2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder Road Test

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2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder Convertible

(3.0L V6 5-speed Manual)

Partial Eclipse

Remember "Late Night with David Letterman" in its glory days? It was edgy, raw, hilarious. It had a limited audience — few even knew that it was on, and those that could keep awake for its 12:30 a.m. airing time were comprised pretty much of college students and prisoners. But those who watched, and "got it," formed a clannish group with a secret language composed of reciting classic lines and gags (Who can forget the Bryant Gumbel conflict? Or the Connie Chung fetish?).

Then Dave moved to CBS and an earlier time slot. Yes, he has a bigger audience. Yes, he has a fat paycheck and a better wardrobe. But he's not allowed to say half the things he used to, and to be perfectly honest, the show's been diluted to the point that it's just not as fun to watch him anymore. We usually click over to the "Friends" rerun.

The second-generation 2001 Eclipse Spyder is sort of like the New Dave. In hoping to appeal to a greater array of consumers, Mitsubishi has dulled its sheen and softened its edges. Gone is the available turbocharged four-banger of the 1996-99 first-generation model. It was admittedly esoteric, yes, but to its many rabid fans, this design philosophy encompassed a fat chunk of its charms. In its place is a V6 powerplant which loses 10 horsepower compared to the turbo but gains more useable torque. It also swells 250 pounds, and loses its sophisticated multilink front suspension, which is replaced by simpleton struts.

So the Eclipse Spyder is now intended for a different, more diverse audience. And in September 2000, sales figures were up an astounding 356 percent from September 1999, indicating a favorable response. It has drawn upon the success of Mitsu's parent company, DaimlerChrysler, and its high-volume Sebring Convertible (a mainstay of car rental fleets in sunny climes), and appeals to those who seek reasonably priced convertible fun and sporty looks, but don't want to sacrifice a rear seat or comfort by opting for a two-seat roadster.

If that's all you seek, then halt. The Eclipse Spyder will do fine by non-demanding consumers. For those who demand performance and appointments in a near-$30,000 car, read on for our take of this bland boulevardier, with its good (tempered with the bad) points, and the very negative points.

The 200-horsepower V6 engine, pilfered from the Galant Sedan, was pleasant enough while driving around town, with 205 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm. Notable is its peculiar, resonant exhaust reverberation. Mitsubishi terms it "a mellow roar," while one of our drivers said, "it's like a Honda Civic with a coffee can muffler attached." Semantics, we thought. However, we universally found abhorrent its undistinguished acceleration; using an off-the-line launch technique initiated with a promising, lively chirp of the tires, our talented road test coordinator Neil Chirico was only able to wrest a leisurely 9 seconds for the zero-to-60 run in both the automatic and Sportronic mode. From a 200-horsepower V6? Dag nab it.

Blame this low number on the four-speed automatic tranny. Chirico surmised that the widely spaced gears, particularly between first and second, caused the revs to fall out of the powerband before being picked up again after each upshift. Other members of the staff, who have driven the GT with the five-speed manual transmission, noted that when rowing your own gears, the Eclipse is a much more satisfying drive.

We were pleased with the fact that the Sportronic automanual doesn't upshift automatically, allowing the driver to bump into the rev limiter. It will, however, downshift if it deems you derelict. Features editor Miles Cook judged it "a gem. It works perfect.the next best thing to a full-manual tranny I've driven in awhile." Editor-in-chief Christian Wardlaw agreed that "manual gear selection is quick," but he added that it's "accompanied by an obnoxious thrust of power on upshifts and noticeable engine braking on downshifts," articulating what other drivers described as a lurch upon gear engagement.

The front-wheel-drive setup, which already detracts from handling performance when compared to a RWD configuration, resulted in plenty of torque steer under hard acceleration; add to that a numb steering system that provides little in the way of feedback from the road, and a less-than-admirable performance sensation is the result. Turning diameter is a porky 40 feet, a number usually associated with big ol' trucks. Neither nimble nor agile, the Eclipse Spyder is a ride that makes it a chore rather than a pleasure to drive twisty roads.

Straight line stability was also problematic on several occasions; after unloading the front suspension, we found that upon regaining its composure, the Spyder headed in a slightly different direction. Brake pedal travel was non-linear and grabby, and we couldn't feel the ABS kicking in; we usually prefer a slight, yet unobtrusive, pulsation. Another transgression? ABS on the four-disc setup is solely available with the GT, and then only as part of the expensive ($2,650) premium package. Come on, Mitsu - it comes standard on the Mustang GT! Even on the Sebring it's a modest $600 option. Lowly GS buyers don't even have the choice to equip their cars with this basic safety feature.

The 17-inch wheels, standard on the GT, wear P215/50R17 all season V-rated Goodyears that stuck to the road decently, but howled in protest well before they were pushed to the limit.

Accompanying the GT model equipped with the automatic transmission is traction control (not available on the GT with the manual tranny). According to the press release, it works along "with the anti-lock braking system (ABS) [to] automatically apply brakes if it senses even the slightest slip at the wheels. Once the tires have sufficient traction, the traction control system will gradually release the brakes. This helps the driver to negotiate corners and curves more safely in all kinds of weather."

While driving a damp, twisty road on a fall afternoon, the 64/36 front-to-rear weight bias became apparent. Even though the front-heavy car understeered, we noted that it was easy to get the light tail out of line, and traction control didn't kick in with enough force to actuate any endeavor taken, and we were discouraged from driving this "sporty" car as it should be driven.

Although the Spyder features unibody construction, and Mitsu claims to have increased bending rigidity by 65 percent and torsional rigidity by 9 percent over the previous Spyder (through multiple reinforcements in side and lateral structures), several staffers questioned the flaccid integrity, which elicited such metaphors as "overcooked spaghetti" and "bowl of Jell-O."

The simple front-strut, rear-link suspension included an underhood tower brace, but had us lamenting the former front multilink system. Although body roll wasn't particularly an issue, the heavy car (3,307 pounds) managed to wallow on several occasions after traversing expansion joints on California's natural-disaster-ravaged highways. Even though the Spyder was designed as a convertible, and not merely a decapitated Eclipse Coupe, there was still an unacceptable amount of cowl shake during our test driving.

The top was simple to use; push the buttons in the two latches to release it, then let the automatic mechanism take over. We were able to time both opening and closing at 12 seconds, beating the published number of 15 seconds. It may have been attributable to the age of our test vehicle (10,000 miles on the odometer), but operating the mechanism was accompanied by groaning and unpleasant whirring sounds, like the Tin Man when he wept and rusted his joints, or Uncle Larry when he Jazzercises.

Once in its well, the hooks of the latches stick out, so it looks more polished with the soft tonneau cover on. It took us a little while to figure out how to use it, because the clips in the body of the car are easy to miss unless you know what you're looking for. Mitsu was nice enough to provide a glass rear window with an effective defroster.

When the top is up, as is the case with most convertibles, rear visibility is compromised, further exacerbated by a decklid spoiler that bisects your view. One driver did mention that it reduced headlamp glare due to its height, which he found handy when the driver who he inadvertently cut off (as a result of aforementioned poor visibility) high-beamed him for several miles.

With the windows up, the driver and front seat passenger are well-shielded from wind buffeting; a veritable Fort Knox maintains your 'do, while giving you enough wind-and-sun exposure to remind you that yes, indeed, you are in a convertible.

Rear seat passengers, however, don't have it so good. Not only are they bombarded with what feels like the mistral, they have no knee room, no toe space, no shoulder space - they pretty much have to scrunch up into a little ball. They don't get any storage bins or cupholders, nor any window controls or air ducts. Although it's noted to be at a 20-degree angle, our passengers found that the seatback forces you to lean forward. Self-mendicants can atone for their sins by subjecting themselves to the rear seats - at least their hair shirts will keep them warm.

A variety of complaints arose from our various-sized editors about the lack of front seat comfort as well. One took special offense at the obtrusive lumbar support, saying that "the seat is infuriating! The lumbar adjustment at its lowest setting is too intrusive for me.it sticks out so much that I had a constant backache.it felt like I had a rock between the seat and my back." Nice side bolstering helped matters some, but most thought that the bottom cushion lacked support. The leather, which comes with the GT premium package, was of poor quality, and there's not that much of it. The stiff, coarse material covered only the front of the seats. Another griped about the emaciated steering wheel; it needs to be thicker all the way around, rather than just in the 10 and 2 positions. The center console armrest didn't have enough padding to lend any comfort while resting your arm on top of it.

The dash layout is an exact replica of its kinsman, the Chrysler Sebring. In this writer's opinion, fake wood was blissfully missing, but others griped that the monotone charcoal interior was dull. White-faced gauges facilitated visibility of the gauge cluster and looked clean and efficient. The same did not hold true of the view over the hood, which Wardlaw likened to a decade-old sedan — high cowl, and the only visible exterior feature a set of wiper blades, had you guessing how far you should creep along before bashing your bumper into the wall of the parking garage.

Mitsu takes pride in the various-textured dash, but we found the stipple finish (dot dot dot) mixed with the leather grain unharmonious. It did have a decent array of standard features, with power doors, windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control and a CD player.

Our GT's in-dash four-disc CD changer is an appreciated and increasingly popular feature. Our stereo evaluator was disappointed with the sound quality, however, and we collectively griped about its design, which places the display way up at the top of the dash, about a foot and a half from the controls. Thus, changing radio stations when Celine Dion comes on (which, of course, everyone does) is a protracted process of taking your eyes away from the road to push the button, then looking up to see that the change was effective, thus averting your eyes away from traffic for longer than you safely should. Sometimes, but not always, it's just worth it to listen to "And That's the Way It Is."

Opinions were divided on the exterior. While some lauded the racy, "geo-mechanical" design with its sharp creases and bulging wheel housings, others were turned off by the disparity between the "sportiness" of its appearance and the lumbering performance it actually gave, and thought the side-vented front bumper cluttered. Although the faux aluminum fuel tank cap (it's actually plastic) is a nice styling flourish, it didn't jibe with the rest of the car — nothing in the interior and exterior matched its material or character. The strakes along the side are reminiscent of a Pontiac trying too hard. At least they're not merely decorative — they have the effect of stiffening the panels.

Mitsubishi seems to have abandoned the Eclipse's sports car heritage. In its place is a mundane family sedan with the top shorn off. It only marginally earns the Grand Touring badge, as it is neither luxurious nor performance-oriented. As with other Mitsus that we've experienced, it has some good ideas, but the overall package is marred by sloppy execution.

While it's a satisfying drive, and will pander to those who seek a comfortable convertible experience without having to work too hard, it fell short of expectations on numerous counts. The almost unanimous consensus amongst staffers is that they would purchase, as well as recommend to others, a Ford Mustang GT long before they would the Eclipse Spyder. Others thought that the Mazda Miata would make a fine choice if you don't absolutely, positively need that rear seat or 2 more cubic feet in the trunk.

Of course, many of our gripes, such as the styling of the interior and exterior, are subjective. Opinions should be formed only after experiencing it on your own. But $30,000 is a lot of money to pony up for a "fun" car that's not much fun.

Second Opinions

"I've never had a convertible before so take this with a grain of salt. This car is freakin' awesome. There were a lot of convertibles out today (mid-60s) and for once, I didn't feel envious. I haven't had a sports car before so I'm not used to the ability to take corners as quickly as this car [can]. No squeals but 17-inch tires help a bit. The car isn't a screamer but plenty fast for my wife (and me when she lets me drive it). We got the automatic since neither of us knows how to drive a manual. In automatic it feels a bit sluggish from a stop but it also came with the Sportronic transmission which greatly improves acceleration. We already had some challenges today and left them in the dust (but no challenges from cars in the M3 or Mustang GT category because we would have been left eating their exhaust). I'm rambling, so to wrap up my wife is in love with it (wiping every speck off the paint) and I'm still hurting from the price tag (and I still don't know what it's going to cost to insure) but at least she's happy." — spydervirgin, "Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder - Part 2," #179 of 1021, March 5, 2000

"I bought my black 2001 Spyder GS about a week ago. The past two days were my first opportunity to enjoy the top down experience. The weather here in Ohio is finally cooperating. I love this car. I wasn't looking for a performance machine, just a cruiser, and I found it. The ride is smooth, handling is great and, wow, does this car look sharp." — blackspyder01, "Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder - Part 2," #286 of 1021, April 15, 2000

"I just impulse-leased a nice new shiny red 2001 GT Spyder. It's the base GT plus the automatic tranny, and that's it. It's nice…. Why the impulse? I've been passively shopping around for a new convertible for a few months now. The tricky part? I'm 6' 9". I fit well in the BMW full-size convertibles, but didn't really care for the styling or the price. I heard about the new Mitsu Spyder and drove by the dealership, expecting a quick two-minute 'oh well, I don't fit in this, either' trip, but ended up fitting, liking, driving and liking, and leasing. I paid a bit more than I should have (1k over sticker), but the lease was reasonable, I understand that they're new, and I'm a big fan of instant gratification. After driving it around a bit, I'm still very pleased. It's a little tricky to get in/out of when the door can't open very far, but that's almost to be expected. The top is quick and easy, the V6 has plenty of power for me, and I had no problems with any 'low-grade' or 'cheap' materials mentioned in theEdmunds review. Oh, and it looks damn hot. As someone else mentioned, the placement of the spoiler is idiotic with respect to the rearview mirror. I tolerate it because the spoiler looks rather nice from any other angle, and because the obstructed rear view is the only major thing I don't like about the car. The emergency brake can be mildly uncomfortable to rest my right leg on, but it's probably not a common problem, and it's barely even worth mentioning." — alexander7, "Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder - Part 2," #316 of 1021, April 27, 2000

"Oh, right, one other thing — I REALLY wish that ABS was standard, and that traction control was more available. I would have liked these, but I didn't really want or need any of the other premium package components, and my dealer only had a white GT/PP anyway." — alexander7, "Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder - Part 2," #317 of 1021, April 27, 2000

"I recently purchased a 2001 Spyder a week after I saw one for the first time. I drove a Jeep for eight years (before everyone on the road bought an SUV), and now I am riding LOW in my Spyder. I love it, as you all do and I think this new body style is hot in silver.I am having a ball in this car, going topless every chance I get…living in south Florida gives me lots of topless time!" — toadone, "Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder — Part 2," #623 of 1021, July 15, 2000

"I have a 2001 Spyder, and like some other people, am a little irritated by the location of the spoiler. I know that spoilers are good for stabilization of the car, but I've heard that this is only if you are going in excess of 100 miles an hour or so. Other than looks, does anyone know any reason why the spoiler cannot or should not be taken off? Looking at the car, it appears that it is only connected by bolts on the trunk lid, so I know that there would have to be something to seal the holes left in the trunk lid. But other than that, is there also a seal which attaches it to the car or something which would create problems if we try to remove it? Any feedback is appreciated." — bbspyder, "Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder - Part 2," #949 of 1021, Sept. 17, 2000

— Edited by Erin Riches

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