It's been a while since I've driven a death car. My mind casts back to tail-happy 911's, centrifugal Corvettes, terrifying TVR's and flaming Ferraris. These days, very few car companies build cars that seduce you into serious speed, then blow up, fall apart, flip over and/or throw you into a solid object. I reckon I've survived enough motorized mayhem to know a death machine when I Ford GT one. So I was a little surprised when I turned at a four-way intersection, squeezed the gas and nearly drove the new Mitsubishi Eclipse GT into a parked car.
Torque steer. It's that squirrelly squirming sensation that tells you that a front-wheel-drive car's driven wheels are desperately scrabbling for grip. The Mitsubishi Eclipse GT is a torque steer poster child. Feed the Eclipse's 263hp engine some major revs and mid-course corrections are instantly out of the question– and that's WITH traction control. All you can do is saw away at the steering wheel, back off the gas and wait for the tires to grab enough tarmac to return you to normal programming.
The Eclipse's tendency to lose traction at the front end is not quite as bad as hydroplaning, but only because it doesn't last as long. And it's true: you can avoid the problem by babying the gas pedal. But here's the problem: an enthusiast can no more resist giving the Eclipse GT's go pedal a proper pasting than they can avoid thumbing through sleazy car mags at a drug store.
Equipped with 'Mitsubishi Innovative Variable timing and lift Electronic Control' (MIVEC), the Eclipse's 3.8-liter V6 powerplant pours on the power from the basement to the penthouse. At the same time, the GT's coffee-can exhaust emits a mid-range zizz that hardens into a determined wail as you enter MIVEC-ian hyperspace. The Eclipse GT's six has so much sonic character that you blip the throttle for the Hell of it, lower the windows before entering tunnels and hold onto gear changes just because you can.
You see my problem? The Eclipse's engine constantly begs for a bloody good thrashing. It gets worse. Floor the free-revving GT in second gear, or third. Once again, the steering wheel torques back. At that point, you're going at least 50mph– which is more than fast enough to make the sudden loss of directional stability a life-threatening experience. If you happen to be cornering at the time, it's worse squared. The Eclipse GT has both an incurable understeer addiction AND a weight problem. When this sucker starts a nose-first slide towards the scenery, well, it's gonna be a while before helm control is yours for the taking. Did I mention that the GT feels a bit skittish at highway speeds?
In short, the Mitsubishi Eclipse GT is the kind of car Prince Charles would have bought his ex-wife if she'd survived her Parisian jaunt that fateful August morning.
Mind you, the Eclipse would have been a far more a stylish way to go than Dodi's S-Class sedan. Mitsubishi's swoopy coupe is a glorious gallimaufry of design cues: a hint of Nissan 350Z, a touch of Lexus SC430, a dash of Audi TT, a reminiscence of Pontiac Grand Am. Put it all together and what have you got? God knows, but it ain't dull. The Eclipse GT's furiously funky shape is adorned with wikkid details, from a windshield so severely raked it could almost double as a coffee table, to a drilled aluminum gas cap (Audi again). Clock that wasp waist, bodacious butt, blistered arches and jewel-effect lenses. These Mitsubishi guys are sick.
The Eclipse's interior is also a stylish step up from generic Japanese. Little details entrance: baseball glove stitching on the shift knob, body-hugging racing seats, sculpted metal door pulls. The GT's [optional] nine-speaker, 650-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo– complete with trunk-mounted 10' subwoofer– tells you all you need to know about Mitsubishi's ability to tune in to the youth market. Now, will someone please tell carmakers that a digital display needn't look a digital watch?
And while you're at it, who's going to convince Mitsubishi to give the Eclipse GT all-wheel-drive? The company steadfastly maintains that the market doesn't want it. They report that just 3% of consumers who bought the last gen Eclipse signed-up for power to all four corners. And? Need we raise the thorny issue of mortality rates, lawsuits and the like? Or should we stick with the carrot, and point out that the GT is only a viscous coupling away from greatness?
I'm serious. If Mitsubishi could tame the Eclipse's torque steer, the car's fresh design, cracking engine, silken six speed gearbox, robust chassis, superb brakes and entirely reasonable sticker price would make it one of the best sports coupes of our time. As it is, the Eclipse scares me to death.