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Motoring: Spyder creeps up on design, down sport appeal

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | November 6th, 2006

In the car testing game, there are cars I have to test for the interest of the public (minivans, wagons, etc.) and then there are cars I want to test for my personal interest. The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder certainly falls in the latter category.

After spending some time with the Eclipse GT-V6 coupe last year and loving every moment of it, I had been looking forward to the gorgeous drop-top version ever since I first laid eyes on it at this year's Detroit Autoshow. Thankfully I didn't have to wait too long to get my drive. So how was it?

Before we tackle that, lets take a closer look at its other details. Starting with the looks. Designed by Dan Simms, a young, talented designer who is actually a great person to talk to, because he is an enthusiast at the heart. I personally think him and his design team did a great job because both the coupe and this new Spyder convertible version looks great. There are neat little details like monocles in the headlights and the brake light neatly integrated in its unique looking rear spoiler.

I also like the fact that this new convertible looks good not only with the roof down, but also with the roof up. It certainly is an attractive car. There is a price to pay for its beauty, since the glass rear window in the convertible is about as big as a post office mail slot. However, that is only an issue when you're driving it with the roof up, and if you're buying this car, you will most probably be driving with the roof off as much as you can.

So, time to get the roof down, which has to be one of this car's most impressive features. The roof is powered and goes quickly and neatly under a hard cover. All you have to do manually is unlatch it from the windshield rail, push a button and the job is done. ASC, the company making this convertible model for Mitsubishi did such a fantastic job of aligning the roof to the head rail, you never have to fiddle to get the clips in place. Honestly, I have seen cars costing twice as much that do not have as good a folding roof system as the Eclipse Spyder. So a great job done here, but what about the car as a driving machine since sports cars are built to be driven.

Well my test car had everything going for it on paper. It had the lusty 3.8-litre, V6 engine, which thanks to its intelligent valve timing system produces a grunty 260 hp and 258 lb/ft of torque. While a five-speed automatic is available, my tester came with the six-speed manual gearbox, which is what I prefer. From my experience with the coupe last year, I remember this to be a very quick car (0-100 km/h in under six-seconds and top speed limited to 220 km/h), and it handled reasonably well to, despite its front-wheel drive layout (rear-wheel drive would have been better though, all this torque going through the front wheels result in monumental torque steer).

However, the Spyder version suffers massively from losing its solid roof. Many cars, which are designed to be coupe's and then turned into convertibles suffer from chassis rigidity, but that shouldn't be an excuse for manufacturers anymore. The Eclipse fares a lot worse then I expected it to. There is way too much body flex and over uneven surfaces it shakes your teeth out. This can get very annoying, and that's disappointing since the coupe version is a fun sports car, the Spyder can't be called a sports car in my books, it's just too loose for that.

When I first saw this car, I saw it as a competitor to the Ford Mustang GT convertible. After driving it, I figure that this is better suited to compete with cars like the Toyota Solara convertible and the Pontiac G6 convertible. In other words a touring car, albeit with a sporty engine.

That engine is certainly good enough to make you forgive most of its foibles. Spend some time with it, and you do learn to drive around its deficiencies and really enjoy it. There is plenty to enjoy too, since you do get a good looking interior with a great Rockford Fosgate sound system. Things I would improve about the interior include the quality of the plastics used to make it (it does look and feel cheap and the fit and finish on certain panels is quite poor) and better seats that support you properly, the ones it has gives me back aches on long drives.

So there is room for improvements then, but given Mitsubishi's current financial situation, it's surprising they were able to bring this car out in the first place. It's at a decent price too. The base four-cylinder Spyder is yours from $32,000, while the GT-P six-cylinder model like my test car starts around $37,000. Not bad for a convertible of this size and power.

So, what's the verdict then? If you want to buy one as a sports car, buy the Eclipse coupe, it's much nicer to drive. If you have your heart set on buying a convertible, this certainly is more attractive then some of its competition, but you're not buying a sports car anymore. If you think of it as an exotic looking touring car with plenty or poke, then it's a pretty good car to bring home, and trust me, you'll love looking at it sitting on your driveway.
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