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Automakers tell us that, at best, a new sports coupe has 18 months to make or break it in the American market. Newer, fresher faces arrive, and hotter powertrains come along. For the most part, sports coupes older than a year-and-a-half are pretty much sales toast.
There are some notable exceptions: the Acura Integra soldiers on in its sixth year untouched, and Ford's Mustang is a perennial strong seller. And then there's the Mitsubishi Eclipse, which has been one of the best sellers in the segment since it elbowed its way into this club back in 1989.
Since then, the Eclipse has sold more than a half-million imprints, even against the onslaught of younger faces such as the Mercury Cougar. And this year, the Eclipse is getting the best defense possible against the fresher faces: its own complete makeover, from a new "geo-mechanical" shape to its first-ever V-6 engine.
Three models make up the Eclipse lineup for 2000. The base $17,697 RS and nicely trimmed $19,047 GS offer Mitsu's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, massaged to 155 horsepower. But it's the zippy $20,187 Eclipse GT that will entice more than half of the Eclipse's buyers.
With the demise of the 3000GT, the task of shouldering Mitsu's performance image falls squarely on the new Eclipse. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is gone, but its 210 horsepower isn't missed for long in the Eclipse GT. It packs a 205-horsepower V-6 engine, a smoother powerplant with 205 lb-ft of torque and the sharper throttle response that the turbo Eclipse lacked in comparison with sharp tacks like the Integra.
The gearbox of choice is the five-speed manual, now that Mitsu has put a champion effort into cleaning up the Eclipse's shifter feel. By eliminating one of the former manual gearbox's two fulcrums, and adding weight to the lever itself, the Eclipse's five-speed has by far the best-feeling Mitsu shifter ever. It's got some heft to it, but the short throw and direct feel are far removed from the previous Eclipse's distant, disconnected shifter feel.