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2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse Photo
Reviewed by John Pearley Huffman
Editor, The Car Connection
BASE INVOICE
$18,344
BASE MSRP
$19,399
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For hardcore enthusiasts the problem with the Mitsubishi Eclipse is that it’s not the same Eclipse it used to be. Back when the name was introduced in 1990 it was an egg-shaped dazzler: available with both a turbocharged powerplant and all-wheel drive. It was dinky (it rode on a 97.2-inch wheelbase), but it was a serious performance car.

But the third generation Eclipse — the one that’s just left production in favor of the all-new 2006 edition — has been squarely aimed at cruisers rather than bruisers with no turbos and no all-wheel drive. The performance magic has been gone for a quite a while, but the hardcore keep hoping Mitsu will regain its sanity and bring back the thrills that made the Eclipse so appealing to them in the first place.

Well, sorry guys, the new Eclipse is far closer in tone, temperament, and ability to the car it directly replaces than to its legendary ancient ancestors. Just go buy an Evo and get over it.

But for the rest of us, the new Eclipse is in many ways more compelling than ever before. It’s great looking, a solidly capable driver, comfortable for two, and with its available oversize V-6 it has a unique personality. Those are probably enough to ensure the new Eclipse some sales success.

After all, the turbocharged, all-wheel drive Eclipse GSX of yore never really sold all that well anyhow.

Beautiful outside, pretty inside

The third-generation Eclipse was a misbegotten mix of boring shapes and hyperactive details. The lower part of the body was a shoebox with side strakes while the greenhouse was an arch that could have been drawn with a protractor. In contrast the fourth-generation Eclipse is beautifully sculpted with muscular fenders, short decks fore and aft, a sharply drawn roof and a rump that looks like Adriana Lima’s in a Versace miniskirt. And that shape is well complemented by torpedo-like driving lamps deep in the front fascia, clear-lens multi-element tail lamps and a rear spoiler that looks like something other than an afterthought. About the only thing it shares in common with the outgoing car is that it’s still a three-door hatchback.

As delectable as the exterior is, however, the interior may be just a little bit better. The driver and front passenger seats are both well shaped and they face a dash that’s sweet-looking, efficient to use, and packs a mean Rockford Fosgate stereo. The instrumentation is a bit futzy with its chrome rings and too many of the switches operate inelegantly (typical Mitsubishi stuff) but the rest of the design is outstanding. And really who cares that the rear seats are dang near useless?

Familiar stuff

While the Eclipse’s design is unique, the mechanical parts the make up its substance are familiar stuff. The Eclipse is the third member of Mitsubishi’s “Project America ” family sharing most of its structural and mechanical components with Galant sedan and Endeavor SUV. All three are built at Mitsubishi’s plant in Normal , Ill. , as were all previous Eclipses.

The America platform is the embodiment standard issue front-drive conventional wisdom. The steel unibody carries MacPherson struts for the front suspension and a multi-link system for the rear. The steering is rack and pinion, the engine sits transversely under the hood and there’s a disc brake behind every wheel. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but nothing extraordinary either.

However the Project America platform is a relatively large one and the Eclipse has grown. The 2K6 edition is 2.9 inches longer than the car it replace, 3.3 inches wider, 1.9 inches taller, rides on a wheelbase 0.6 inches longer, and at 3274 pounds for a base Eclipse GS — it’s about 300 pounds heavier. Compared to the original Eclipse, this one is a giant.

Also coming over to the Eclipse are the Galant’s engines. The Eclipse GS gets the 2.4-liter, SOHC, 16-valve 4G69 four, while the Eclipse GT has the 3.8-liter, 24-valve, iron-block SOHC V-6 under its hood. However their outputs have swelled for duty in the Eclipse with the four rated at 162 horsepower (versus 160 in the Galant) and the V-6 at a full 263 horsepower (as opposed to 230 in the Galant and 225 in the Endeavor). Both engines now use Mitsubishi’s MIVEC variable valve timing system to smooth out their torque production, but neither is a particularly sporty powerplant either. Heck, their 6500-rpm redlines are about where some Honda VTEC powerplants are just starting to make serious power.

In the four-cylinder GS buyers have a choice between five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transaxles. In the V-6 motivated GT that choice is between a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic with manual shifting. All the transmissions work fine, but the V-6’s hefty 260-pound feet of peak torque makes all those gears in the manual box seem unnecessary.

Drives like a bruiser

With an engine larger than that in a Nissan 350Z (or Honda Pilot for that matter) the Eclipse GT is more like an old muscle car than its old turbocharged predecessors. The engine idles with a nice growl from the exhaust and that sweet sound continues as it accelerates up through the gears. The engine doesn’t rev with much enthusiasm, but it does a pretty good job of pretending to be a small V-8.

Unfortunately with its iron block the big V-6 is no lightweight and that means a large percentage of the GT’s 3472 pounds (manual transmission) sit atop the front tires. When those tires are the optional 225/45R18s, the Eclipse GT grips enough for everyday use and then some. But dive into a corner aggressively and the car pounds into understeer quickly. The Eclipse GT rides well, is quiet and very comfortable. But it’s no sports car.

So it’s not a sports car. Big deal. What it is, is pretty good. Let’s call it a muscle cruiser; the sort of car that has the muscles to move in a straight line efficiently and remain comfortable while doing it. It would be a perfectly good commuting companion with some extra grunt when necessary. And it’s so good-looking too. And at $19,399 for the GS and $23,699 for the GT, not a bad buy too.

And if that’s not good enough, wait about a year for the convertible Spyder.

 

2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT

Base price: $23,699

Engine: 3.8-liter V-6, 263 hp/260 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Wheelbase: 101.4 in

Length x width x height: 179.7 x 72.2 x 53.8 in

Curb weight: 3472 lb

Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 18/27 mpg (est.)

Safety features: Side curtain and seat-mounted airbags, traction control

Major standard features: Power windows, door locks, and mirrors, aluminum pedals

Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles basic, ten years/100,000 miles powertrain

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