Some manufacturers have recently discovered sports coupes. Not Mitsubishi. It has been making two very good ones for quite a while now, and both are benchmarks in their respective classes. The larger 3000GT is the sole survivor of the high-tech Japanese coupes of the 1980s. The Eclipse is the car against which all compact, reasonably-priced coupes are judged, and mostly found wanting.
The Normal, Illinois-built Eclipse has been around since the early 1990s, and had major revisions in 1995. The second generation received additional styling and equipment updates in 1997. Choice is one reason for the Eclipse's success. Eclipse coupes are offered in RS and GS trim levels with a 2.0-liter, 140-horsepower engine and front- wheel drive. The 1999 GS may be dressed up with a new "Sports Value" option package that gives it the look of its more powerful siblings, the front-wheel-drive GS-T and all-wheel-drive GSX. The GS-T and GSX feature a 210-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. If that's not enough choice, there is also a convertible version of the Eclipse. The Spyder comes in GS trim, with a 2.4-liter, 141-horsepower engine, or as a GS-T model with the same turbo powerplant as the coupe.
Changes for 1999 are few. Turbo Eclipses, and the GS with the Sports Value Package, have new black-on-white instruments this year. The GSX gets standard antilock brakes and a limited-slip rear differential to improve its already top-notch levels of cornering and stopping.
A recent week with a new Eclipse GSX reinforced all of the fun aspects of a true sports coupe and the benefits of turbocharging. It had plenty of very useful power for all types of driving, allied with a small appetite for fuel. Nimble, stable handling, and enough comfort to empty the tank without need to stop and stretch make it a great high- performance touring car.
APPEARANCE: Mitsubishi has noticed what's on the street in Southern California. Wings, the more outrageous, the better. So, the GSX has a high rear wing for the race car look. The styling is otherwise unchanged from its 1997 revision, in which a flatter front bumper fascia with a rectangular air intake replaced the older smile. The Eclipse is a well-rounded small car with plenty of performance character even without the wing.
COMFORT: The Eclipse GSX is no bare-bones machine. It is more than a "sports car", it's equipped in the European grand touring tradition - a high-performance car with all of the luxury comforts. Leather upholstery, power windows, mirrors, and door locks with remote keyless entry, very good climate control and AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo systems, and a power glass moonroof are all standard equipment. But the Eclipse is undeniably designed for the driver. The front sport seats are well-bolstered and supportive. The instrument panel aims all instruments and controls toward the driver, cockpit-style. This year's new black-on-white instruments are reminiscent of classic European machinery. The shift knob and thick- rimmed, leather-covered, tilt-adjustable steering wheel are placed correctly for fast driving. The rear seat is useful if all occupants are short, otherwise it can serve as luggage space. But that may not be necessary, as the trunk is usefully large.
SAFETY: The 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX has safety-cage construction with front and rear crumple zones, dual front air bags, side-impact door beams, and standard antilock disc brakes.
ROADABILITY: The Eclipse GSX's all-wheel-drive system tames the ferocious torque steer of the front-wheel-drive GS-T. All-wheel drive and a firmly-sprung but compliant independent multilink suspension make for a great road car. Although hatchback coupes can be creaky and flexy due to the large hatch opening, such is not the case with the Eclipse. It has a very rigid chassis. Consequently, handling is first-rate, and the ride quality is comfortable enough for all-day journeys. Four- wheel antilock disc brakes stop quickly and securely. All-wheel drive is good for sports cars, never mind the SUVs!
PERFORMANCE: Ah, the joy of turbocharging done right. The Eclipse GSX's 210-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is anything but peaky, with plenty of flexibility and low-rpm torque for instant acceleration without need for downshifting. The torque peak of 214 lb.-ft. is at 3000 rpm, so the engine doesn't need to be wound to redline for quick acceleration. The standard 5-speed gearbox is a joy to use, but doesn't need to used often. Any one of three gears will usually do just fine because of the engine's broad range of power. Clutch action is light. Fuel consumption is very minimal, especially considering the performance.
CONCLUSIONS: The 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse continues to be the benchmark in the small sports coupe class.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 26,550 Price As Tested $ 27,055 Engine Type 16-valve dual overhead cam turbocharged 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in. Horsepower 210 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 214 @ 3000 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 98.8 in. / 172.4 in. Curb Weight 3157 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.0 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium (91 octane) Tires P215 / 50 VR17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent multi-link with coil springs/ independent multi-link with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 28 / 23 0 to 60 mph 6.5 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 15.1 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.30 OPTIONS AND CHARGES LEV emissions charge $ 70 Destination charge $ 435