- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

You already may have seen the new Mitsubishi Eclipse on the road because the press event introducing it originated in Reston last week.

Driving through the beautiful countryside from Reston to Frederick and Leesburg, I got to know the new Eclipse GT. The all-new model, designed in Mitsubishi Design America in California, has gone into production in Normal, Ill., and is already on sale, three weeks earlier than planned.

“As the production ramp-up had been virtually flawless, there was no reason to hold back,” said Dave Schembri, executive vice president of sales and marketing for MMNA.

The two-door sport coupe is the first of six new products to be introduced in the next 24 months.

The Eclipse sits on the new PS platform used for the new Galant and the Endeavor SUV. With the 0.6-inch-longer wheelbase of this architecture, the new version also has grown a bit. Length, width and height measure 179.7, 72.2 and 53.8 inches respectively, while the interior volume has grown as well.

Clearly the design was influenced by the second-generation Eclipse that ran from 1995 until 1999. That was not only the best-looking but also the best-selling model.

The new Eclipse stands out with an athletic body line, sculpted fenders, LED brake lights and a glass spoiler integrated in the deck lid that “connects” the upper lines of the rear lights. The spoiler and the tail lights are accentuated by chrome under the glass.

The cockpit is as inviting as the exterior. The test car was fitted with a bold orange/charcoal colored Avant Garde interior, but there is also a charcoal Techno Sport and a lighter Hi-Q trim.

The seats not only look good, they feel good, too. The dashboard has a nice curve, while the shape of the instrument panel shows that the interior designer is a motorbike enthusiast. The outstanding looks are a little bit diminished by the hard plastic finish of the upper part of the dash and the somewhat uneven fit of the panel that covers the passenger air bag. However, there is one real flaw: the outside mirrors are mounted too far back on the doors. They should be more up front so that you do not have to move your head from left to right to look into them. On the road, I noticed that this prevented me from paying enough attention to the traffic behind me. Dave Schembri promised he will be seriously looking into this matter, although he suspects it will not be easy to change this overnight. We’ll wait and see.

With the new platform, the 2006 edition of the Eclipse has increased bending and torsional rigidity, but also more weight. Compared with the third generation it puts an extra 380 pounds on the scale and that’s quite a lot. With front-wheel drive and a weight distribution of around 60/40, this will not go unnoticed during cornering.

Under the hood in the GS model is a 162-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine while the GT has a 3.8-liter V-6, engine that delivers 263 horsepower and has 260 foot-pounds of torque. Both engines use MIVEC variable-valve timing. In the GS there is a choice of a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic transmission. The GT offers a six-speed stick shift or a five-speed automatic with manual shifting.

Behind the wheel of the GT, the V-6 shows that its torque is available over a broad range. When you are in a lazy mood and cruise at 1,000 rpm in fourth gear, there is no need to shift back if you suddenly want to speed up. When you step on the gas, the engine responds without hesitation. Six gears may even be a bit over the top for this powerful engine, which produces a nice sound during fast acceleration.

However, under normal circumstances the V-6 is a quiet performer. It underlines the driving capabilities of the new Eclipse, which are more comfortable than harshly sporty. That is exactly what Mitsubishi was after: a good-looking sports coupe with outstanding performance, but also with a nice attitude for day-to-day driving.

The Eclipse can be driven aggressively, but then you’ll encounter some body roll in corners and some understeer as well.

The heavyweight GT accelerates from 0-60 mph in just under six seconds and is stopped by ventilated disk brakes, assisted by ABS and EBD. The GS offers those systems standard, but offers massive disks in the rear as well.

In general the ride is really smooth, something you may not expect of this new sports car. With a base price for the GS of $19,399, and $23,699 for the GT, the Eclipse offers enough sophisticated sportiness to enjoy your everyday commute or an active sight-seeing tour through the country.

The new Eclipse has personality enough to generate some sales success.

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