 mpg (16/24 mpg for the Spyder). These aren't good numbers relative to the power these engines produce.

Safety

The 2012 Mitsubishi Eclipse comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and six airbags in the coupe (front, front side, front side curtain) against four in the Spyder (front, front head/thorax).

No up-to-date crash-test data is available on the Eclipse coupe, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash-tested the Spyder, awarding it the highest rating of "Good" in frontal-offset and side impacts and the second-worst rating of "Marginal" for rear impacts.

Driving Impressions

Although the Eclipse is based on the same platform as the Galant family sedan, it's still entertaining to drive, featuring responsive steering and respectable body control. Comfort isn't its strong suit, however, as the ride is quite firm, and road noise can be an issue at highway speeds. By sporty car standards, the Eclipse offers few surprises, good or bad.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW 128i - The entry-level 1 Series coupe has roughly the same base price as the Eclipse GT coupe, and aside from the styling issue, this one's no contest.

Ford Mustang - The base Mustang V6 has more power than the Eclipse GT, and you can get it for the same price as a four-cylinder Eclipse. As noted, the Mustang GT with its 5.0-liter V8 is also within reach.

Hyundai Genesis Coupe - Although it's not available as a convertible, the Genesis Coupe is a true performance bargain, especially with its enhanced engines for 2013.

AutoTrader Recommends

We like the GT's V6, but we don't like the mandatory automatic transmission and the high price-so we'd say the Eclipse is at its best as the base GS with the manual transmission. For $20,000 or thereabouts, the Eclipse GS could be an interesting alternative to compact coupes like the Honda Civic and Kia Forte.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Mitsubishi Eclipse: New Car Review - Autotrader