The all-new 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse illustrates well this apparent conundrum. New all the way through, from the ground up and from front to rear, it's a strong statement of the company's commitment to its loyal owner base and its investment in the vital U.S. market.
The car's a worthy entry, too. New engines are more powerful yet efficient and are paired with new transmissions. The new body rides on a new platform. Altogether, it's a promising package. Driver and front passenger get more room.
Stylistically, it's a pleasant improvement over the previous-generation (pre-2006) models. Fewer straight lines and sharp angles, more curves and better proportions combine to turn heads more with a smile than with a frown.
The window sticker leaves a positive impression, too. The base 2006 Eclipse GS boasts a manufacturer's suggested retail price that's $300 less than the '05's MSRP. And the '06 boasts more standard equipment, in creature comfort, performance and safety features than the '05. Moreover, the new Eclipse GT starts at $450 less than the '05 GTS, the model with which it most directly compares, and which it easily outpaces in terms of power and features.
Clearly, Mitsubishi intends to stay around. And the new Eclipse will certainly help.
Mitsubishi Eclipse GS ($19,399); Eclipse GT ($23,699)
The keyword for the new styling is softer. And a little bit rounder. Headlight housings are no longer so angular, as if they'd been chopped out of the corner of the car, but more eye-like, with the outer corner tugged gracefully back into the fender. The front end has been relaxed with the opening of a split grille, filled with recessed black honeycomb mesh, above the bumper and the rounding of the corners of the intake below. Foglamps have been moved to the sides, into the bumper's bend beneath the headlights. Wheels are farther apart than in the '05, by more than two inches, not only presenting a more planted look, but also promising better stability when cornering.
The softer look continues in side profile. The A-pillar and C-pillar flow into the hood and trunk, leaving behind the '05's sharp, crease-like seam between the lower body and the glass house. Door panels lose the '05's strakes, tucking inward as they approach the B-pillar, giving the Eclipse what the stylists call a wasp-waist look, but what could just as easily be called corseted. The rocker panels' bulge fills the lower portion of the doors, tying together the robustly blistered fenders. The rear wheelwells beg for larger tires, even on the GT.
From the rear, the word bulbous comes to mind. It looks like the stylists did the best job they could of stretching the Eclipse's haunches over the expansive Galant platform. A minimalist, translucent-cum-three-dimensional plastic spoiler arcs across the liftgate between the clear-lensed taillights. The rear license plate fits in a recess in the fulsome rear fascia. A faux underbody airflow extractor panel fills the bottom quarter of the body-color fascia; on both models, a single exhaust exits through the right-hand segment, the GT's tipped with something Mitsubishi calls a large muffler cutter.
The dash is a cabin-spanning, single piece of pleasantly finished plastic that invites optimism about reduced buzzes, squeaks and rattles as the car puts on miles and years. The dash visually moves away from the front passenger as it nears the door, adding a perception of roominess. Yet the lower portion of the right side of the dash subtly incorporates an anti-submarining knee bolster. The frontal airbag supplemental restraint is masked by a seamless surface.
Stereo and climate control knobs are all refreshingly un-PDA-like and finger friendly. Atop the dash above the center stack is Mitsubishi's trademark hooded panel with digital readouts for audio, time and compass. A matching, but larger hood shades the instruments, positioned directly in front of the driver and comprising simple, easily scanned, analog speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and engine coolant temperature gauges. The Eclipse employs a unique approach to providing both miles per hour and kilometers per hour data, with mph on the speedometer's face and kph digitally in a window along with the odometer and trip meter. Night-time instrument and dash lighting is tinted blue, which clashes with the dash-top LCD panel's opaque beige.
The center console differs between the manual transmissions and the Sportronic automatics. The manual setup sports a traditional look, with a leather-like boot around the shifter capped with a leather-wrapped knob rising out of a flush, bright-metallic surround.
The Sportronic goes techno, with a shift lever that appears to slide along and pivot on a shaft deep within a less-traditional, raised, tubular-like base. From the Drive position, pushing the lever to the right puts it into the Sportronic gate. From there, semi-manual shifting is intuitive: pushing it forward selects a higher gear, pulling it back, a lower gear. In terms of function, the arrangement works, but in form, it's less than satisfying.
The handbrake, though, is correctly positioned, on the driver's side of the center console next to the shift lever. To its right is a pair of cup holders with a cover that folds down into the console to the passenger side of the console. Aft of this is a covered, reasonably deep storage bin, with an auxiliary power outlet and slots for toll change.
Front seats are comfortable, sufficiently bolstered for mildly spirited driving and adequately cushioned for a day-long, interstate drive from California's southern-most region up through its lush Central Valley to the state capital without numbing occupants' posteriors. The '06 provides more room, too, than the '05 for those occupants.
Rear-seat comfort appears to have been sacrificed in favor of more front-seat comfort, however. The rear seats are less commodious than those in the '05 model. There are also no head restraints. Suffice to say, the back seats are better used occasionally and for short drives.
Interior door panels are swoopy, but mostly functional, with a good-sized handle and convenient, child-safe power window buttons. If only the latch lever were more ergonomic. The glove box is adequate, but the door-mounted map pockets are too small to be of much use.
Cargo space drops more than a full cubic foot from the '05. The liftover height, while not much higher than that of the average trunk, presents a fairly thick rear bulkhead, requiring a back-straining lean to heft items up, over and into the cargo area. And we regretted not having the optional cargo net in our car; during several hundred miles of travel and a week's time around town, our suitcases and grocery bags tended to roam freely therein. Rear seats split 50/50 and fold as necessary for longer objects.
Power has been increased for both of the Eclipse's engines. The V6 in the new 2006 Eclipse makes 53 more horsepower and 55 more pound-feet of torque than the '05 GTS did. The four-cylinder in the standard '06 model generates 15 more horsepower and 20 pound-feet more torque than last year's model, although the heavier '06 exacts a relatively bigger penalty in reduced agility.
In its quest for mass management, if not weight reduction, Mitsubishi tried something new with its six-speed manual transmission. By re-routing the power flow through the transmission's gears and shafts, effectively giving the incorporated center differential two final drive ratios (one for gears 1 - 4, the other for gears 5, 6 and reverse), it shrunk the unit's size, making for a more compact installation and lessening the new GT's front-weight bias. Special treatment was given the GT's suspension with a larger rear stabilizer bar countering stiffer front springs to maintain a more desirable roll center and the strut tower cross bar, although the latter snakes through the engine compartment with enough bends and twists to invite doubt as to the extent of its contribution in the handling department.
Most of this is invisible to the driver. There's a barely perceptible surge around 4000-4300 rpm in both engines as the respective variable-valve systems shift modes, but to the degree this is felt it's a small price to pay. The Sportronic automatic delivers smooth shifts and kicks down to pass with only slight hesitation. It delivers in manual mode, too, shifting neither up nor down at either extreme of the power band, but rather holding the selected gear per the driver's preference.
We didn't sample the manual transmissions, but Mitsubishi's track record leaves us confident they will not disappoint. Curiously, however, the GT's six-speed manual registers a lower EPA-estimated fuel economy than the Sportronic; Mitsubishi officials believe this is due to quirks in the government's fuel economy rating methodology and pledge to survey owners to obtain real-world data.
Ride is smooth, about as expected in a car of this weight and dimensions. The GT's suspension is a smidgen more communicative than the GS of the tires' interactions with the road. Directional stability is good. Handling is typical for a front-wheel-drive coupe: Under hard acceleration the steering wheel tugs to the right, albeit gently, and the harder the car is pushed in corners, the more it understeers. The GT's firmer suspension and the larger footprint from the optional tires do tend to reduce this latter trait somewhat. Wind noise is well managed, even at extra-legal interstate speeds. Brakes are solid and mostly linear, with little of the annoying interference increasingly felt with the growing use of poorly coded, electronic management applications.
The frameless door windows drop fractionally to clear their seals when the door is opened and then re-seat when the door is closed. To allow them to retract fully, however, necessitated designing a quarter window so the window's track would clear the door's forward perimeter. This pushed the outside mirrors a ways rearward, to the point drivers must consciously turn their head to the side to scan overtaking traffic and the like. The outside door handles are also an awkward design that's likely to cost unwary drivers and passengers more than a few fingernails.
The Rockford Fosgate sound system is ticket fodder in jurisdictions where cops enforce vehicle-related noise ordina
The 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse is truly new. It's roomier and should appeal to a wider audience, but it still delivers sporty transport and good looks.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Northern California.