- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mitsubishi officials know there are more people who lust after exotic sport coupes than can afford them. So as they developed the new, fourth-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse for 2006, they kept thinking about creating an “attainable exotic,” especially as they fit a new, powerful V- under the hood.

The best-selling import sport coupe in the country over the past 15 years, the Eclipse now rides on a new, more rigid platform and is restyled with a sophisticated, expressive look.

Its also slightly roomier than its predecessor and has more safety equipment. It remains a front-wheel-drive car.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the 2006 Eclipse is $19,994. This is for a four-cylinder model and might spur shoppers to compare the new Eclipse to lower-priced coupes such as the 2005 Acura RSX, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge of $20,845 and the 2005 Hyundai Tiburon, which starts at $16,594.

But the 2006 Eclipse GT with 263-horsepower, 3.8-liter, single-overhead-cam V-6 and starting price of $24,294 has a potent 260 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm that compares with the 260 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm found in a manual-transmission, V-6-powered Infiniti G35 coupe that starts at $33,960.

In the test Eclipse GT with six-speed manual, I had to really focus on how I touched the gas pedal. Throttle tip-in was sensitive. Starting up from stop signs in my neighborhood, for example, I would sometimes find my head pressed back into the head restraint as power came on quickly even as I pressed the accelerator lightly.

The Eclipse GT also eagerly raced to highway speeds while I was still on highway entrance ramps, and I found myself needing to watch my speeds carefully.

But fuel economy isn’t the greatest in this V-6 coupe, where the government rating is 18 miles to a gallon in the city and 27 mpg on highways.

The base, 2.4-liter four-cylinder in the new Eclipse that produces 162 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm does a bit better. Its rating is 23/30 mpg for a model with five-speed manual transmission. Automatic transmissions also are available for the Eclipse.

In contrast to some earlier Eclipses, styling is clean and uncluttered. This allows the shapely body, with a rear end that is reminiscent of a Porsche, to be the focal point and exude a sophisticated and sexy look, rather than a cheap look.

I especially appreciated the tastefully integrated spoiler. Taillamps are bright, light-emitting diode units.

The car is 3.1 inches longer, nearly 2 inches taller and 3.3 inches wider than the 2005 model. This makes for fractionally more front-seat legroom and headroom as well as nearly 2 inches increased shoulder room in front.

But back-seat legroom and headroom is less than last year’s Eclipse.

Indeed, even with a front seat positioned to give me OK legroom in back, I did not like sitting in the rear. My head brushed the rear hatchback glass, and the large, sloping rear pillar positioned a hard plastic coat hanger hook next to my face.

Cargo volume in the Eclipse declined, too, from 16.9 to 15.7 cubic feet, and there is high liftover to get items over the rear bumper.

Like any exotic, the Eclipse sits low to the ground. How low? While in the front passenger seat, for example, I found myself looking up at riders in a passing Hyundai Accent small sedan, which is hardly a tall-riding car. And with the Eclipse drivers seat adjusted up as high as it would go, someone my size — 5 foot 4 — can still be stuck peering over the Eclipse windshield wipers.

But the Eclipse GTs stick-to-the-pavement handling and lack of body roll sensations made for a fun ride.

Be ready to feel road vibrations and some bumps nearly all the time and hear engine tunes every time the accelerator goes down. There’s noticeable road noise with the optional 18-inch tires.

Both trim levels — GS and GT — come standard with air conditioning, key fob entry, AM/FM stereo with CD player and MP3 playback, antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and six air bags that include front seat side-mounted air bags and first-ever curtain air bags.

Note that leather seats can only be added to the top, GT model. The GT is the only Eclipse with traction control.

The Eclipse uses the same front-wheel-drive platform of the Mitsubishi Galant family sedan. A lot of reinforcing across the floor pan and bracing under the dashboard and between the rear wheels gives the Eclipse a much tighter and better constructed feel than ever before. For example, officials said the cars bending rigidity has been improved by a whopping 119 percent.

Too bad, though, that the metal brace between the rear wheel wells intrudes on the rear cargo space and makes it difficult to slide items around back there.

The sporty front bucket seats felt comfortable. Women with even moderate nails might fuss a bit with the door handles, inside and out. I kept jamming my nails as I worked the exterior door handles. Inside, I often wound up pulling the door handle with just one finger.

Stereo sounds in the test car were terrific. The optional Rockford Fosgate system provided crystal-clear tones and rich sound. The nine-speaker system packs 650 watts of amplification and a lot of custom-sound tuning.

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