By Kevin Miller
Earlier this month, Mitsubishi announced its 2009 Eclipse models are being launched with restyled front and rear bumpers, bringing the Eclipse’s look more in line with Mitsu’s current design language. As the 2009 cars are already going in to production and will soon be showing up on dealer lots, Mitsubishi is offering consumers incentives on the 2008 Eclipse and is selling the vehicles to fleets such as Avis.
When I arrived in Orange County at John Wayne International Airport with my wife on the evening of St. Valentine’s Day for our getaway trip to Palm Springs, the Avis representative offered me a 2007 Chevrolet Impala, a 2007 Chevrolet Malibu, or a 2008 Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe. Having never driven an Eclipse (while having driven both of those Chevys numerous times), and being in style-conscious Southern California, I chose the Eclipse.
The first things I noticed about the silver Eclipse GS coupe were its extremely high lift-over height for loading luggage into the hatch, and its poor visibility for reversing. The car had just 164 miles on it when we wheeled it out of the parking garage and on to the streets of Orange County. On the short drive to our hotel near the airport, the four cylinder’s coarse low-RPM sounds were intrusive as it idled and ran between stoplights. This is a sound that would prove to detract from the Eclipse’s appeal throughout our five days with the car.
The next morning we hit the road for the 100 mile drive to Palm Springs. Driving the Eclipse on the freeway highlighted just how low the car sits, with even mainstream sedans like the Toyota Camry blocking the view ahead. As we encountered heavy traffic on portions of our journey to Palm Springs over the holiday weekend, the trip took almost three hours. During that time, we had plenty of opportunity to evaluate the comfort of the seats and the sound of the basic stereo. While the seats were fairly comfortable, their positioning in the car lacked sufficient leg room for me behind the steering wheel. My wife found the passenger seat to be sufficiently comfortable. The stereo was merely adequate, without much sound depth and with fairly poor radio reception.
From the driver’s seat, the door-mounted rear view mirrors seem to be placed quite far back on the doors. They are mounted there because the doors have a fixed window pane at their front edge; the mirrors are mounted to be viewed through the rearmost window pane on the door (so that they are not obscured by the window frame). Having the mirrors mounted so far rearward accentuated the car’s natural blind spots while underway.
With the car on the freeway cruising between 70 and 80 MPH, the motor is turning around 3000 RPM. At this speed, the engine loses its coarse notes and its noise is largely drowned out by wind and road noise. With 162 HP from the 2.4 liter 4 cylinder, the mid-range torque provides adequate power on the freeway, though the automatic didn’t kick down as quickly as I would have liked when I wanted to pass vehicles. The “Sportronic” manual shifting feature of the automatic transmission wasn’t particularly quick-shifting, and didn’t shift down if the engine speed in the lower gear was anywhere near the engine’s red-line. The car handled well throughout our trip, with its suspension firmly planted to the road at high speeds, though the short wheelbase combined with some repetitive freeway expansion joints induced an unsettling see-sawing motion on one segment of our trip.
For daily use while we were in Palm Springs, we found it tiresome to get in and out of the Eclipse, which sits much lower than the Saab 9-5 and Volvo V70 we drive at home. The low roof and low seating position combined with the small, sporty cabin meant we had to perform contortions to climb in and out of the Eclipse, especially if we were parked close to other cars which prevented us from fully opening our doors.
Despite our rented Eclipse being the entry-level GS coupe with low-end audio system and blanked-out front fog lamp openings, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) are standard, as are advanced dual-stage front air bags, seat-mounted side air bags and front seat curtain side air bags. Also standard are automatic-sealing frameless windows, which drop slightly when the door is opened, and raise when the door has been closed to provide a tight seal against wind noise and water entry.
During my time with the Eclipse, I was pondering where it fits in today’s automotive marketplace. Many of the Eclipse’s traditional rivals, like the Toyota Celica and Acura Integra/RSX have gone out production. The Hyundai Tiburon and Scion tC are probably the closest matches, with other front-wheel drive coupes such as the Chevrolet Cobalt, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, and Ford Focus, and hatchbacks like the Saturn Astra and VW Rabbit also vying for market share. While the FWD Audi TT is a close match dimensionally, it is in a different class due to its features and optional AWD.
We ended up driving 330 miles in the Eclipse, about 250 of which were on the freeway, though some of that freeway driving was stop-and-go. Over that time we got 24.5 MPG from the Eclipse, which seems about right given its EPA rating of 20/26 MPG.
Mitsubishi says “the Eclipse Coupe combines thrilling design and performance with outstanding value to offer the sport coupe customer an attainable exotic.” I’d say that isn’t too far from the truth. The Eclipse looks like almost nothing else on the road, and was an enjoyable car to drive around for our long weekend in California. What it lacks in refinement it seems to make up for in style.
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