First the upper-management type in the SLK230 gave us the once over. Then, the dudes in the Honda Accord got carjacker close. A Ferrari came up from behind so fast, we nearly got a wedgie. The parking lot guy needed to be slapped silly to re-focus on giving back change. Did we mention the Ferrari? By us, naturally, we mean the 2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT.
The third-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse kicks off the 21st century with a talk-of-the-town new model that has such style the spectators swoon, and there's a newfangled powerplant and even a smidgen of controversy to boot. Say what? It's barely been born! Here's the dealio: Diehard Mitsubishi fanatics are knocking one another off the soapboxes to holler about the GT's seating for four — we've been hoodwinked, they cry! They're just trying to make a car that's practical and what the market "needs" rather than sticking to their guns and making a real car! They don't want to lose their younger buyers to parenthood and minivans! You can't mix sport and family and get fast fun! Needless to say, this is why an impartial third party is writing the story.
The Eclipse GT replaces the GS-T and the GSX, and it's nothing short of a blast to drive. You immediately get over the low seating position (obviously an effort to hide the hair-on-ceiling element) because of the hot-and-heavy fantasy that kicks in about driving a race car. The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel and perfectly placed shifter with crisp, brief gates make you feel all warm and fuzzy, while the Testarossa stakes on the body and the race-style fuel door lead you to believe you can go fast. No problem - the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from Eclipses gone by has left the farm and the GT gets an all-new 3.0-liter, 24-valve V6, making 205 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 205 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm. Hold the phone, yelps the opposition — the speedometer is bigger than the tachometer!?! Yes, and get over it. Also noticeably odd is an ode de CD shrine atop the dash. Why? Because hip, baggy-pants types are still going to buy this car, and they care about only two things: How fast they're going and which Limp Korn or Snoop Doggy Bizkit song is rockin' the tin.
Oh, did that last remark show our age? That's because the Eclipse is suitable for any age. Who doesn't love a responsive engine? Who doesn't yearn for every instrument and component to fit around the digits like a rubber glove? The low-restriction stainless-steel exhaust system is tuned with 100 percent the right growl, and you can pull away from a stop in second gear. When one particular signal turned green, a Chrysler Sebring JXi became a mere flashback. But those who rant about the GT's seating for four would probably hate all of that stuff too.
Let's get back to that below-sea-level driver-seat height for just a moment. That, coupled with a low-sloping roofline and annoyingly high windowsills, can make you feel like you and your passengers are inside a cave. And what's a miner's biggest gripe while inside a cavern? If you answered that he can't see, you are correct. Visibility in the GT isn't truly bad, but having to speculate as to when you're gonna smack the pole behind you or the wall in front of you isn't truly good. Ultimately it won't matter anyway, because the seatbelt will decapitate you like a machete in the process.
If it makes those naysayers feel any better, the rear-seat area wasn't a No.1 priority for the designers. The backs have about as much support as one of those whoopee cushions you take to a ball game. In fact, once you start climbing into the backseat and the cargo area, you see where the GT hides its low price. Not only did the seatbacks have a layer of insulation the depth of one-ply Kleenex, but the stuffing was literally coming out. Although the seats fold down nicely (and are easy to flip forward if you're standing outside the cargo area), slide one slightly sharp object across 'em, and you'll no doubt be exposed to seat intestines. The cargo space is deep and usably wide, but the cover is thin, with an underside that looks and feels a lot like a giant "Grade A" egg carton. The real bonus comes from the cloth's design and coloring. Remember your college couch? How about the way it looked after Danny "Upchuck" Grody had a few? They're similar.
Overall, the GT is a solid ride. The four-wheel independent suspension, with a multi-link rear and MacPherson-strut front, has been tuned for play, and the entire chassis has been re-engineered to eliminate flex. In other words, it knows things are going to get aggressive. The variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering system really lived up to its name and opted to not assist in the handling duties, becoming too twitchy at speed. Disappointing, since the power and suspension were up for it.
In addition to a beefier undercarriage and engine, the GT comes with four-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, fresh-air filtration, power everything, a center console with dual cupholders (and a power source hidden inside), alloy wheels, fog lamps, and a rear window defroster with a timer. The standard five-speed manual transmission is a no-brainer to shift, thanks to double-cone sychronizers on first and third gears as well as triple-cone sychronizers on second. They're keyless, and we couldn't grind the gears when we tried. An automatic tranny is available, but trust us, it feels so right to row your own boat. Bigger tires and 17-inch wheels are also part of the asking price, and they squeal a bit when cutting corners but thankfully make nary a peep during regular driving. Or is that because you can't hear them over the wind noise? We were also big fans of how when the headlights were turned on, a tray beneath the A/C was illuminated, and it wasn't in any way distracting.
Yes, it's true: Those who boycott the Eclipse GT will ultimately win out by not owning a car with seating for four. But they'll also end up skipping a spiffy, sharp-looking performance car with a lively ride for a true steal. And that's fine — more for the rest of us!
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