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Mitsubishi Eclipse

Ever wonder what a so-called geo mechanical design might look like? I admit that, until recently, i never had but only because the term had somehow failed to occur to me. But thanks to the good folks at Mitsubishi, I am acquainted with the term and its physical manifestation: the new geo mechanical 2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse. According to Mitsubishi publicity, geo mechanical "describes the new Eclipse style of organic shapes and machined surfaces," an amalgam intended to suggest "the human/mechanical interaction between the driver and the car."

Well. I'll confine myself to observing that I somehow missed perceiving all of that when I first set eyes on this new car. But whatever you call it, this is inarguably a much different Eclipse. It's bigger, it's roomier, and its styling, with all that fluting down the sides and those stacked vents flanking the grille, reminds me of some of Pontiac's design tricks. The Pontiac Grand Am GT is a good example of what I mean, and this is not necessarily a good thing. There's a handsome instrument panel and leather-wrapped wheel.

The Japanese invented a great term for this kind of decorative detailing. They call it "surface excitement," and I think it sums up what Mitsubishi has done with the Eclipse a lot better than geo mechanical. On the other hand, it's easy to sympathize with Mitsubishi's position. No matter how attractive a design might be -- and I regard the current Eclipse to be one of the hottest-looking sport coupes ever -- it simply can't remain static indefinitely. There are exceptions, of course. The Porsche 911, most notably, was pretty much the same car for more than 25 years. But Mitsubishi is not Porsche, and the Eclipse is not a 911. So change had to occur, and the company had to make some choices. Tough choices.

Should the Eclipse continue to be a small, agile terrier distinguished by smooth, muscular contours? Or should it provide a really usable back seat, and simultaneously take a different tack with its styling? Obviously, Mitsubishi's product planners came down square on No. 2. And speaking of the mechanical portion, there have been some significant changes below the skin. The same 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder continues to be the standard engine, but Mitsubishi has discontinued the 210-horsepower turbo version and substituted a 205-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6.

The V6 goes with the top-of-the-line GT version, my tester, and while it makes lovely noises, it doesn't deliver quite as much punch as the old turbo. This is due in part to the turbo engine's higher torque rating and in part to slightly higher curb weights in the new car, although to be fair, Mitsubishi has done a good job of keeping increased mass to a minimum. Also gone: the previous Eclipse's all-wheel-drive system, discontinued for lack of demand. Ditto for a convertible model. Let's talk about those dimensions. Riding a wheelbase that's been stretched from 98.8 to 100.8 inches, the new Eclipse is 3 inches longer, almost 2 inches taller and about a half-inch wider than the previous car.

Curiously, its track -- the distance between the wheels -- is all but identical with its slightly narrower predecessor, which makes its stance look a little less aggressive. On the other hand, the new car's rear seats are actually useful for something other than small parcels. True, an adult sitting back there requires some cooperation from his pals up front, but in the previous Eclipse putting an adult in the back seat was the equivalent of cruel and unusual punishment. The new Eclipse also seems to be a shade more comfortable in terms of ride quality, thanks in part to its longer wheel base and also slightly less aggressive suspension tuning.

What does that softening do for sporty performance? It seems to me the new Eclipse isn't quite as eager to come to grips with a corner as its predecessor and not quite as willing to change directions rapidly, but I think quantifying this distinction would require a test track and a lot of runs to produce measurable results. Braking performance in my test car wasn't quite what I'd expected from a system with four big discs (lesser versions of the Eclipse have rear drums) and antilock, although stability during hard braking was very good. In any case, my tester was a preproduction car that already had seen some hard riding, so I'd say the jury is out on that issue. On the other hand, if the new Eclipse represents a small retreat in absolute performance, it also represents a distinct step forward in comfort. Not only is the new car roomier, but its ride quality is noticeably more supple than its predecessor. More importantly, the new car exhibits hardly a trace of torque steer. A phenomenon peculiar to powerful front-drive cars, torque steer describes a tendency to skew off the intended line of travel during hard acceleration, and it's quite pronounced in the Eclipse turbo.

Although the new Eclipse's geo mechanical exterior doesn't really ring my chimes, I think Mitsubishi has done a nice job with the inner regions. Besides more space, there's also a handsome new instrument panel, a grippy three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, secondary controls that are nicely arranged (for example, audio buttons above climate controls), and a clearly defined left-side footrest for the driver -- amazing what a difference a little touch like that makes on a long trip. Like so many sporty cars today, the Eclipse GT has white instruments with black markings. I find them harder to read at a glance than traditional black-on-white, but people do seem to like them, and Mitsubishi has done an attractive job of design, with the smaller tachometer dial in the bigger speedometer.

Now rolling into Mitsubishi dealerships, the new Eclipse will be offered in three models: the basic RS, the better-equipped GS and the V6-powered GT. All three are available with a choice of the five-speed manual or two four-speed automatic transmissions. The automatic option in the basic RS model is a conventional four-speed, but GS and GT versions get a Sportronic version that allows the driver to shift. RS pricing starts at $18,132, including Mitsubishi's standard $435 destination charge. GS versions open at $19,482, and the base price for my GT tester was $20,622. Add about a grand for the Sportronic transmission, $800 for the standard automatic in the RS.

My tester was further enhanced by a $1,750 Premium Package (upgrade AM-FM-CD-cassette audio, leather front seats, power driver's seat, side air bags, security system, rear wiper and anti-lock brakes). Even the RS version comes with a fair level of standard equipment -- air conditioning, AM-FM-CD audio, power windows. Will this new offering, with its geo mechanical exterior, eclipse its predecessor?

It's hard for me to perceive this car's styling as an improvement. But I think the rest of the package adds up to a better formula for success.

Vehicle Type:

front engine, front-drive, compact sport coupe

Base Price:

$18,132

Engine Type:

3.0-liter V6

Power (SAE net):

205-hp

Transmission:

automatic / semi-manual

Wheelbase:

100.8 inches

Length:

175.4 inches

Curb Weight:

3,053 pounds

EPA fuel economy, city driving:

20 mpg city, 28 mpg hwy

 

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