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Mitsubishi Eclipse GT Spyder (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Mitsubishi was very successful during the heyday of the Japanese high-tech sports car. Its 3000 GT was the company performance flagship, with an array of technological wonders including all-wheel drive, twin-turbocharged power, and, in a limited edition, a trick disappearing metal convertible top. The smaller Eclipse, built for the American market in Normal, Illinois, proved to be a benchmark at the affordable end of the sports car spectrum. With available turbo power and all-wheel drive, it was impressive. And the Eclipse Spyder, offered from 1996 on, proved to be a popular addition to the line.

But times change. The 3000 GT outlasted its contemporaries, but age, price, and changing consumer tastes doomed it. The original Eclipse sold well, but the expensive high- performance versions had a minimal impact on sales. The 2000 Eclipse debuted last year, and combined the virtues of both previous Mitsubishi sports cars. It was larger than the original Eclipse, for more real-world usability, and could be seen as a replacement for the 3000 GT as well. And it was less expensive than the old Eclipse, with a new 3.0-liter V6 replacing the more complex turbo engine with little loss of power. Most importantly, the new-generation Eclipse was built on an all-new and much more rigid chassis platform, for improved handling and comfort.

A Spyder was planned for the new Eclipse from the beginning, and so its chassis was designed with open-top rigidity in mind. Modifications to the Spyder's chassis include stronger side structures and door sills, and extensive cross-ways reinforcement. The power-operated three-layer top is made by convertible specialist company ASC in a new factory close to the Spyder's Normal, IL home.

I was recently able to enjoy a top-of-the-line Eclipse Spyder GT for a week of summer weather. It was fun and comfortable with the top up or down, a process that takes 15 seconds. Although it's larger than the old Eclipse Spyder, it compares well to the old turbo in performance and is far better in comfort and civility. Its combination of style and substance is hard to beat.

APPEARANCE: Mitsubishi's Eclipse Spyder looks even better than its coupe sibling with the top down. It shares the coupe's "geo-mechanical" combination of rounded form and angular edges, with prominent wheel arches and side strakes. It has a very sporty look despite the relatively short hood and rear deck and long passenger area. As is often the case with convertibles, the Spyder looks less handsome with the top up. Visibility is less, too, but the rear window is glass for long-lasting visibility, with a heater element for winter use.

COMFORT: Like the Eclipse coupe, the Spyder is not just a weekend toy. It's roomy enough and comfortable enough to be an only car thanks to a relatively long wheelbase and its increased size. Long doors aid access to the rear seat, which is comparable to that of a compact sedan, with adequate space for two medium-sized people. The interior styling has the same high-tech, space-age look as the exterior. The instrument panel looks right out of a video game or spaceship with a multi-pod motif. But function is not sacrificed to style. The instruments are readable, the controls are easy to use, and five interestingly-designed, easy-to-use climate- control vents help keep everyone at optimum temperature. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and leather-covered with the Premium Package, which also includes power operation for the driver's seat. Useful storage spaces, a reasonable trunk, and a locking glove box show the Eclipse's real world intentions. Because of the seating position and windshield design, wind buffeting is minimal for front-seat occupants. You can leave your hat on.

SAFETY: The 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder has all of the expected standard safety equipment. Antilock brakes, traction control, and side air bags are available.

ROADABILITY: As is the case with the newest iteration of the Eclipse coupe, torque steer has been banished from the Spyder. Step on the gas pedal, and the car accelerates smartly without trying to yank the steering wheel out of the driver's hands. The new chassis is also much more rigid than that of the old Spyder, for fewer squeaks and rattles, and more precise handling. The independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension balances comfort with sporty handling ability.

PERFORMANCE: You won't miss the turbo. The new Eclipse GT's 3.0-liter V6 makes 200 horsepower at 5500 rpm, with maximum torque of 205 lb-ft at 4000, which compares favorable with the old turbo's 210 hp and 214 lb-ft. Because of chassis modifications to make up for rigidity lost with the roof, the Spyder weighs 188 lbs more than the equivalent coupe, so it accelerates slightly less quickly than the coupe. But it is still far from underpowered. It's fast enough to be fun, and, because of the engine's responsiveness, linear power delivery, and broad torque range, either the standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed manually-shiftable automatic transmission works well. The manual has very good shift linkage, especially for a front-wheel drive car. The "Sportronic" automatic is, likewise, one of the best such, and an excellent choice for anyone who has wretched urban traffic to deal with on a regular basis. Convertible fans with a lower budget shouldn't forget the Eclipse GS Spyder, with a torquey 147-hp 2.4- liter four-cylinder engine.

CONCLUSIONS: Mitsubishi's new Eclipse Spyder is a sports car that is real car for everyday use.

2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT Spyder

Base Price              $ 25,237
Price As Tested         $ 28,102
Engine Type             single overhead cam 24-valve V6
Engine Size             3.0 liters / 181 cu. in.
Horsepower              200 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          205 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission            5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length      100.8 in. / 175.4 in.
Curb Weight             3241 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   16.2
Fuel Capacity           16.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded premium, 92 octane
Tires                   P215/50 VR17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / disc
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut / 
                          independent multilink
Drivetrain              front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      20 / 27 / 22
0 to 60 mph              7.2  sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)          15.6 sec

Premium Package - includes: antilock brakes, Mitsubishi/Infinity 
premium 7-speaker AM/FM stereo with 4-disc in-dash CD changer, 
leather front seating surfaces, power driver's seat, front seat side 
airbags                            $ 2,370
Destination & Handling             $   495