If we had to make a list of cars that the MotorWeek staff have had the most fun in over the last two decades, the Mitsubishi Eclipse would be on it, and car buyers seem to agree, making the Eclipse one of the most popular sport coupes on the market. Well, to help maintain that popularity, Mitsubishi has introduced the new GTS model for 2003. So, will the fun in this Eclipse be total?
That’s a pretty tall order, since few cars have consistently delivered such an entertaining driving experience as the Mitsubishi Eclipse Coupe. And the folks at Mitsubishi know that. So they don’t promise anything radically new from the 2003 Eclipse Coupe, just a little more of the purposeful refinement and performance that current Eclipse buyers are already well acquainted with.
Eclipse styling, while not looking as fresh as it did at its 2000 model-year rework, is still handsome and aggressive. Our new GTS is the new top line model, and like all Eclipses dons a fresh front end with smoother lower fascia, a larger air inlet, and recessed cavities for fog lights. While at the rear are new composite clear lens taillamps, all the rage with the front-driver performance crowd.
The Eclipse platform, which is shared with the Galant sedan, is propelled in the RS and GS models by a 2.4-liter 147 horsepower inline four, or in the GT by a 3.0-liter 200 horsepower single-overhead-cam 24-valve V6. To that already potent V6, the GTS adds a variable induction system that boosts horsepower to 210, with 205 pound-feet of torque. The base transmission is a very competent 5-speed manual. Unfortunately, our sample was equipped with the popular, but less satisfying, 4-speed automatic with Sportronic Sequential Shift mode. It does offer drivers a choice of fully automatic or clutchless manual shifting.
At our track the self-shift auto delivered a 0 to 60 run of 8.1 seconds. The 1/4 mile took 16.1 seconds at 89 miles per hour. That’s just a few tenths of a second and 1-mile-per-hour slower than our previous GT manual. In regular automatic mode, however, shifts were naturally slower, but also harsher than expected. Full auto really seems to rob power from the otherwise smooth, free-revving engine. Unless you’re going to use the sequential shift all the time, try sticking with the manual.
Handling is controlled by a front MacPherson strut setup and a multi-link rear. The current generation Eclipse is softer and more sedan-like than earlier versions. Still, the GT we tested earlier was entertaining and fun through the corners. So you can imagine our letdown when this ‘03 GTS felt oh so much looser, softer, and sloppier, and that’s despite the addition of new 17-inch wheels wearing R-rated 215/50 series tires. Front plow comes on early in a turn, and never moderates. There was also plenty of body roll and minimal steering feedback. Disappointing and not much fun. Braking was better, though, with stops from 60 averaging a straight, stable, if longish, 134 feet.
Ride quality, however, was impressive, with the generous 100.8-inch wheelbase delivering a quiet, eat-up-the-miles cruise. So, even if back road prowess is down, the Eclipse remains a long haul coupe favorite.
It also has one of the most enjoyable interiors of any sport coupe. The cockpit is wide and roomy, with a very clean, business-like dash layout. Leather upholstery is standard on the GTS, as is a 210 watt Infinity sound system with 6- disc in-dash CD-changer and steering wheel controls.
While Eclipse Coupe prices begin at $18,692 for a base RS, the loaded GTS goes for $24,752, with the more desirable manual. Our Sportronic Sequential Shift automatic GTS totals $26,042. And don’t forget a cool looking Eclipse Spyder drop-top is available too for $28,882.
Overall the 2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse continues as one of the most refined and fashionable front-drive sport coupes in its modest price class. No wonder sales this year are up over 20%. But refinements should also included handling, and the new GTS needs some determined tweaking in the “fun” department. That said, we think the Mitsubishi Eclipse is in no danger of being totally eclipsed by its competition anytime soon.
Engine: 3.0-Liter Sohc 24-valve V6
Torque: 205 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.1 Seconds @ 89 MPH
60-0 MPH: 134 Feet
EPA Mileage: 20 MPG City 27 MPG Highway