2009 Mitsubishi Eclipse

A sports car in looks only

2009 Mitsubishi Eclipse
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When is a sports car not a sports car? When it shares a platform with an SUV. That was an expensive lesson for General Motors to learn with its disastrous Chevrolet SSR, so why should Mitsubishi hold out hope that having its Eclipse coupe sharing a platform with the Endeavor soft-roader is a good idea?

FAST FACTS

1. For 2009 the Eclipse gets a makeover with a corporate Mitsubishi nose.

2. It may have more show than go, but if that’s what you’re looking for, go all-out with a 650-watt stereo and a full aero kit.

3. Two engines are offered, a 162hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 265hp 3.8-liter V6.

The current fourth-generation Eclipse is far removed from the original ‘90s performance icon. If you were involved with the street racing or off-road rally scene in the ‘90s, the Mitsubishi Eclipse was the hottest car on the street – or off. Representing one third of the Diamond Star Motors (DSM) triplets, the others being the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser, the Eclipse made its reputation on a ruggedly built, but ultimately fragile, turbocharged four-cylinder engine connected to a sophisticated all-wheel drive system. It was as close to a Lancer Evolution that North America would see for another decade.

The ultimate expression of the Eclipse’s position in the import-tuning scene played out in the first movie in the Fast & Furious franchise, with the bright-green second-generation version as the show’s star. Not long afterwards, when the Eclipse was due for a redesign, the company did away with the AWD system, and installed a heavy V6 in place of the turbo-four. Talk about a letdown. The third and subsequently fourth-generation Eclipses have promised so much in terms of performance and style, but haven’t really resonated with the crowd that used to adore them.

CORPORATE MAKEOVER FOR 2009

It’s a good thing that the Eclipse looks reasonably good, with big fenders, deep sills and that integrated rear spoiler. For 2009, it undergoes a little cosmetic surgery to better reflect the new corporate nose at Mitsubishi, with a blacked-out grille and front bumper. HID headlights are a new option. The rear now features a dual exhaust and darkened plastic mimicking an underbody diffuser.

UNDERPOWERED 4-CYL OR FRONT-HEAVY V6: YOUR CHOICE

There are two trims available, each with its own engine. The entry-level GS features a 162-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder, starting at $20,249 with a five-speed manual or $1,000 more for a four-speed automatic. Hardly a sporting icon in the making... The majority of Eclipses are thus equipped, trading fun for relative fuel economy (20/28 mpg city/highway). The GS doesn’t make for an exciting ride because the SUV roots make it far too heavy, tipping the scales at 3,263 lb.

The $26,298 GT sounds much better on paper, with a 3.8-litre V6 producing 265 hp, and a six-speed manual transmission, while the five-speed Sportronic automatic is another grand. It’s also a good deal thirstier, showing 16/25 mpg city/highway, and demands premium fuel. The GT features standard 18-inch wheels (17-in on GS), larger rear disc brakes to offset the extra weight, and a larger rear anti-roll bar to improve handling.

PLENTY OF ADD-ONS INCLUDING 650-WATT AUDIO SYSTEM AND AERO KIT

Most of the attractive options are included in three main packages for both models. The $2,149 Sun & Sound package includes a one-touch power sunroof with vent feature, a nine-speaker 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with a 6-CD/MP3 in-dash changer and Sirius satellite radio, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and alloy pedals.

The $3,839 Premium Sport/Accessory Package includes everything from S&S but adds heated leather seats, an eight-way-adjustable (six-way-power) driver’s seat, aluminum scuff plates, automatic climate control, heated power-adjustable side view mirrors.

And an iPod adapter is a cool $200 extra.

For those who want to attract even more attention, the Sport Aero Kit includes side-sill extensions and air dams front and rear for $1,299.

THE (DISAPPOINTING) DRIVE:

While the exterior screams for attention, the interior is much more sedate... and dated. While the overall design is ok, tall drivers will find it impossible to get comfortable behind the wheel. During my time with the Eclipse, my shins and knees were constantly pressed up on the under-dash support that runs the length of the cabin. Combine that with a seat that doesn’t lower enough and a steering wheel that doesn’t adjust enough, and you get a recipe for pain, bruises and cramps.

It affects performance too, because the Eclipse has one of the worst cases of torque-steer seen on a modern car, pulling the wheels at every opportunity, which encourages you to keep both hands on the tiller. And that proves impossible when cornering because your knees are in the way. Forget shifting properly...

The Eclipse’s handling can best be described as blunt. It’s a big, heavy car with a big, heavy engine sitting ahead of the front wheels. This isn’t like driving a Mazdaspeed3 or Chevrolet Cobalt SS where you can adjust trajectory by the nano-meter. No, you’re taking huge swaths of pavement to get the same thing accomplished. It is not an intuitive or satisfying vehicle to drive quickly.

THE VERDICT

No, the Eclipse is more about posing and posturing now, a vehicle more for those who want to look like they could go fast rather than actually doing so. For them, a better buy would be the Eclipse convertible – or Spyder in Mitsubishi speak – running from $25,949 to $30,149 in the same trim levels as the coupe. The three-layer power-folding roof raises or lowers in less than 20 seconds, and stows away cleanly beneath a hard tonneau cover. Obviously, the Spyder is even heavier than the coupe, and ultimate performance is dampened as well.

Competitors in this area are vicious. For near the same money, you could get a 300-hp Chevrolet Camaro, a V8-powered Ford Mustang GT, or a 220-hp version of Hyundai’s excellent new Genesis Coupe. For a few grand more, you’re into Nissan 370Z territory. And you can get both the Z and Mustang as convertibles as well.

Mitsubishi should just ditch the expensive versions anyway. If you want performance in a Mitsu package, you’re buying a heavenly all-wheel drive Lancer Evolution X, not a front-wheel drive, torque-steering, cramped, V6-powered Eclipse.

PLUS

Powerful V6
Excellent audio system
Aggressive looks with Aero Package

MINUS

Torque steer
Cramped cabin
Lost among competitors

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