Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the waterspout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain and the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.
I never quite understood the point of this rhyme, other to indicate than spiders are pretty stupid. Why doesn't itsy bitsy just climb on the outside of the spout to begin with? Well, whatever. At least Mitsubishi had some brains when it drew up the new 2001 Eclipse Spyder.
When I say "brains," I refer mostly to not mucking up the reasons behind the success of the previous Eclipse Spyder. Available from 1996 to 1999, the Spyder was an attractive and functional convertible with an easy-to-swallow price. As Japanese 2+2 convertibles go, it has been very popular, beating its closest competitor (the Toyota Celica Convertible) in 1999 sales by a factor of approximately four to one.
Mitsubishi redesigned the Eclipse Coupe for 2000, and the Spyder took a one-year hiatus. Now it's back, and it is based on the redesigned Eclipse platform. Mitsubishi's "geo-mechanical" styling is used, with bold fenders and horizontal strakes along the doors. Top down, the car is rather attractive.
Mitsubishi is quite proud of that top, actually. Pop two latches, hit the activation button, and the top folds back automatically in about 15 seconds. Once lowered, it can be covered with a soft boot. The boot connects to the body with a couple of clips, and installation is pretty simple once you know where the clips are. The boot can be stored in the trunk when not in use.
Like on the previous Spyder, the top has a heated rear window and is made from a three-layer fabric with a separate interior headliner. Production is now performed by ASC, a company well known for convertible top construction. ASC redesigned the top's aluminum frame, improving fabric tension and aerodynamic connection with the windshield header and side glass.
Unlike on the '99 car, the '01 Spyder's rear quarter windows no longer pivot out of the fenders. Instead, they rise straight up and plug into "pockets" within the top seal. The windows themselves are fitted with a new rubber strip at the leading edge, effectively fusing the front and rear windows when both are raised.
Mitsubishi says durability has also been improved. ASC made sure the top could stand 9,000 up-and-down cycles, which is about three times the average number of times a typical convertible top is used. To put that into perspective: if you lowered and raised the top once every day, it would take more than 24 years to exceed the testing standard. Additional testing was done in extreme conditions, such as 180 degrees, 20 degrees below zero, and 90 percent humidity.
Resistance to body shudder is another area Mitsubishi addressed in the redesign. Bending rigidity is up by 65 percent, and torsional or twisting rigidity is up by nine percent. Over the 2000 coupe, the Spyder features stronger side structures, more lateral reinforcements, and more secure joints. Nearly all of this strengthening is hidden from view; the only thing you can spot is the additional strut tower bar inside the engine bay.
Popping the hood will give you a view of one of two engines: a 2.4-liter four cylinder in the Spyder GS or a 3.0-liter V6 in the Spyder GT. The SOHC four was also found in the previous Spyder, but it has been revised and now produces more power. It makes 147 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 158 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.
The top-line GT replaces the previous GS-T, and the turbocharged 2.0-liter four is no longer available. The DOHC V6 makes 200 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 205 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.
Either engine can be equipped with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic in both the GS and GT now features Mitsubishi's Sportronic sequential shift control, which allows more precise control of the transmission.
The Spyder's cockpit is virtually the same as the coupe's. The top does soak up a small amount of rear passenger legroom, but otherwise the dimensions are the same. Rear legroom is about 1 inch more than in the previous Spyder, but you still risk getting hit with "cruelty to animals" lawsuits if you plan on putting adults in the back seats. Of course, it's better than a Mazda Miata, which has no rear seats at all.
Feature content for both the GS and GT is quite good. The GS gets items like 16-inch wheels and tires, air/con, a seven-speaker sound system with a CD player, power windows and locks, cruise control, and remote keyless entry.
Over the GS, the GT has 17-inch wheels and tires, rear disc brakes, and a power radio antenna. Leather seating can be had in either vehicle. Ordering the Premium Package for the Spyder GT adds a power driver's seat, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, side airbags, and ABS. The Premium Package also comes with traction control, but only if the automatic transmission is ordered.
So, enough blabbing; what's it like to drive? It's basically like eating pancakes -- non-threatening, kind of fun, sort of sticky, and light on the wallet.
When the new coupe came out, Eclipse enthusiasts moaned about the loss of the turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. And who can blame them? Compared to the '99 coupe, the 2000 Eclipse Coupe lost horsepower and technology and gained weight and size.
The Eclipse redesign seems to suit the Spyder's nature better than it does the coupe's. That softer and more functional feel is perfect for the Spyder, which doesn't have "maximum performance" listed on its dossier.
Briefly driving both a GS automatic and a GT five-speed revealed few flaws. The power top is speedy enough in operation, and wind intrusion can be kept at a minimum by raising all of the windows.
The GT is quick, and the V6 copes better with the Spyder's increased weight than the turbocharged four previously did. The GS automatic won't be winning the Daytona 500 anytime soon, but power seems fine for city cruising. The transmission's Sportronic mode works well, as it firms up the shifts and allows the driver to take the revs to redline without causing the transmission to upshift.
Of course, the Spyder isn't pure syrup. We still noticed some cowl shake, despite Mitsubishi's claim of increased body stiffness. The interior is another offender, with middling materials and ergonomics. Don't plan on putting much in the trunk, either; it holds a mere 7.2 cubic feet of stuff. Storing the boot in the trunk takes up nearly all of the room.
GS pricing starts at $23,347, and a base GT will cost $25,237. Even a fully loaded GT can't break $29,000. Since Toyota hasn't announced plans for a convertible version of the new Celica (yet), it looks like the Spyder's closest competitors for 2001 are the Miata and the Ford Mustang GT Convertible.
A Miata is more fun and nimble, but not as utilitarian or fast as the Spyder GT. More closely matched is the Mustang. In V8-equipped GT form, the Mustang is clearly superior in terms of performance. What it lacks when compared to the Spyder is refinement and acceptable gas mileage.
Taken as a whole, the '01 Spyder should be worth your attention if you're looking to purchase an affordable convertible. It's quite good at doing what a convertible should do -- be fun to drive and fun to be seen in. New Spyders should be arriving at Mitsubishi dealers by the middle of March 2000.
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