- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

It's sunny and warm, great weather for an open-top car. And only one of America's top five selling convertibles already is out as an early 2003 model.
The 2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder gets a mild refreshening, with revised styling in the front, new taillamps and new wheels.
The top trim level, the Spyder GTS, has a slightly revised V-6 with improved performance. This model also comes with a new leather interior and more standard features, including a 210-watt, AM-FM sound system with six-CD changer and audio controls on the steering wheel.
There's a new Eclipse Spyder price tag, too, with the manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, starting at $24,372 for a basic four-cylinder-powered Eclipse Spyder GS, up $200 from the base 2002 model.
This compares with $24,220, starting MSRP and destination charge, for a 2002 Toyota MR2 Spyder, $23,625 for a 2002 Ford Mustang and $20,150 for a 2002 Volkswagen Cabriolet.
According to automotive researcher R.L. Polk & Co. of Southfield, Mich., the Eclipse is the fourth best-selling new convertible in the United States after the Mustang, Chrysler Sebring and Mazda Miata and ahead of VW's Cabrio.
Eclipse Spyder sales were on the rise before the updates for 2003, increasing from 13,958 in calendar 2000 to 17,134 last year as convertible sales overall have climbed in recent years.
So far this year, they're up over 2001 levels.
Much of the appeal of the Eclipse Spyder is its sporty styling, which makes this subcompact two-door look as if it's in motion, even when it's parked.
This is especially true when the fabric top is down.
Inside the Eclipse Spyder, the driver area has a cockpit feel, with round, almost podlike gauges at the right and left sides of the instrument panel, framing the steering wheel.
Radio controls and display are odd, though, because they're not grouped together.
Audio knobs and buttons are in the middle of the dashboard, halfway up the center stack. The display showing what station is playing is on top of the dash, separated from the knobs and controls by air vents.
So I wound up looking at two places whenever I wanted to tune the radio.
Styling aside, the best part about the Eclipse Spyder GTS test car was the eager-to-please 210-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6.
I didn't need to flog it to get the car moving. With mild pressure on the accelerator, the car moved in sprightly fashion. Shifts from the four-speed automatic transmission were smooth.
If I slammed down the accelerator aggressively, the Eclipse Spyder would actually zoom forward in a rush and my passengers would be pushed back in their seats. But shifts were not quite as smooth during this kind of driving.
The V-6, with new variable intake system that provides greater responsiveness across different speeds, is in the 2003 Eclipse GT and GTS models.
Torque is 205 foot-pounds at 3,750 rpm. But unleaded premium is the recommended fuel for this power plant.
The Eclipse Spyder also continues with a base, 147-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine, which uses regular unleaded.
In the test GTS, the V-6 exhaust note was constant and came across as a boy racer sound.
The only time I didn't notice it much was when I got to highway speeds and wind and road noise overtook the engine sound.
The fabric convertible top on the Eclipse Spyder is fully lined inside and is easy to put down and bring back up.
Just undo two latches at the top of the windshield, push a button and the Eclipse becomes topless. A manual boot, or cover, for the folded top is provided, too.
As you expect, visibility is terrific when the top is down.
But it can be difficult to back out of parking spaces with the top up because the fabric top blocks the area to the right rear of the car.
The top also sits low and close to the heads of rear-seat passengers, making the already cramped back seats for two more constrained.
But I appreciate that the car's rear window is glass.
The front-drive Spyder handles smartly. Curvy country roads were fun and the car handled back-and-forth movements in a slalom well.
There wasn't a single chirp from the V-rated, 17-inch tires during these maneuvers, and the car managed abrupt handling changes with an easy predictability.
The power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering has a bit of lightness and is quickly responsive, too.
Overall, the ride is more on the firm side than cushioned.
It's pleasant on smooth roads, but there are occasional vibrations, some of them strong, on bump-strewn concrete.
There's noticeable cowl shake in the car, and if you don't get a good fit as you put the top up, rattles and squeaks can develop.
Maximum trunk space is 7.2 cubic feet and you must lift items up and over the car body before dropping them into the deep, rectangular trunk.
The sun visors rest near a hard, reinforced part of the top of the windshield, so you have to watch out for pinched fingers.
For a small car, the Spyder with V-6 has a fairly large turning circle 40 feet and a horn that sounds like it's from a bigger car.

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