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.
2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse
Also new this year for the Eclipse is a semimanual automatic transmission, called Sportronic. Just slide the shift lever from Drive to the right, and you can click off manual gear changes without a clutch pedal by pressing forward or pulling back on the shifter. Sportronic won't allow you to overrev the engine, but it will allow second-gear starts for wintry or slick conditions. (When Sportronic and anti-lock brakes are ordered, the Eclipse can be had with traction control as well.)
To step into the shoes of the 3000GT, the Eclipse had to grow up a little. The wheelbase has increased 2 inches to 110.8 inches, while the overall length of the car is up by 3.2 inches to 175.4 inches. Most of the extra room is available in the rear seat, it seems, which can finally hold an adult for short cross-town trips. For taller drivers, the front seat can still seem a little cramped, but the seats are multiadjustable and supportive. And while it may look like a coupe, the Eclipse remains a hatchback, now with a usably sized trunk hidden underneath a short decklid (and dealer-installed rear spoiler, if you so choose).
The underpinnings have become more mature, as well. The Eclipse's independent suspension uses MacPherson struts up front, mounted to an aluminum crossmember for better rigidity and resistance to flex. On the Eclipse GT, another strut tower brace is added to compensate for the additional weight of the heavier V-6 engine. In back, the multilink suspension is carried over from the previous Eclipse, which is no bad thing.
The GT rides on 215/50VR-17 tires, and even with the monster treads, it feels better damped and more comfortable on highway crossings. The tight body structure and better-isolated suspension endow it with an athletic flexibility, with just a gentle pistoning over most road irregularities and wonderfully flat response when you're leaning into switchbacks. Throw in the smooth, crisp steering and responsive brakes and the Eclipse shares the top spot for handling in the niche with the Integra.
2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse
The handsome exterior shape (Mitsu calls the theme "geo-mechanical") shares some coincidental thematic elements with the stunning Audi TT. While the Audi tilts toward a deco interpretation of machined grace, the Eclipse flaunts its crisp lines and futuristic surfaces. The exposed headlamps and side strakes are a legacy from the now-defunct 3000 GT, but the sailing roofline shares more with the Audi sports coupe. The overall balance of the design is one of the strongest features of the Eclipse, and it's largely why this is one of the most attractive Mitsus ever, too.
2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse interior
A twin-binnacle cockpit gives the Eclipse a purposeful interior feel. For traffic jams, there's a four-disc CD changer built into every GT.
Interior shapes are pleasingly chunky while not quite as snazzy as the Eclipse's hot bod. The twin-nacelle cockpit is a superior place to work, although we wonder why the primary speedo and tach don't occupy all of the space available to them. More Audi comparisons dot the interior, with metallic finishes on the door handles and a styled steering wheel center that could wear four rings. Dual airbags are standard, and a premium package on the GT model adds seat-mounted side airbags. For those who can't travel without tunes, the Eclipse's four-disc or six-disc in-dash CD changer might be the most innovative feature of all.
Every sport coupe has its day in the sun, and with its magnitude of handling and structural improvements, the Eclipse seems prepared for a long run at the sales charts. The base four-cylinder Eclipse begins at $17,697, and includes a five-speed transmission, air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD player, power windows, and an anti-theft system. The GS package adds 16-inch wheels, a power glass sunroof, fog lamps, cruise control, and power mirrors, and pushes $19,047. The Eclipse GT, with the V-6, rear disc brakes and 17-inch wheels, starts the race at $20,187.
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