Mitsubishi may be well known in Asia and Europe - perhaps thanks to its success in the World Rally Championship - and it's been selling in the USA for many years, but you may be surprised to hear that in Canada they are a bit of an unknown quantity.
In the past, Mitsubishi sold variations of its cars in Canada under the Dodge and Eagle brands, but now they have established their own dealer network across Canada in just one year.
It's certainly is very impressive to see all the new Mitsubishi stores across the country but but what about the product, is that equally as impressive?
Sadly, in Canada you cannot buy an Evo VIII, no matter how much begging and pleading you do. However, you can buy the Eclipse Coupe and the Eclipse Spyder - the sportiest cars in Mitsubishi's lineup for Canada.
Styling best described as very 'American'
You can buy either body style of the Eclipse with a 2.4 litre, inline four cylinder engine, producing just 147 hp and 158 lb/ft of torque, or the more attractive option is the grunty, sweet to the ear 3 litre, V6 engine with 200 hp and 205 lb/ft of torque. The car with the V6 engine will record a run from 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, if you can avoid wheel spin, and top speed is in the 140 mph range.
Since we at PH are only interested in the faster flavours of car, I took a look at both the Coupe and Spyder with the V6 engine. Look is what the public does too - wherever you go with these cars, especially the Spyder. This came as a bit of a surprise because I didn't think they would attract this much attention.
Everywhere I went, I had people coming up and commenting on these vehicles. I do agree with what most people told me, these are beautiful looking cars. The styling is a direct copy of the Mitsubishi SSM concept car from 1998 and probably caters more to North American tastes than European ones but it fits in well here.
It's worth noting that the current versions went on sale in the U.S.A back in 2000. From the styling front they might not look dated just yet, but in terms of interior quality, fit and finish, they are leagues behind the new Japanese sports cars like the RX8 and the 350Z.
The interior might well be spacious and comfortable, but the materials used to put it together are sadly very cheap looking indeed. The interior plastics get scratched easily, and the fitting of some of the panels was off. I may have ignored it if it only had it on one of the cars, but both the Coupe and the Spyder had the same problems in exactly the same spots.
Mitsubishi should look into this for the future then. While at it, they should also equip the car slightly better. For a japanese car of this type to hold its own these days it needs to have things like xenon headlights, an auto dimming rearview mirror, automatic climate control, and an attractive set of gauges. To its credit at least none of the interior squeeked or rattled, not even on the open top version.
Things thankfully get much better as soon as you turn the key. When this 3-litre V6 fires up, it makes a wonderful noise. The Exlipes has one fabulous exhaust note, and I don't mean just fabulous for this sort of money, but fabulous in any class of car you can throw at it. It sounds like a junior Ferrari, really it does. You enjoy the soundtrack a lot more in the convertible version, and I could often be found in tunnels, gearing down, top down, and enjoying the soundtrack of this engine.
Not only does this engine sound good, it responds beautifully too. Throttle response is just so crisp. Every fraction of an inch of throttle increment was translated into motion on the road. Add to this a smooth shifting five-speed manual gearbox, and the driving experience just got better and better.
It's addictive though - you just want to it everywhere flat-out. The engine pulls cleanly from the off, and only begins to feel out of breath close to its 6100 rpm red line.
It's good on the open road too. With the torque always ready at hand, you don't even have to bother with shifting down to pass anybody. Keeping a good pace on the highway is very easy and comfortable, and surprisingly, very frugal, easily averaging over 30 mpg on the highway.
While this is a great car for highway journeys, it's the other way around on back roads. This is a softly sprung car, which makes it roll at the slightest hint of a corner. The convertible is a total mess at tight corners, the body twist is just too much. Very soon you learn that you should be taking corners as slowly as you can. Considering that the brakes need a lot of work to slow it down, it makes things just a bit harder.
I was surprised how little grip it had at the front-end, spinning its wheels very easily off the line. Despite the weight of the engine over the wheels and with the additional cross brace from the top of the suspension struts it didn't feel particularly tight at the front.
Prices for the base, 4 cylinder model starts at CAN$24,000, but the Eclipse GT (V6) premium coupe with the 5-speed manual gearbox (as tested) will set you back $34,300, whereas a similarly equipped Spyder GT will cost you a whopping $41,000. Yes, the convertible top is power operated, but that is still a lot of money. Furthermore, if you want the Sportronic 4-speed automatic gearbox on the GT model, it'll cost you an extra $1700. That sure is a lot of money.
After having these cars for a week and I came to the conclusion that if you look at these cars as sports cars, they won't impress. Look at them as grand touring cars, and they begin to make a lot more sense. Their strength is in making short work of long journeys rather than exciting in any point to point type challenge.
So, if you are looking for an everyday coupe or convertible to bimble around then the Eclipse will do the job. Just don't expect them to live up to their sporting looks.