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The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder returns to the Mitsubishi lineup after a one-year hiatus as a 2007 model, with a full-power, convertible top that folds completely into a fully covered, self-closing bin. All with the driver doing nothing more than releasing a couple of latches and pushing a button.
The Spyder comes with a choice of four-cylinder or V6 engines, each available with manual or automatic.
The Spyder offers all the pleasures of open-air motoring with few of the displeasures. The top, especially, is a quality structure. It's finished inside, with all the struts, pivots and bows hidden behind sound-deadening fabric. With it up, the interior feels and sounds much like the coupe, although perhaps a little claustrophobic. With it down, the steeply raked windshield pushes most of the air up and over the open cockpit, allowing almost-normal conversation; hats are just as essential for avoiding sunburn as for controlling wind-blown tresses.
Despite weighing about 200 pounds more than the coupe, due to bracing added in the conversion to a convertible, the Spyder gives up only one mile per gallon to the coupe in fuel economy in all but the top-level V6 with automatic, and that drops only two mpg and only in the highway estimate.
In pricing, the '07 Spyder actually costs less than its predecessor. The base GS model lists at $355 below the '05, the GT more than $2000 below the top '05 model, and both with more content.
Measured fun per dollar, the Eclipse Spyder is well worth a look for anyone shopping for a sporty convertible.
If you loved the coupe, you'll like the convertible.
The front end of the 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder is identical to the 2006 Eclipse coupe. The split grille wears the Mitsubishi three-diamond emblem on its divider. Compound, projector-look, faux-HID (i.e., fronted by a blue-tint lens) headlights rest in notches cut into the leading curves of the fenders. A large air intake fills the lower half of the front bumper. Round fog lamps tuck into the corners beneath the headlights. The barest hint of a spoiler forms the bottom edge of the fascia between the air intake and the fog lamps.
Not surprisingly, the transformation of the coupe into a convertible alters the Spyder's side view most significantly, but not all that dramatically. The change is, in fact, less disruptive of the Eclipse's sleek lines than the chop job done to the Nissan 350Z in birthing that sports car's roadster. Most noticeable is the loss of the rear quarter window to an expanse of either black or gray fabric, depending on the body color ordered. The tires still look undersized for the wheel wells, especially in the rear, but the rocker panel-like swell across the lower portion of the door panel lightens the mid-body mass.
Lowering the top emphasizes the Spyder's wedge shape, with the fast windshield arching back over the front seat and the bulbous rear quarters seeming to rise up to fill in for the dropped top. The powered top disappears completely, collapsing into a well under a flush-fitting tonneau cover behind the rear seat. The process takes almost 20 seconds, but it's an easy process, with only a couple latches to release and a button to press. And once it's done, there's no cumbersome plastic cover that has to be wrestled into place to cover the folded top. Putting it up is just as slick, and again, without leaving behind a plastic cover that'll consume precious trunk space.
Out back, a translucent spoiler incorporating the high-mount stoplight arcs across the high rear decklid between clear-lens taillights. The license plate sits inside a cutout in the rear bumper beneath an embossed "ECLIPSE." A tiny red reflector is embedded in the lower corner at each end of a cutline running the width of the bumper above an extractor-like indent, through the right-hand end of which the exhaust exits.
Again, if the interior of the coupe worked for you, so will the interior of the convertible, as the two are identical, save for the switches at the base of the center stack that operate the top. Oh, yeah, and for the sad excuse for a back seat sized less for people than to make room for a space to store the folding top.
Front seats provide good support for lower back and thighs, as well as decent bolstering for keeping driver and passenger in their place during quick runs down winding roads. As mentioned, the less said about the rear seats the better, although we should in interest of thoroughness report the seat bottoms are deeply dished, while the seat backs are almost vertical, making for an included angle between the two planes of something less than 90 degrees. And then there's the subwoofer between the two seat forms that should deliver a good back massage when the stereo's cranked up.
Monitoring what's happening under the hood and beneath the tires is relatively easy, with large, round speedometer and tachometer framed by the top half of the steering wheel. The engine coolant and fuel level gauges, however, are buried down in the shadows in the lower, outboard corners of the instrument panel, forcing the driver consciously to look at and focus on them, instead of merely intuitively scanning them every few minutes.
Prizing function over flash, the center stack is nicely organized, topped by a hooded information display. Below in order are two of the dashboard's four, symmetrical vent registers; the CD/stereo control head; and the air conditioning panel, the latter two with mostly ergonomic buttons and knobs. We'd like larger radio station preset/CD selector buttons, but that's our only complaint in this area.
Storage is about par for what's effectively a two-plus-two sporty car. The glove box deceives, with a wide cover but a more limited inside. Door-mounted map pockets don't deserve the name, as they're barely adequate for a small notebook and so shallow it often falls out when you shut the door. A pair of basic cup holders fill the center console between the shift lever and a decently deep storage bin. The trunk space probably has enough room to hold not much more than Tiger Woods' very first set of golf clubs.
Visibility out the front is the best of all angles. Side windows are more chopped-top height than full size, with mirrors positioned back a ways from the front of the doors, to the point a driver has to turn the head to check neighboring lanes. The expanse of top material and the small rear window pretty well wipe out rear quarter vision, leaving sizable blind spots the speed cops will no doubt find to be perfect hiding places while they pace you.
Ah, a sunny day and a convertible. Wind in the hair. Mr. Sol scorching the forehead. Where's that hat when you need it, eh? All of which pretty much covers the pleasures that come with driving the 2007 Eclipse Spyder. Because like most convertible conversions, whether done in-house by the original manufacturer or by an aftermarket modifier, the Spyder trades a good measure of its ride and handling potential for the joys of open-air motoring.
Power-wise, the four-cylinder is competent, but sounds buzzy and low rent at idle and under hard acceleration. Cruising at highway speeds, however, it's more comfortable and relaxed, quieter, too. The V6 is the better choice in all regards, except, no surprise, price and mileage; it adds almost $3000 to the Spyder's window sticker and lops off as much as five miles per gallon in city driving and three mpg in highway driving from the four cylinder, according to the U.S. EPA's estimates. But it's significantly smoother under way and silky silent at idle, and its 98 horsepower and 96 pound-feet of torque over the four cylinder are a major step up in a car weighing close to two tons by the time a driver and passenger's mass is considered.
The shift lever, essential for managing the delivery of that power to the road, falls readily to hand, whether for the automatics or the manuals. Gear selection is more precise in the V6's close-gated six-speed manual than in the four-cylinder's five-speed, but both work well, with little of the rubbery feel so common with a front-wheel-drive layout. The automatics transmissions on both models offer a Sportronic mode that lets the driver shift manually. The slot for the manual mode is on the passenger's side of the shift gate, however, making for awkward up and down taps. Gear changes are quite properly more defined in Sportronic mode than in full automatic, but even then, they're well managed, with engine speed momentarily slowed by the electronics to soften the shifts. Mitsubishi's Sportronic holds the selected gear for as long as you want, a strategy enthusiasts prefer over manual modes that override the driver.
The brakes, vented discs in front and solid discs in back, do their job without fanfare or fuss, neither overwhelming in stopping power nor causing concern about fade. We wouldn't expect them to hold up to lap after high-speed lap of a race track, but for the style of motoring for which the Spyder is intended, they're more than up to the task.
The top is fully lined, which reduces traffic noise around town, and suffers only minor drumming at speed on the interstate. Top down, there's some buffeting that logically intensifies with speed, and conversation is more difficult, but not a strain; the wind blocker included in the Premium option package for the GT helps some, but not much. Even the stereo compensates, triggered to jack up the volume when the top is down. It's not as sophisticated as the system used in the 2006 Mazda Miata MX-5, which uses an equalizer actually to re-mix the stereo's output to overcome ambient noises unique to open convertibles, but we noticed a difference.
On smooth pavement, whether straight or winding, the Spyder is loads of fun. Yes, as a front-engine, front-drive car, it'll plow, or understeer (wants to go straight instead of turning), when carrying too much speed into a corner, but the wide track (the distance between the left and right tires) and large footprint from the low-profile tires keep this at a minimum. It has good directional stability and responds promptly to steering inputs, although the turning circle truly caught us unawares, forcing us to do a back-and-fill to manage a U-turn at more than one intersection after missing a turn. There's virtually no body lean in corners. And with the top down, you're sitting out there in the open, with nothing between you and the roadside vistas and scents and sounds.
It's when the going gets rough or the pavement grows ripples that the Spyder's coupe roots reveal themselves in marked cowl shake and body shudders that continue for a beat or two after the shock has passed. A sharp bump mid-way through a corner being taken even at a socially responsible speed will actually alter the car's line, not merely shift everything sideways a bit. Sadly, it's the same with top up or down. And slam a door, and there'll be noticeable vibration.
The 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder is a fun car. If, that is, you accept it for what it is: a sporty, top-down tourer. But it's not a sports car, in the truest sense of the term. Accept that, and you can't go wrong.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from La Jolla, California.
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