2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse

One look at the fourth-generation Eclipse tells you it is a very different car – the plunging lines and muscular haunches making it look as though it’s ready to lunge at any moment. Slip behind the wheel and the radical approach continues, as the tester’s flashy orange and ivory white two-tone interior also almost mandates sunglasses the morning after. It stands in stark contrast to the vehicle it replaces.

Perhaps the biggest difference, at least in the GT’s case, is that it’s now endowed with the power the previous car lacked. Shoehorned beneath the raked hood is a 3.8L V6 engine that comes with Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing and lift Electronic Control, or MIVEC. The latter indicates that the single overhead cam engine has variable intake valve timing and lift. It’s an effective design that gives the Eclipse GT a healthy 263 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The result is rapid throttle response and a pretty good impersonation of how a small displacement V8 feels when punched just about anywhere up the rev range.
Indeed, this power and the well-spaced ratios in the six-speed manual gearbox means the Eclipse will romp through 100 kilometres an hour is 6.3 seconds and get from 80 to 120 km/h in just 5.6 seconds, which is quick by any standard.
It also makes all the right noises. Up front, the engine has a pleasantly refined sound, even when worked at 6,400 rpm. Around at the rear, the over-sized tailpipe overlays this mechanical music with a delightfully guttural roar when the car is worked. And it not only sounds the part when in the cabin, pedestrians spin around to see what just blasted by – just don’t go blasting within earshot of a police station.
There is, however, a downside to this power – torque steer. Hammer the gas from a standstill and the tires tug at the steering wheel as they scramble to find grip (even the GT’s traction control system has a hard time controlling the tug). Unfortunately, the torque steer also surfaces at speed where it is much less welcome – get on the gas as you exit a corner and it will kick in. If the driver ignores the initial warning and does not back off the gas the inside front tire begins to spin. When this happens, the steering takes on a light and unpredictable feel. The sensation effectively dissuades the driver from venturing past the eight-tenths mark.

The other gripe has to do with the clutch pedal. While light and progressive, a lot of powertrain vibration can be felt through the pedal whenever shifting gears. It almost feels as though the clutch is cable operated and not hydraulic. While a minor thing the sensation is not in keeping with the rest of the car.

When it comes to ride and handling the Eclipse is more boulevardier than outright sports car, as the front MacPherson struts and multi-link rear suspenders are slanted towards comfort – although the set up is good at controlling body roll. The limiting factor is the understeer caused by positioning 60+% of the car’s portly 1,608-kilogram mass over the front wheels.

Inside, the Eclipse is well equipped and vibrantly attired. Adding the Premium Sport pack brings a whack of stuff including a power sunroof, heated leather front buckets (and a powered driver’s seat), heated mirrors, automatic climate control, aluminum pedals, larger 235/45R18 wheels and tires, as well as a loud, 650-watt, Rockford Fosgate audio system that includes a massive trunk-mounted, sub-woofer. The noise this thing generates, especially when the base is cranked, has to be heard to be fully appreciated.

The cabin is also entirely logically in its layout – the audio package sits at the top of the centre stack and you’ll find all of the controls where expected. The lone exceptions are the fuel and engine temperature dials, as they are too small and too low down to read without taking a deliberate look at them.

The front seats are also about the best the industry has to offer. These things are like wing-backed chairs, as the top of the seat splays out to provide a wealth of shoulder support – just the thing to keep the riders planted as the driver plays. From the driver’s perspective, the lone quibble is rearward visibility – the swoopy nature of the car tends to limit the rear three-quarter sightlines. That said, the side view mirrors go a long way to eliminating any of the troublesome blind spots.

Any notion the Eclipse is a four-seater should be dispelled quickly. The rear seat (which is black and wrapped in vinyl) is there for two reasons – a perch for your briefcase and for the fact it allows the glossy brochure to tout the car as a four seater. For me to sit in the back the tailgate must be open – and when open almost my entire head sits above the shut line. While obvious form took precedence over function, in this case it is a good decision, as raising the rear roofline would destroy the look.

While Mitsubishi, as a corporation, is a bit of a train wreck – the 2006 Eclipse is anything but, as it is very much on the right track. Blending a radical, eye-catching style and comfort with a good turn of speed and decent road manners makes for a thoroughly enjoyable drive. Indeed, if this is a harbinger of things to come Mitsubishi’s future looks a lot brighter now than it did immediately before the launch of the latest Eclipse.

Type of vehicle: four-seat sports coupe
Engine: 3.8L, SOHC, MIVEC V6
Power: 263 hp @ 5,750 rpm, 260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Brakes: Four-wheel vented disc with ABS
Tires: P235/45R18
Base price/as tested: $32,998/$37,358
Destination charge: $995
Warranty: 5-year, 100,000 km new vehicle/10-year, 160,000 km powertrain
Fuel economy, L/100 km: 13.3 city, 8.1 hwy.
Standard features: Air conditioning, power locks/mirrors/windows with auto down, cruise control, 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with six speakers, central display for clock/outside temperature/compass, 50/50 split/folding rear seats, keyless entry, traction control, dual front air bags, side seat-mounted air bags, drop-down side curtains.