I don’t know about you, but it’s getting somewhat hard of late to pick out an affordable sporty car with a decent amount of character. Sure, there’s the Mustang and the Nissan 370Z, but what else really fits the bill? How about the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder?
|1. The Eclipse Spyder is offered as a GS model with a 162hp 2.4L 4-cylinder or as a GT with a 265hp 3.8L V6.
2. With no manual transmission models offered any more, GS models come with a five-speed automatic while GT models feature a six-speed auto-box.
3. GS models start at $28,494, while the GT, which adds HID headlights, leather and 18-inch wheels begins at $33,525.
4. All Eclipse Spyders come with a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system.
Outside of the tuner crowd, the Eclipse is perhaps one of those unsung heroes; a sporty car that’s seen many of its rivals come and go. First launched way back in 1990, the fact that it is still in production (and the last survivor of a trio originally built at the Diamond Star factory in Normal, Illinois – the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser were the others) is testimony to the faith its parent company, Mitsubishi, has placed in the continued development of cars that are actually fun to drive.
Currently in its fourth incarnation, the Eclipse received a raft of improvements in 2009. But before we get to those, let’s take a look at the basic package, which in our case here is the Spyder or convertible model.
Now let it be said, ragtops can often polarize opinions. They can deliver a driving experience that is either, completely awful, or utterly sublime – seldom is there any middle ground. Mitsubishi first introduced a ragtop Eclipse as part of the second-generation lineup in 1999. Even though you could get it with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the GS-T model was deemed to be a bit softer around the edges than its tin top counterpart. It’s successor, with a normally aspirated V6 was perhaps even more mainstream – when you drove it you felt a disconnect between the road and the machine, leading some wags to label it as a bit of a chick car.
Fast-forward a decade and here we are, about to take the latest top line Spyder, the GT, out for a spin. On the outside this car has far more a visual impact than the third-gen model ever did. The muscular fenders, swept up doors and bulbous rump, give it a purposeful look, though we’re not sure about those clear taillights, which would be better off on the rack at Pep Boys than as an OE fitment on a car like this.
While it might not be put together with Mercedes-like precision, the Eclipse Spyder is screwed together well enough, both outside and in. The top is fabricated from woven cloth and feels quite sturdy and taut. Stepping inside, with the roof up however, does accentuate an already dark and brooding, albeit ergonomically sound cabin. There’s plenty of charcoal plastic, interspersed with aluminum, lending an all-business feel, though the sportsbike like instruments are a nice touch. Outward visibility isn’t great with the roof up, especially through that tiny back window and the high belt line also restricts over the shoulder viewing through the small quarter lights.
When driving around town with the top up, the Spyder feels solid and tight and surprisingly leak free – we drove it through a heavy-duty car wash just to find out. Mitsubishi says the roof was specially engineered to prevent ballooning at speed, but drive at freeway velocity with the windows open and you can feel it wanting to lift.
All it takes to get the roof down; is to unfasten the two latches (one each side of the header panel) and push the console button. All four-side windows retract and the top is stowed underneath a solid boot cover. The whole process takes less than 20 seconds from start to finish and a warning light will sound if you haven’t press the button all the way to fully close or open the roof.
With the top down, wind noise is surprisingly minimal and if the weather presents itself this is the only way to drive the car. The front bucket seats, while being fairly deeply bolstered, aren’t as comfortable as those in some other Mitsubishis and a few drivers will find themselves trying to stretch their back after just an hour of driving. In the back, due to packaging considerations (i.e. allowing space to put a set of golf bags in the trunk), all Spyder models feature a massive subwoofer that forms the upper part of the seat. With the 650-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system reverberating at a decent tilt, it’s not the most pleasant place to be, though let’s face it; nobody should be buying this car on the merits of rear seat capacity.
Some have criticized the Eclipse’s on road performance and handling characteristics, but in all honesty there’s very little to fault.
The 2010 GT boasts 265 hp at 5750 rpm and 262 ft-lbs of torque at 4500 from a 3.8-liter V6. And the noise emitted from the dual stainless steel exhaust is quite satisfying.
Unfortunately the six-speed manual, which I’ve had the pleasure to row through the past, is no longer offered. The auto-box isn’t quite as exciting, but it’s still satisfyingly quick with plenty of muscle to pass over-zealous pilots in their metallic beige toasters. And the good news is that Mitsubishi now has a new six-speed automatic for 2010, replacing the five-speed box. GS models also get an upgrade from a four-speed to a five-speed automatic.
Despite the addition of stability control in ’09 (on GT models), even at low speeds the car’s front drive mechanicals still inhibit a dose of torque steer, and if you give the V6 too much juice accelerating out of a corner it can snap back at you. However, on the open road, with the wind in your hair and setting up for an apex or three, crank the wheel and the car goes where you ask it too. For a convertible, the Spyder’s unibody structure is actually quite rigid (there’s a front strut brace and high tensile steel sections employed). Thus, even with the top down, the front MacStrut and rear multi-link suspension feel like they’re actually connected with each other, unlike quite a few ragtops (even modern ones).
Another down-side to the loss of the six-speed manual is the resultant negative effect it has on fuel economy. While Mitsubishi used to be able to claim 17/26 mpg (city/highway) for the GT model, with only the automatic offered, that number is now 16/24 mpg.
Both GS and GT Spyder models have the same size front brakes (11.6-inch vented front discs), though the latter get larger rear anchors (11.2- instead of 10.3-inch). Braking is most definitely a strong point of this car, with good modulation and pedal feel, even under repeated panic stops.
In terms of pricing, both the GS and GT models have gone up in price over the ’09 model despite little change. The GS model now starts at $28,494 (as compared to $27,669 last year for the automatic), while the GT runs a pricey $33,525 (as compared to $30,869 with the automatic). GT models do come with bigger rear brakes, standard HID headlights, six-way power driver’s seat, leather upholstery and 18-inch wheels and tires.
As a front-driver, the Eclipse Spyder is a member of a rare breed. It’s sporty without being a sports car, which means you can easily live with it on a daily basis. The price increase for 2010 doesn’t seem warranted, but as often is the case you have to pay for individuality and this looker definitely stands out. Overall we thoroughly enjoyed it, but a little added power would make the new sticker price easier to swallow.