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NEW CAR REVIEW
Eclipse Spyder stylish makeover could use more 'Evolution'
By John Gilbert, special to SNS Interactive

DULUTH, Minn. (SNS) – When Mitsubishi recreated its Eclipse with a brand new model for 2006, I had a few mixed feelings about it. Now Mitsubishi has completely redone the Eclipse Spyder for 2007, and I still have a few mixed feelings.

 

In self-examination, I don’t think it’s me – the Eclipse and its convertible Spyder brother seem to be caught between the old traditional Mitsubishi and an attempt to remake the company’s automotive arm into a trendy, youthfully popular element.

The Eclipse is stunning in its looks, and Mitsubishi did well to stick to the very popular concept car that it had previously shown around on the major auto show circuit.

So the Spyder, which is the third generation of turning the Eclipse into a convertible, shares the same front-wheel-drive handling and performance as the Eclipse coupe.

Front-wheel drive is a curious thing these days. Around the winterless areas of the country, and including the offices of all the major car magazines, the tradition is to criticize any car with front-wheel drive as being incapable of high-performance or a fun-to-drive quotient. We here in the Great White North know better.

  People who risk occasionally getting caught in snowstorms from November until April are aware that front-wheel drive has tremendous benefits in icy driving conditions. When rear-drive advocates say traction control systems make rear drive equally good in winter, they betray an ignorance to the fact that sophisticated traction control also can be installed on front-wheel-drive vehicles, thus making them even more advantageous.

Winter drivers among us will accept the fact that you can’t hang the rear end out when you corner too hard, and trade it for great foul-weather traction, supplemented by making a FWD car handle as good as possible.

So the Eclipse handles well, and so does the Spyder.

You feel the front-wheel drive through the steering wheel, which means you can get an early tip-off if you happen to over-drive it into a turn, or you can stay on the power and simply steer through a turn where you’d have to lift off with rear-wheel drive.

The Eclipse Spyder, like its coupe predecessor, comes with a very strong 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, or a very strong 3.8-liter V6. Both are dual-overhead-camshaft, multiple-valve engines, both with excellent power.

The four has 162 horsepower at 6,000 RPMs, and an equal 162 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 RPMs, and comes with a five-speed manual or a four-speed optional automatic with Sportronic manual control.

The V6 has 260 horsepower at 5,750 RPMs, and 258 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 RPMs, with a standard six-speed stick, or an optional five-speed Sportronic automatic, and drive-by-wire electronic throttle control.

Lots of power, and Mitsubishi’s MIVEC – which stands for Mitsubishi Innovative Variable Valve Timing Electronic Control, and we can only be thankful they skipped a few initials – propel the Spyder with either the four or the six with plenty of quickness.

MIVEC can adjust valve timing and lift as if the engine was changing camshafts as you rev up the single-overhead cam engines past 4,000 revs in the V6 or 4,300 in the four.

Personally, I prefer my Mitsubishi performance cars to have small engines that over-achieve, whether by turbocharger or tightly refined technology. That is not to say that the 2.4 or 3.8 engines are inferior in any way. They seem very strong and very good in brief introduction in the Spyder. But there are historic and current reasons for my preference.

The management and promotion arms of Mitsubishi are fairly new, since the Japanese company has undergone some major alterations in recent years.

  And maybe I have more of a historical perspective on Mitsubishi vehicles than some of them do.

At the introduction, held in San Diego a couple of months ago, Dave Schembri, the executive vice president of sales and marketing for Mitsubishi Motors of North America, traced the Eclipse’s roots from the old Cordia, to the Starion, then the 3000 GT, then the VR-4 Galant, and up to the first Eclipse.

"Unique and purposeful design," Schembri calls it. "At the Detroit Auto Show introduction, the new Eclipse looked like a work of art. It looks great from every angle, and every line. As a representative of the manufacturer, I say that, but just being a car guy from Detroit, I also can say it."

Schembri also said Mitsubishi is using different marketing. Instead of targeting young singles and first-time buyers, the way every other manufacturer is doing these days, Mitsubishi is going after "Generation E – meaning everyone," he said. "Our target is attitude and lifestyle more than age and income.

We hope to attract anyone with an active lifestyle, an extroverted personality, and who might want to reward themselves with the right car. This is a car that is love at first sight and fun to drive. We call it the ‘attainable exotic.’ "

Priced at $25,889 for the Eclipse Spyder GS, and $28,769 for the GT, the Spyder offers a four-door convertible, although the back seat is strictly for small people and/or short hops.

Product manager Mike Evanoff said that the Spyder is a "move forward, with a link back" to the Eclipse’s history.

That was about where I raised my hand. I once raced a Dodge Colt, made by Mitsubishi, in a couple of Showroom Stock road races, and I owned a high-revving Colt wagon, and later owned a 1979 Colt GT, which was a wild little thing that could screech the tires in the first three gears even while delivering 41 miles per gallon – all with outstanding 1.6-liter Mitsubishi four-cylinder engines.

My son owned a Cordia, and our whole family lusted after the 3000 GT/Dodge Stealth.

The first Eclipse used that 1.6-liter engine, and the upgraded models, whether Eclipses, Plymouth Lasers, or Eagle Talons, used turbocharged versions of that little engine, and all-wheel drive.

Since the new Spyder is trying to be loyal to the tradition of the first Eclipses, I asked, why the transition away from the strong little engines, of 2.0 liters or smaller, to comparatively large, boulevardiering type 2.4 and 3.8?

An answer was that American buyers want more torque, and instantaneous power at low end, so larger displacement handles that as an evolution up from the smaller engines of the predecessors.

Aha! The magic word was "evolution." So my next question is that since Mitsubishi makes a world-class compact sedan, named the Evolution, and it has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four with all-wheel drive, why not simply intall that drivetrain in the Eclipse and Eclipse Spyder?

When you think about it, the Evolution is a winged model of the Lancer, which is a competent but unexciting compact sedan – the most unassuming of Mitusbishi vehicles. Successful as that is, would the same drivetrain, placed under the most exotic, most stylish, and most…assuming of vehicles be an instant worldwide classic?

Hmmm, said Mitsubishi officials. Not a bad idea, a couple of them said. Now, I can’t believe Mitsubishi executives and engineers honestly hadn’t even thought of or considered such a combination. But we will take them at face value, and keep an eye on their unspoken future products.

As it is, the Spyder is a strong and stylish car. The Spyder is only 200 pounds heavier than the coupe, which is remarkable, considering that the body required considerable reinforcement, with new floor and rear cross-members to increase rigidity without the coupe’s roof structure. The car is 55 percent stiffer in torsional rigidity than the previous generation Spyder.

The top is a three-layer cloth deal, with a rear window and defogger. Built by American Specialties and delivered intact to the Normal, Ill., Mitsubishi plant, the top stows under a flip-up tonneau cover at the rear, and it goes down in under 7 seconds, then that cover snaps shut tightly to make a seamlessly neat convertible.

Nice features include an instrument pod that was inspired by road-racing motorcycles, and a standard Rockford Fosgate audio system with 650 watts, and nine speakers including a subwoofer, and capability for playing six CDs, or MP3.

The subwoofer is centrally mounted in the backrest of the rear seat, aiming forward like a huge, sonic cannon. It has the capability of digitally changing sound styles for different types of music, which can be programmed among six choices, and it has a good sound equalization system to compensate for having the top down.

Mitsubishi anticipates that Spyders will account for 25 percent of all Eclipses, and that 75 percent of Spyders will be picked with automatic transmissions. Stylish, exotic-looking, a lot of neat features and benefits…All in all, it’s a very strong and moderately priced convertible that is the perfect stopgap.

At least until we can find a little turbo all-wheel-drive as the perfect "evolution" of the breed.

Editor's note: John Gilbert writes weekly auto reviews. He can be reached at cars@jwgilbert.com.