For more than 20 years, the Mitsubishi Eclipse was one of America's more popular sport coupes. Reasons for its success include sleek styling, powerful engines, a decent amount of comfort and affordability. As these traits also describe traditional domestic rear-drive sport coupes, the Mitsubishi Eclipse has been called the Japanese version of a pony car. And like those seeming influences, the Eclipse was known more for its straight-line performance than outright cornering prowess. The Eclipse was always designed solely for the U.S. market and is a rarity in other parts of the world.
The original Eclipse was the result of a joint venture started in the 1980s between Mitsubishi and Chrysler, known as Diamond Star Motors (DSM). For model-year 1990, at a plant in central Illinois, the Diamond Star triplets bowed -- similar versions of the same Mitsubishi-engineered car, including the Eclipse, the Eagle Talon and the Plymouth Laser. With the subsequent demise of the Eagle and Plymouth brands, only the Eclipse remained in production.
In total, there were four generations of the Eclipse. Measured in terms of all-around performance and design, the latest one was certainly no slouch. But an earlier Eclipse, assuming it has been cared for properly, would make an affordable and enjoyable purchase for the budding sport coupe enthusiast.
Most Recent Mitsubishi Eclipse
Running from 2006-2012, the fourth and last generation of Mitsubishi's sport coupe was offered in base GS, GS Sport, the sporty-looking SE and more athletic GT trim levels. All were front-wheel drive and shared their basic platform with the Galant sedan.
The GS came reasonably well-equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning and full power features along with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine good for 162 horsepower.
The GS Sport used the same drivetrain, but added many of the GT's styling elements and extra features like heated leather front seats and a power driver seat. The SE essentially was a GS with special wheels and added styling elements. In addition to its burly 265-hp, 3.8-liter V6, the GT was fitted with a sport-tuned suspension and larger brakes. Stability control was standard across the entire line.
Transmissions varied, as the GS came with a five-speed manual and offered a four-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode ("Sportronic") as an option. The GS Sport and SE came only with the automatic. The GT came exclusively with a six-speed manual, and a five-speed Sportronic automatic was optional.
Not much changed until 2009, when the SE trims were dropped, stability control was added for the GT (became standard for all Eclipses for 2010), and the car received a mild face-lift that included a Lancer Evo-like front fascia. The GS Sport arrived for '10 while the following year saw 18-inch alloy wheels become standard for the base GS while the GS Sport received heated leather front seats and a power driver seat. That year saw blacked-out roofs on all Eclipses. The SE returned for 2012.
In reviews, this generation Mitsubishi Eclipse earned favorable commentary for its comfortable front seating, stylish interior and, on the GT, powerful V6 engine,. Noted downsides include a hefty curb weight that dulled handling, sluggish acceleration on four-cylinder models, subpar V6 fuel economy, a large turning circle and mediocre interior construction.
Past Mitsubishi Eclipse Models
Sold from 2000 to 2005, the third-generation Eclipse had a hatchback body style, front-wheel drive and four-cylinder or V6 power. It's smaller and less refined than the fourth-generation car. The RS and GS trims of this generation were powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 154 hp. The GT had a smooth-revving 205-hp 3.0-liter V6. All could be had with either a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic.
Although this Eclipse was fairly popular with consumers, it attracted little critical acclaim. In Edmunds.com tests, editors noted that this Eclipse was not as sporting as previous versions and had a low-quality interior. Nor did the car change much during its run, though in 2003 Mitsubishi added a GTS trim that had a slightly more powerful V6 (210 hp) and more standard equipment.
Compared to the compact and somewhat bulbous first Eclipse, the second generation (1995-'99) car seemed long, sleek and gorgeous in comparison. It was a bit bigger than the earlier Eclipse but in many ways very similar mechanically. As before, normally aspirated or turbocharged engines were offered, and AWD was available on turbocharged models.
The original Mitsubishi Eclipse debuted in 1990. It came only as a hatchback, and the earliest models can be identified by their pop-up headlights. There were four different trim levels, each offering its own mix of powertrains. The top-of-the line model was the desirable Eclipse GSX, which boasted a 195-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. In 1992, minor updates were made, including the addition of fixed headlights.
When new, the first- and second-generation Eclipses were considered some of the best affordable sport coupes available. Their turbocharged engines were already quite powerful in factory trim, but extensive aftermarket support enabled tuners to boost their output considerably.
With any of these early models, poor resale values translate into very attractive purchase prices. But reliability has never been a strong point for the Eclipse, and finding a well-maintained one (especially a turbocharged model) that hasn't been modified and/or abused is going to be a very rare event.