In the end, Mitsubishi’s storied Eclipse is being removed from life-support and sent into that good night not with a performance and handling package worthy of the name, but with a trim and content package designed to maximize value. The car that began its life racking up road racing trophies across the world is being retired with some paint, stitching and vinyl decals that make up the SE (“Special Edition”) package. Perhaps the ultimate in irony is that SE cars will only be offered with a four-speed automatic transmission, so don’t expect the cars to return either world class performance or even reasonable fuel economy.
The Eclipse began life as a 1990 model, and was offered in trims from mild to wild. On the entry-level side, buyers got a reasonably well equipped, 92 horsepower, front-wheel-drive sports coupe. On the wild side, there was the 195 horsepower, turbocharged Eclipse GSX, which offered the benefit of AWD for all-weather traction. The Eclipse GSX was a superb car, and began racking up race wins as soon as it took to the track. A front wheel drive only version, the Eclipse GS Turbo, also made 195 horsepower and was slightly quicker in a straight line, thanks to lower weight.
The obsession with performance continued through second generation Eclipse models, built from 1985 through 1999. All wheel drive models remained available, and stock output on GS-T and GSX models was bumped to 210 horsepower. When the third generation was launched in 2000, Mitsubishi took the car in a “personal luxury” direction. Gone was the high-performance GSX, and gone was the easily tuned, turbocharged four cylinder engine. Instead, Mitsubishi stuffed in a heavier and more sedate V6, good for 205 horsepower. By the time the fourth generation was debuted in 2006, the Eclipse was more about style than substance, and sales continued to decline.
I’ll miss the Mitsubishi Eclipse, but more for what it was in the early days than for what it evolved into. Like the Twinkie-and-bon-bon addicted actress long past her prime, the Eclipse is best remembered for its early roles, and not for the sad parodies it delivered in its later years.