That Mitsubishi has been struggling in the cut throat world of global automotive markets is evident for all to see. Sales volumes are low, and there has been remarkably little new product for some time. This is in stark contrast to better times, which really started In the 1980s when the Shogun became a huge success almost overnight, as a reliable off-roader that was pitched half way between the Land-Rover and Range-Rover, and in the 1990s, with rallying success and the whole Evo phenomenon which meant that every enthusiast had heard of the brand. In the twentyfirst century, though, there has been nothing much of a USP, just an ageing range of cars which it would appear will have to do suffice until the next generation of eco-based hybrid type models take over. These sales difficulties apply on both sides of the Atlantic, even though the range of cars sold with the three diamond lozenge logo are largely different. One apparent solution to generate revenue, if not profit, clearly has been to sign a massive deal with Hertz, so following some years absence from the fleet, now three Mitsubishi appear as the example cars in the Hertz online reservation system. I have already sampled two of them, the mid-sized Galant and the Endeavor SUV, and found them pleasant enough but ultimately unremarkable. Time now to assess the third, the Eclipse Spyder.
Like other convertibles of this size, it as well not to be over endowed with luggage. One look in the boot, and it was clear that my suitcase, which is not unduly large, simply would not fit in the available space. The logistics were such that I only had to get it to my hotel about a mile away, and by the time of the return to the airport, I was expecting to be in a different car. The only place to put the case was on the front passenger seat, so if there were two of you, you would need to check very carefully whether one of these cars would work for you at all or not. The boot is a regular shape, but it is simply not very big in any dimension: shallow from top to bottom, back to front and not all that wide, I was quite surprised. on seeing the car in daylight the following morning, to discover that what looked like a shelf behind the front seats, was actually some form of rear passenger accommodation, though you would probably would not want to travel very far in those seats. Distinctly shaped for two, with a large 8″ audio speaker in the middle, as well as the transmission tunnel, a third person simply would not fit.
Having decided that taking this car was going to work, it was time to get in. This is quite a low slung sporty coupe, and you do feel like you are sitting in it, rather than on it. The seat, covered with quite a pleasant and tough cord like material, proved very comfortable for me, with its figure hugging side bolsters, though I can understand that those of larger build may also find that the seat makes this car a deal breaker. Adjustments for the seat and steering wheel are all manual, but I was easily able to get the right driving position. Seeing out of the car was another matter, though. Forwards is not the problem, but the view behind you when the roof is erected is limited to say the least, as the rear window is pretty small. Although things are better with the roof down, the high tail means that it is still quite hard to judge the extremities of the car. With the roof up, reversing out of a parking slot was a real nightmare, so being the hardy northerner that I am, I had the roof down most of the time.
Putting the roof down is easy, once you know how. There are two small buttons in front of the gearlever, marked “open” and “close”. However, before you try to open the roof, you need to flip the sunvisors down, and release a catch at either end of the header rail. The roof then lowers quickly and easily into a well between the rear seat and boot, which is one reason why the boot space is no better with the roof up than when down. Driving around with the top down but the side windows up, on the freeway. was perfectly feasible, though trying to listen to the radio whilst so doing was pretty futile. The roof operates quickly, taking just 19 seconds to open or close.
Eclipse is only likely to get on anyone’s potential purchase list, though, if it is good to drive. Two engine options are offered, a 265 bhp 3.8 litre V6 which would have been fun and the 162 bhp 2.4 litre 4 cylinder of my test car. All models are front wheel drive. Firing it up, though, yields an amazing roar, much like you get in the Mustang, though this is clearly a trick on start up, as the noise that is generated on the move is rather more ordinary sounding. Once underway, it is quickly evident that the Eclipse is moderately brisk, but it would be stretching a point to say that it is fast. It accelerates without undue drama, and is well able to keep up with the traffic. The test car had a 4 speed automatic gearbox, which was smooth in operation. By pushing the lever over to the right. there is the modern feature of a “tiptronic” style manual change capability, where you can shift up and down by flocking the lever back and forth Fuel economy was reasonable, not helped, for sure by the fact that I drive the car with the roof down most of the down, averaging out at 22 mpg US, which equates to 26.2 mpg Imperial. With the roof up, noise levels are moderate, with some road and tyre noise, as well as a bit of sounds from the engine. One of the issues frequently encountered in a convertible is that in an effort to retain some semblance of body rigidity, plenty of stiffening is added and this also increases the weight and blunts performance. The alternative is simply to have a less rigid car and that also limits the fun in driving it. Mitsubishi seem to have opted more towards the latter course of action, as on any rough surface you could feel and hear creaks and tremors through the body and see the rear view mirror shaking. That said, it did not seem completely to have ruined the handling, which was actually pretty good. That means that on smooth roads, the car was fun to push around the twisties, doubtless taking advantage of its relatively low centre of gravity, with good levels of grip and very little body roll. The steering was well weighted, with good feel, and apart from those creaks, the ride was actually pretty reasonable. The brakes were good, pulling the car up sharply when needed. A central pull-up handbrake is fitted.
Mitsubishi are not particularly renowned for the quality of their interiors, and the Eclipse is not going to change that. Everything fitted together quite nicely, and was perfectly functional, but it was no better than that, with a lot of rather hard plastics. The main dash moulding is all black, with some visual relief provided by a silver grey insert in the centre of the dash and surrounding the transmission selector. The instruments are all housed under a single cowl, and proved clearly marked and easy to read. There are two large dials, for speedometer and rev counter and smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature. An inset in the speedo is used for a digital display of the odometer and trip computer functions. A second cowl is on the top of the centre of the dash. and this houses the digital clock and displays for the audio unit. The central part of the dash contains the single slot CD audio unit above the air conditioning controls. Almost everything else is operated by chunky column stalks. The steering wheel was leather wrapped, and is just a steering wheel, with no additional buttons on the boss, which is getting quite unusual these days. There is not a lot of oddments stowage in the cabin, confined to small door pockets, a moderately sized lockable glovebox and an oddments cubby behind the handbrake. Alongside this were two moderate sized cup holders located under a lid. I ended up leaving things on the passenger seat and floor.
The Eclipse model range is quite simple, coming in coupe and convertible formats and in GS, GS Sport and GT trim levels. The last of these brings with it the V6 engine and a 5 speed automatic gearbox as well as automated climate control. The GS Sport, as was my test car, has quite a lot of features over and above the GS, including a power operated roof, leather seats, power operated seats, a Rockford-Fosgate audio unit (who?) with satellite radio and wheel mounted controls and a standard 4 speed automatic gearbox. The entry level GS includes alloy wheels, air conditioning, power mirrors, windows and door locks, a leather wrapped tilt adjustable steering wheel, height adjustable driver’s seat, air conditioning
This is the fourth and final generation of Eclipse, and whilst it is far from a bad car overall, it is no class leader. When the car was first launched, it was also sold as the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser, and it did relatively well in the market. In those heady days it even achieved an entry in Car & Driver’s “Top 10” list from 1989 to 1992. Perhaps the car had less direct competition then, but now with the new Hyundai Veloster attacking from below and the entry level Mustang and Camaro challenging it from above, the Eclipse has no real distinguishing strength to suggest you should favour it over its rivals. Provided you can fit your belongings and yourself into it, if you get one as a rental car, you don’t need to hot foot back to the counter for a swap, but I don’t think this is a car that many people would go out of the way actively to seek out. And therein lies Mitsubishi’s problem. Until they can crack this, they will continue to struggle. However, this may all be quite academic, as production of the Eclipse ceased in August 2011, meaning that the 2012 model year cars were only produced for a short time.