- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

Designed as a thinking person's 2+2, the new Mitsubishi Eclipse is a much more mature take on the zippy little pocket rocket that premiered in 1989 as an early 1990 model. More sophisticated, better equipped and still sensibly priced, the new Eclipse has lost none of its luster. With the introduction of the convertible Spyder this year, the Eclipse family is complete. Like the hatchback version, the Spyder comes as a GS or GT. My test Spyder was a GT.

Some vehicles don't translate particularly well into drop-tops. Not so with the Eclipse. With the top lowered, the Spyder looks downright dashing. Top raised, however, destroys some of the carefully crafted symmetry of the hardtop; although, all of the other styling cues are there. A wide stance, fat 17-inch tires and a rakish trunklid spoiler all promote the Spyder GT's sporty image. While Mitsubishi has gone to great lengths to widen the Eclipse's appeal, it has preserved this little two-door's salty allure.

Intimate to say the least, the Spyder's cabin is best suited for a driver and one passenger up front. Even then, there is a finite amount of elbow room. Leg room and head room are in ample supply, though. Form-fitting front bucket seats do a fine job of holding their occupants upright. These seats are surprisingly comfortable as well. The rear seat is good for little more than a parcel shelf. Even children would feel cramped back there. Easily accessible, the audio and ventilation system controls are located in the center of the dashboard. The screen housing the digital clock and audio system information is located much higher up directly above the audio controls. The trunk is smallish, but will hold an overnight bag or two.

Two latches fasten the top to the windshield header. Releasing these and pushing one button automatically lowers the top and all four side windows. A bit noisier and slower than some similar systems, the powered top drops into a well behind the rear seat. Even at freeway speeds, wind noise isn't overwhelming. When raised, the top fits snuggly, but somewhat limits rearward visibility.

Carried over, but improved from the previous generation, the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine powering the GS version packs a punch of 147 horsepower and 158 foot-pounds of peak torque. This is enough get-up-and-go to inspire some driving fun. For a real blast, however, the GT's 3.0-liter V-6 delivers 200 horsepower and 205 foot-pounds of peak torque. When cruising, the V-6 purrs like a contented kitten. Put a foot into it, though, and the purr is instantly transformed to a low growl. A tight, buttery smooth 5-speed manual transmission ushers engine output to the front wheels. A 4-speed automatic is available.

Unlike some clunky 5-speeds that you don't want to touch any more than you have to, the silky Eclipse gearbox stimulates shifting. I found myself looking for situations to downshift and then work my way back up through the gears. From a standing stop, the Spyder GT can reach 60 miles-per-hour in about seven seconds. Fuel economy is decent for this much performance. The Environmental Protection Agency rates its miles-per-gallon in the city at 20, and 29 on the highway.

Well constructed, the Mitsubishi Spyder provides a nearly flex-free platform despite its drop-top structure. There is a little shake over rough road surfaces or railroad crossings, but it's minimal. My test Spyder GT was scrupulously assembled with nary a squeak or rattle to be heard. Carefully balanced between comfort and handling, the 4-wheel independent suspension delivers a firm, but comfortable ride. This is a fun-to-drive 2+2 that is no pretender to the label, sports car.

Base price of the Mitsubishi Spyder GT is $25,597. Standard features not already mentioned include dual front air bags, air conditioning, power windows/door locks, 7-speaker AM/FM stereo/CD player, height adjustable driver's seat, remote keyless entry, anti-theft security alarm, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels and carpeted floor mats. My test Spyder GT also had a $2,370 option package with ABS, upgraded audio system with cassette and 4-disc in-dash CD changer, leather seating surfaces, power driver's seat and front side-impact air bags. Adding the $555 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $28,522.

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