The all-new 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse boasts a wider stance and the engines are more powerful than before, but it's also a heavier car so it doesn't stretch the performance envelope much beyond its predecessor. The Eclipse is built on the Galant sedan platform and its expanded footprint brings added mass, making the Eclipse more of a touring coupe than a sports car.
Power has been increased for both of the Eclipse's engines. The V6 in the new 2006 Eclipse makes 53 more horsepower and 55 more pound-feet of torque than the '05 GTS did. The four-cylinder in the standard '06 model generates 15 more horsepower and 20 pound-feet more torque than last year's model, although the heavier '06 exacts a relatively bigger penalty in reduced agility.
In its quest for mass management, if not weight reduction, Mitsubishi tried something new with its six-speed manual transmission. By re-routing the power flow through the transmission's gears and shafts, effectively giving the incorporated center differential two final drive ratios (one for gears 1 - 4, the other for gears 5, 6 and reverse), it shrunk the unit's size, making for a more compact installation and lessening the new GT's front-weight bias. Special treatment was given the GT's suspension with a larger rear stabilizer bar countering stiffer front springs to maintain a more desirable roll center and the strut tower cross bar, although the latter snakes through the engine compartment with enough bends and twists to invite doubt as to the extent of its contribution in the handling department.
Most of this is invisible to the driver. There's a barely perceptible surge around 4000-4300 rpm in both engines as the respective variable-valve systems shift modes, but to the degree this is felt it's a small price to pay. The Sportronic automatic delivers smooth shifts and kicks down to pass with only slight hesitation. It delivers in manual mode, too, shifting neither up nor down at either extreme of the power band, but rather holding the selected gear per the driver's preference.
We didn't sample the manual transmissions, but Mitsubishi's track record leaves us confident they will not disappoint. Curiously, however, the GT's six-speed manual registers a lower EPA-estimated fuel economy than the Sportronic; Mitsubishi officials believe this is due to quirks in the government's fuel economy rating methodology and pledge to survey owners to obtain real-world data.
Ride is smooth, about as expected in a car of this weight and dimensions. The GT's suspension is a smidgen more communicative than the GS of the tires' interactions with the road. Directional stability is good. Handling is typical for a front-wheel-drive coupe: Under hard acceleration the steering wheel tugs to the right, albeit gently, and the harder the car is pushed in corners, the more it understeers. The GT's firmer suspension and the larger footprint from the optional tires do tend to reduce this latter trait somewhat. Wind noise is well managed, even at extra-legal interstate speeds. Brakes are solid and mostly linear, with little of the annoying interference increasingly felt with the growing use of poorly coded, electronic management applications.
The frameless door windows drop fractionally to clear their seals when the door is opened and then re-seat when the door is closed. To allow them to retract fully, however, necessitated designing a quarter window so the window's track would clear the door's forward perimeter. This pushed the outside mirrors a ways rearward, to the point drivers must consciously turn their head to the side to scan overtaking traffic and the like. The outside door handles are also an awkward design that's likely to cost unwary drivers and passengers more than a few fingernails.
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