By all accounts, the original Mitsubishi A6M Reisen, also known as “Zeke” or “Zero”, was a pretty decent little warplane. For a year or so, it had the edge on the porky old Brewster Buffalos and Grumman Wildcats operating, which is to say retreating, in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. The Wildcat was replaced by the Hellcat, and by the time the fabulous P-47 Thunderbolt arrived it was game over for the Zero. The “Jug” was virtually indestructible, while the Zero offered virtually no protection to either its pilot or its fuel tanks. It was apparently quite profitable for Thunderbolt pilots to fly head-on at the Zeros and just shoot at them until the Mitsubishi fell out of the sky, its return fire completely ineffective. (P-47 info edited — JB)
Still, the Zero was a decent little plane.
Every Mitsubishi built since then, of every type, shape, variety, and description, has been a complete piece of crap.
Whew! Sorry about that! I was channeling our dear departed founder for a moment. I mean, not every Mitusbishi ever built has been junk. There was the Sapporo, which was, um, junk. And the Starion, but that was junk, too. The 3000GT? Impossible to fix and heavier empty than the aforementioned Mitsubishi Zero or a Corvette carrying the two fattest people from your local Wal-Mart. The DiamondStar cars? My friend Mark Mitias famously christened them “DSM-Disposable Speed Machines”. The Lancer Evolution? Nice to drive, satisfying to use on a racetrack, but made from tin and cardboard.
Look at the people-and-mileage infographic in the upper right-hand corner. You know where you see infographics like that? Right. At the rental-car counter. Where Mitusbishis go, not to die, but to live their lives. That’s where I found my test Eclipse, fetchingly dressed in “Carbon” paint and carrying a sticker price of $26,495 post rebates. Hertz Los Angeles charged me almost $200 to rent it for a day and a half; although I was on a press trip, I had some personal business which required that I slip the PR leash and travel without restriction or oversight. Thus the Eclipse.
First impressions: it isn’t bad-looking in its own way. The chrome spoiler isn’t as offensive as it is on the Infiniti G-Spots and the swell of the hindquarters has a somewhat mesmerizing effect for me. Let’s check it out, top-down in Beverly Hills:
There’s one unintended consequence of the styling and the big cloth top: backing out becomes an exercise in sheer bloody courage. Fruitlessly attempting to manipulate the car around the parking lot next to Kat von D’s “High Voltage Tattoo” studio, I ended up just closing my eyes and doing a full-throttle reverse into the unknown. I had not previously informed my passenger that such a maneuver was forthcoming. They say you never hear the bullet that kills you. After that, I kept the complicated top down at all times for visibility and safety, even in light rain.
In many ways, the Eclipse Spyder is a little time capsule, a look back into What Them Japanese Cars Used To Be Like. Let’s see. Charmless four-cylinder, rough but short on power? Check. Four-speed automatic with somewhat leisurely shift times? Yup. Lowest-bidder plastic interior? Uh-huh.
The sound system, branded “Rockford Fosgate” to reach that critical retired-minitruckers-who-remember-the-Punch-45-amplifier demographic, wasn’t bad, although the subwoofer mounted between the negligible rear seats seemed inadequately protected and quite prone to being poked with pencils, pens, broken bongs, shivs, and the other accoutrements of the modern Mitsubishi buyer, who is primarily identifiable by his sub-600 credit rating and fondness for the music of “Sublime”.
Speaking of, let me tell you what else is a bad idea: driving a convertible top-down through LA with a passenger who is both drunk and fluent in Spanish. I know the language in print but couldn’t keep up with her enough to know what kind of trouble we were getting into. “Hey, (plural form of Spanish word for person who is unnaturally intimate with his mother)!” she yelled at four vatos in a LeSabre. “(Fornicate) (your) (sister, or possibly taco dressing) (with) (a goat, or airplane propeller, or small dog native to certain regions of Mexico).” Time to floor the Eclipse’s too-loud-pedal and get the hell out of there, with a brief visit to the next lane courtesy of some vintage-style throttle-steer.
“I want to see the Hollywood sign!” she then said in perfectly clear English. Cue the terrifying midnight climb up roads no wider than a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, complete with blind corners, huge potholes, and streets that turn out to be driveways or vice versa. At last, the sign appeared in the foggy sky, unaccountably ominous for its proximity and mute familiarity. We stopped at the widest available point in the road and stepped out to take a look.
“Hey, muchacho, you gonna leave the car running like that?” she inquired.
“Who’d steal it?” I replied.
We could close the review right there, really. Of all the cars for sale today, this is definitely one of them. That’s about it. I’m not going to pull a Scott Burgess here. By “pull a Scott Burgess,” I don’t mean “get lapped by Jack Baruth in a Grand Cherokee while I’m driving a Chally 392 on a racetrack,” although that may have happened recently. I mean, “get all weepy-eyed about a less-than-great car just because the top goes down.” If I want to write a nice article about a car that is fundamentally a piece of disposable junk with a very pleasant convertible option, I’ll take the Kaiser’s shilling and fluff the Boxster a little bit. I hear there are more trips to Germany available for those of us who are willing to get our e-knees dirty in that regard.
I cannot recommend the Eclipse Spyder to anyone. There are better choices available for the same money, including the distantly related Chrysler 200 convertible. For the same money, you get a six-speed automatic and a few more refinements. You lose the fabulous ass, but that can be sourced elsewhere. The Mustang convertible costs a bit more but has a far stronger engine and is likely to be worth real money in a few years compared to either the Eclipse or 200. A MINI Cooper convertible is slower but nicer inside and carries a lot more credibility with the fabulous-ass crowd themselves.
The Eclipse nameplate had its moments, back in the early days of the sport-compact battle, but those are long gone. Like its winged ancestor, this Mitsubishi falls short on refinement, power, protection, and capability. It’s not necessarily crap, but it’s very far from being good. I’m afraid that the Eclipse has lost the war.