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When it comes to designing and marketing sport coupes, automakers know it's a jungle out there. They all need to make their cars faster, sleeker and ever-more powerful than the competition does, and it's a never-ending battle. Which is why, upon hearing that the Chrysler/Mitsubishi Diamond-Star partnership was redesigning the Eagle Talon/ Mitsubishi Eclipse for 1995, the most appropriate response seemed to be: "What took you so long?"
But after we had a chance to drive the beefed-up, turbocharged 1995 all-wheel-drive (AWD) Talon TSi, we'd like to amend our response to, "It was worth the wait." In the turbocharged TSi and TSi AWD 5-speed versions, the talon's 2.0-liter, 16-valve DOHC 4-cylinder engine is powered by 210 unruly horses - a 15-hp increase over the 1994 model - which more than makes up for the car's 200 lb. weight increase.
As well as the TSi and TSi AWD, the Talon is available in the base ESi.
Our Talon TSi AWD test model had a base price of $20,335 and was stocked with standard equipment that included (obviously) all-wheel drive, 4-wheel disc brakes, speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering, power door locks/windows/mirrors, electronic speed control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and rear split folding seat.
Our test car was also equipped with an option package that included air conditioning, front floor mats, power driver's seat, power sunroof and a CD player with six speakers. Other options were leather low-back front bucket seats and leather rear bench seat, anti-lock brakes and limited-slip differential. All of these goodies brought the price of our car up to $23,826.
From the front view, the talon's low-slung foglights, fat tires and squinty, imperious headlights convey both style and sportiness. A black canopy, black spoiler and beveled side-body panels add a dash of drama, as does the swept-back rear-hatch window. However, as far as style is concerned, the otherwise sleek driver-side profile is cluttered by too many elements: an antenna, rear-window wiper, blacked-out side-window borders and multiple body seams. We also found ourselves wishing - again, from a styling perspective - that the Talon was a notch-back coupe with a trunk instead of a hatch.
From the rear, the fat fascia, concave hind quarters and chrome dual exhausts suggest the Talon is ready for some serious road wars. From a more functional standpoint, the rear deck lid opens to reveal enough space for perhaps a dozen shopping bags - and maybe another eight or so when the rear seats are folded down.
Engineers has given the Talon TSi the same control arm and multi-link rear suspension used in the Mitsubishi Galant. The wheelbase is wider - 98.8 in. compared with the 97.2 in. wheelbase in the '94 - and the new design incorporates more aerodynamic lines and a sportier, more aggressive stance.
Meanwhile, Chrysler has shined up the talon's sports-car credentials by increasing its bending resistance and the torsional rigidity of the body structure. Indeed, this is the package that has led the Talon to five consecutive victories in Sports Car Club of America's World Challenge racing series.
Typically, when one buys a car for its engine muscle and brisk handling, one can expect to make some compromises in terms of interior space. And although that's certainly true of the Talon, the 1995 model does offer a bit more breathing room in the cabin. Plus, by pushing the cowl closer to the front, Talon designers have given the driver a better outlook on life - or, at least, on surrounding traffic.
Also on the plus side, the leather seats are plushly perforated, while the door-panel armrests and instrument panel have a scooped, futuristic visage. Speaking of this panel, our TSi AWD model featured full sport instrumentation, including a large 9000 rpm tachometer, with turbo boost and oil pressure gauges paired to the left of the tachometer and fuel level and coolant temperature gauges paired to the right. Nice touch.
Other positive impressions: The unique revolving-lid design of the sturdy, recessed cup-holder kept our cups firmly in place, and the switches for the climate control and windshield wipers were easily accessible.
On the downside, however, the location of the steering-wheel spokes forces the driver to crane his or her neck to the left in order to get a peek at the cruise control and power-mirror switches. Also, the aforementioned space compromises that we anticipated showed up in terms of rear legroom.
And though the blacked-out side- and rear-window borders may be visually dramatic, they cut down on rearward visibility because the deck-lid pillars already create a larger blind spot than the pillars on a sedan - or even a coupe - with a trunk. Rear visibility in the Talon could have been increased by taking the space used by the dark window borders and devoting it to more window glass.
Because this is a sport coupe, let's get right to the point. The 16 valves, upgraded turbocharger intercooler, dual overhead cams, 210 horses and 5-speed manual overdrive transmission conspired to give our Talon TSi AWD a breathless, slingshotlike 0-to-60 mph performance of 6.6 seconds. During this muscular launch, as the talon's nose carved through the wind and sent it whistling past our ears, all seemed right with the world.
Admittedly, sometimes that much power can be, well, overpowering. But the talon's AWD system reigns in some of that power by distributing it to all four wheels. Depending on speed, road surface and other driving conditions, the AWD system automatically increases the torque to the wheels with the most traction. When accelerating on a slippery surface, the AWD system helps the slipping wheels regain traction more quickly than rear-wheel drive.
AWD also makes a good deal more sense than a front-wheel-drive design, which can sometimes lead to a loss of control during rapid acceleration or emergency maneuvers. During our test drive, the talon's AWD system delivered impressive road-gripping power - especially coming out of high-speed turns and during darty multilane changes.
Credit for the talon's firm handling and assured responsiveness during such maneuvers also goes to the multi-link, double wishbone suspension and the gas-charged, variable-damping shock absorbers.
On the freeway at a moderate speed of 65 mph in fourth gear, our Talon TSi's tachometer simmered along at an unperturbed 3100 rpm. Then, when we simultaneously veered across three lanes (with only a single finger controlling the steering wheel) and punched the gas pedal up to 80 mph, we could feel and hear the Talon drawing confidently on its source as the tach topped out at a still-unruffled 4800 rpm. Exiting the freeway and downshifting, we then quickly tested the Talon's acceleration power at lower speeds and found that it exploded similarly out of second gear.
With so many flavors to choose from, the loyalty of sports-car buyers continues to be tested every time a carmaker redesigns an existing model or introduces a new one. With its heady power and winsome aerodynamics, the Eagle Talon will win over some new converts.
A few problems remain that weren't addressed during the redesign: lack of legroom and window glass in the rear. But we see the new Talon as a front-runner in the sport-coupe market - at least until next year when a new entry ups the under-the-hood ante.
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