- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

Don’t drive the 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder.

Avoid it unless you’re ready to finance or plunk down about $30,000.

That’s because it will seduce you.

The Spyder is the second iteration of Mitsubishi’s fourth-generation Eclipse sports/grand touring car. It follows the steel-top coupe, which was introduced as a 2006 model, and was touted as nothing less than the reinvention of Japan’s Mitsubishi in this country.

While the coupe is, in its own right, a decent enough conveyance with enough athletic moves to make it a borderline sports car, the arrival of the convertible demonstrates conclusively that the designer gods decreed from time immemorial that the Eclipse must be an open car.

There are four models of the Spyder: automatic and stick shift in GS trim, with a 162-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and GT versions in automatic and manual, with 260-horsepower V-6 engines.

But there is only one worth talking about: the tested GT with the six-speed manual gearbox. This is the one that envelops the driver in tactile sensations, supportive comfort and musical mechanical sounds. In short, it is a siren yearning to seduce enthusiasts, many of whom likely would crawl over rocks in thundering surf to get to one.

It is not, strictly speaking, a sports car. It falls more into the traditional category of a two-plus-two grand touring car. Instead of rear drive, a sports car characteristic, it has front-wheel drive. As a plus-two, it has a vestigial back seat, useful only in emergencies or maybe to carry an extra bag of golf clubs.

That should intrigue some prospective buyers. The Spyder has a trunk, albeit a tiny one with about 5 cubic feet of space. It can hold one golf bag, and the other can go in the back seat, so the two of you can go off to a golf outing.

But maybe you won’t get there. Maybe you’ll just decide to drive around all day. Put the top down. It takes only about 15 seconds. Undo a couple of latches on the windshield header and press a button. That’s it. The windows glide away and the top drops down underneath a solid panel, so there’s no boot to attach. If there’s a sprinkle, the top goes up in about the same time.

Settle into a leather-covered driver’s seat that has prominent side bolsters on both the seat bottom and seatback to hold you in place around the curves. Fire up the engine and listen to the musical sounds emanating from the single tailpipe.

Snick the shifter into first gear and take off. Work the clutch pedal and make your way through the gears. The sensation is astonishing. This manual-gearbox car is so easy to drive smoothly that you can be your own automatic transmission.

There’s enough power and torque to putter along on side streets at 30 mph in fifth gear, with no bucking or protest. If you wish, you can also punch it up and blast away on exit ramps or from stop signs. No matter what you do, the Spyder responds to exactly what you order with the shifter, clutch and accelerator pedal. That’s where the seduction comes in.

Of course, nothing is perfect. You will have to forgive some slight imperfections. Because the Spyder has front-wheel drive, you’ll get a tug at the steering wheel if you punch the loud pedal while turning. It’s a phenomenon called torque steer, and it’s been mostly damped out in the Spyder, but it’s still there.

And if it’s been raining, the tires won’t grip as well as you’d like, so you might be spinning the wheels trying to get smartly away from a stop sign.

The instruments are nicely ringed in chrome bezels, but they reside in dark pods that make them difficult to read in daylight. There are plenty of power seat adjustments to get comfortable, but the steering wheel adjusts only for tilt. It does not telescope.

With the top up, the interior is reasonably quiet, with little wind, mechanical or road noise. But there is some of the booming that happens in any car with a fabric top. The rear window, though nicely positioned for good sight lines, is tiny, so it’s important to get the outside mirrors adjusted properly to eliminate blind spots.

Of course, none of this applies when the top is down. And even when it’s up, the minor flaws are subsumed by the pure pleasure of working the steering wheel, accelerator pedal, clutch, shifter and brakes.

The GT Spyder with the V-6 engine and the six-speed gearbox starts at $28,894. It has all the stuff to keep an enthusiast happy, but the test car also had a premium sports package and an appearance package that included such items as leather upholstery, heated seats and outside mirrors, the power driver’s seat, automatic climate control, aluminum pedals and 18-inch alloy wheels. That brought the sticker to $32,873.Unless you can handle that, save yourself the frustration. Don’t drive it.

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