- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

Despite Mitsubishi’s major financial woes, the redesigned 2006 Eclipse coupe rolls off the showroom floor as a well-executed and seemingly well-funded vehicle. Companywide cost cuts certainly have not been applied to the newest sports coupe, and with good reason. Eclipse has been a stable-selling nameplate, especially popular among the tuner crowds. In fact, Mitsubishi is surely relying on the success of the all-new Eclipse to bolster its sinking bottom line.

Eclipse is not a luxury vehicle, and never has been. Appropriately, Mitsubishi has kept its price reasonably competitive. For $19,994, you can slip inside an Eclipse GS, with a five-speed manual transmission bolted to a 2.4-liter inline-four cylinder engine. The engine delivers 162 horsepower and a matching 162 foot-pounds of torque. Horsepower peaks at 6,000 rpm and maximum twist arrives at 4,000 rpm.

Despite Eclipse’s working-class status, many features arrive as standard equipment. An integrated spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power locks/windows/mirrors, cruise control, a tilting (but not telescoping) steering wheel, sport seating fabric, six-way driver and four-way passenger manual seat adjustment and a six-speaker CD/MP3 audio system are included in the base GS model.

A four-speed automatic transmission arrives optionally, as do fog lights, all-weather or sport floor mats and an alloy fuel door.

Stepping up to the six-speed, manually shifted GT model will cost you $24,294. A 3.8-liter V-6 engine replaces the inline-four, boosting output substantially to 263 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. In GT guise, the automatic transmission offering is a five-speed unit.

On either Eclipse, both automatic transmissions come with Sportronic manual shifting capability. GT trim also adds traction control, standard fog lights and an outside temperature gauge.

The major option package on the Eclipse GS is the Sun & Sound Package that includes a one-touch power and venting sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 650-watt six-disc audio system with nine speakers (including a 10-inch diameter trunk-mounted subwoofer), steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a center LCD display (time, audio, temperature, direction).

Mitsubishi offers a Premium Sport Package for GT models that includes all of the Sun & Sound features in addition to 18-inch alloy wheels, alloy pedals, heated side-view mirrors, an eight-way (six-way power) adjustable driver’s seat, heated leather front seating surfaces and automatic air conditioning. Both models may also be equipped with the $1,850 Aero kit that attaches body extensions all around the bottom of the vehicle.

Both powerplants employ MIVEC, Mitsubishi’s innovative valve timing and lift electronic control. When the engines spin below 3,500 rpm, MIVEC tailors itself to provide better throttle response, while at higher speeds it increases power by adjusting airflow into the combustion chambers.

The result of this variability is better fuel economy without sacrificing high-end power. Mitsubishi claims 23 city and 29-30 highway miles per gallon on four-cylinder GS models, and 18-19 city and 19-28 highway mpg for GTs. Premium fuel is recommended for the V-6.

Fully independent suspension uses a MacPherson setup in the front and coil springs out back. Both GS and GT models get front and rear stabilizer bars, although the rear bar on GT models is 1 millimeter thicker (21 mm to GS’s 20). Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution are standard.

GT models stop via ventilated rotors all around, while GS Eclipses get ventilated front and solid rear discs. All 17-inch wheels are shod in P225/50R17 tires.

Standard dual-stage front air bags, front seat-mounted side-impact air bags and roof mounted curtains deploy in the event of a collision.

As opposed to the previous-generation Eclipse that relied on tacked-on lower body cladding to create visual interest, the new model uses concave and convex surfaces, inside an unencumbered sheetmetal swath. The cabin glass appears continuous from the A to C pillar, thanks to blacked-out seams. Large triangular pieces of glass are styled directly below the A pillars. Placed well ahead of the driver and passenger, these windows serve as lateral windshield extensions. They also determine the somewhat odd-looking placement of the sideview mirrors, which sit about a quarter of the way (front to back) along the upper door contours.

Overall, the Eclipse has a smooth design integration that includes the wraparound headlights and taillights, lower bumper rear reflectors, scooped exterior door handles and lower front air dam.

Mitsubishi has flattened the edges of the fender flairs for a chiseled, finished look. Cut lines in the body are consistent front to back, as the fenders and quarter panels end above the headlights and taillights, respectively.

Eclipse GS models will compete with Hyundai’s Tiburon and Scion’s tC, while GT versions line up against Mazda’s RX-8 and Nissan’s 350Z. Both will reckon with Acura’s RSX lineup and Ford’s Mustang duo.

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