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Motoring: Time is now to buy Eclipse Spyder

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | February 7th, 2011

For some people, winter is the time to have fun, but for people like me who hate going out in the cold, we can't wait for it to be over.

Winter also means putting the sports car away and driving something more practical, hopefully with all-wheel drive.

I recently spent a week with the 2011 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, a car that is perfect for summertime fun, but how did this soft-top convertible fare in below-freezing temperatures?

Before we tackle that, let's take a closer look at its other details, starting with the looks. Dan Simms, a young, talented designer who is a car enthusiast at heart, designed the car. I personally think Simms and his design team did a great job, because both the coupe and Spyder convertible versions look great. There are neat styling details like large, funky headlights. The taillights and the brake light are also neatly integrated in its unique-looking rear spoiler.

I also like the fact that this convertible looks good not only with the roof down, but also with the roof up — not an easy feat to pull off.

There is a price to pay for its styling, since the glass rear window in the convertible top 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. Since I was testing it in January, I only had the roof down a total of three times, due to me being adventurous.

Putting its roof down is one of this car's impressive features. The roof is powered and folds away quickly and neatly under a hard cover. All you have to do 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.

What about the car as a driving machine? After all, sports cars are meant 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 265 hp and 262 lb/ft of torque. It also sounds beautiful when pushed, very much like an expensive exotic sports car.

As for the transmission, while a five-speed automatic is available, my tester came with the six-speed manual gearbox, which is what I prefer. It is quick, too; zero to 100 km/h takes just 5.8 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 220 km/h.

It handles reasonably well despite its front-wheel drive layout (rear-wheel drive would have been better though, all that torque going through the front wheels results in monumental torque steer). My test Spyder came with all-season tires rather than proper winter tires, which made handling a little bit more entertaining than I would like, and since the Spyder version doesn't handle as well as the coupe, it became even more of a handful.

As for the Spyder's chassis rigidity, I felt there was way too much body flex, and over uneven surfaces it shakes your teeth out. This is expected from convertibles in this category. The Eclipse Spyder is no better or worse than most of its competitors.

So here is the summary:

The V6 engine offered in the Eclipse 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, even in winter. There is plenty to enjoy too, since you do get a goodlooking interior that stayed warm (thanks to heated seats) and it has a great Rockford Fosgate sound system.

Things I would improve about the interior include the quality of the plastics used to make it, and while the seats are comfortable, they lack support when you are going quickly around corners.

Prices are decent: the base fourcylinder Spyder is yours from $30,498 while the GT-P six-cylinder model like my test car starts around $35,998. Not bad for a convertible of this size and power.

If you want to buy a new Eclipse, don't wait long. Word is, Mitsubishi will axe this model for 2012 and there is no replacement planned, so if you've been putting off buying one of these, this might be the last year you'll ever get one fresh from the factory. I will surely miss the Eclipse when it's gone.
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