The Eclipse coupe was all-new in 2006. Changes for 2007, beyond the introduction of the Eclipse Spyder (reviewed separately), are minimal. Yet the Eclipse is still new enough to be fresh. The front seats are roomier than in the pre-2006 models, and this latest-generation Eclipse represents an improvement stylistically. With more curves and better proportions, it turns heads more with a smile than with a frown.
The Eclipse coupe has four seat belts, but it's a classic 2+2. The back seat is only used as a last resort. But the same applies to sport coupes that cost three times as much, and this is a true coupe, rather than a sedan with its rear doors sealed shut and painted over.
As such, the Eclipse offers something increasingly rare in the new-car market: a reasonably priced, sporty alternative to the bevy of small sedans. Prices start under $20,000, and even the base model is well equipped.
Mitsubishi Eclipse GS ($19,699); Eclipse GT ($23,399)
The lines on this latest-generation Eclipse are softer than those of the previous-generation. Everything looks a little rounder. Headlight housings are not so angular, as if they'd been chopped out of the corner of the car. The lights are 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. Fog lamps have been moved to the sides, into the bumper's bend beneath the headlights. Wheels are farther apart than in the previous-generation Eclipse, by more than two inches. It creates a more planted look, promising better stability when cornering.
The softer look continues in side profile. The A-pillar and C-pillar flow into the hood and trunk. Door panels tuck inward as they approach the B-pillar, giving the Eclipse what the stylists call a wasp-waist look. We'd call it corseted. The rocker panel bulge fills the lower portion of the doors, tying together the robustly blistered fenders. The rear wheel wells beg for larger tires, even on the GT.
As for the rear view, the word bulbous comes to mind. 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. From the rear, the GT is distinguished by a special exhaust tip.
The outside door handles are an awkward design that's likely to cost unwary drivers and passengers fingernails.
The dash spans across the cabin in a single piece of pleasantly finished plastic. Visually, it 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 front airbag supplemental restraint is masked by a seamless surface.
Stereo and climate control knobs are finger friendly and easy to operate. The 650-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system is ticket fodder in jurisdictions where cops enforce vehicle-related noise ordinances. The 140-watt, six-speaker system that comes standard is no slouch, either, and saves a cubic foot or so that the premium system's 10-inch subwoofer occupies in the cargo area.
Atop the dash, above the center stack, sits Mitsubishi's trademark hooded panel with digital readouts for audio, time and compass. A matching, but larger hood shades the instruments. A simple, easily scanned analog cluster with speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and engine coolant temperature gauges sits directly in front of the driver. 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 displayed 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 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 toward the passenger side. 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 2007 Eclipse provides more room, too, than the pre-'06 model for front-seat occupants. It's a combination of slight increases in key dimensions and design tricks that increase the feeling of spaciousness, and it's welcome.
Eclipse's frameless door windows drop fractionally to clear their seals when the door is opened and then re-seat when the door is closed. Their shape, however, necessitates a fixed quarter window toward the front to allow the main windows to retract fully into the door. This design moves the outside mirrors rearward, so the driver must consciously turn his or her head to the side to scan for overtaking traffic.
Rear-seat comfort does not exist here and there are no head restraints. The back seats are to be used almost never and then only for very 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 mor
Both the four-cylinder and V6 engines are strong, though the four works best with the manual transmission, allowing the driver to more readily extract maximum acceleration. The V6 delivers more horsepower, but it also puts more weight over the Eclipse's front wheels.
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. This makes for a more compact installation and lessens the 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. There is also a cross bar that connects the front suspension towers, although the brace snakes through the engine compartment with enough bends and twists to invite doubt as to the extent of its contribution in the handling department.
In any case, Mitsubishi's variable valve timing system infuses both engines with a nice, even power band, meaning that acceleration-producing torque flows in steady fashion rather than peaky chunks. The Sportronic automatics work well, and we're particularly impressed with the five-speed automatic mated to the V6. It 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.
The manual shifter is precise enough to really work the lever and shift frequently, sports-car style. Curiously, however, the GT's six-speed manual registers a lower EPA-estimated fuel economy than the Sportronic.
The ride is smooth, about as expected in a car of this weight and dimensions. The GT's suspension is a smidgen better at keeping the driver informed as to how the tires are gripping. Directional stability is good, and 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 18-inch 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 software.
Fresh from a complete redesign for 2006, the Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe delivers good looks and sporty transport with decent fuel mileage. It offers a bit more room for front passengers. Starting below $20,000 well equipped, the Eclipse offers an interesting alternative to the wide-array of front-drive sedans that crowd the market.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Northern California.