Home » The Mitsubishi Eclipse Was Perfect Until They Ruined It

The Mitsubishi Eclipse Was Perfect Until They Ruined It

Mitsu Eclipse
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Japan’s Bubble Era saw the East Asian country become an economic powerhouse, then the second largest in the world. At the same time, Japanese automakers were building cars the envy of their rivals the world over. Back then, sports coupes weren’t too expensive, or too niche. It was a must-have necessity for every serious Japanese automaker. In the ’80s and ’90s, Mitsubishi was up there with the best.

Born in this crucible of greatness was the Mitsubishi Eclipse. It wasn’t the brand’s halo car, but a solid mid-tier sports model offering great lines and affordable performance. Like so many Japanese cars of its time, this sleeping dragon could be woken into a full-throated monster with the right mods.

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Very much of its era, the Eclipse shone brightly for three generations, before faltering at the fourth. Let’s examine how this glorious 90s icon shone so bright, and how it all went wrong in the end.

Mitsubishi Eclipse 1990 Wallpapers 1

Exceptional In The ’80s

Japanese automakers still build sports cars, but their lines are often limited to one or two high-end models. Deals are struck between brands to amortize costs, and concerns over sales and the bottom line are always front of mind for product planners. Think about how the new Toyota Supra launched without a manual, or the fact that you’ve barely seen a Nissan Z since they launched a couple of years ago.

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In the late 1980s, it was an entirely different world. Automakers had money to spare, and so did the customers. Some of the economic slowness of the ’70s was replaced with a new energy and lineups reflected this. Sports models abounded wherever you looked, from sub-compacts to the god-tier halo cars we revere today.

In this environment, the Eclipse was developed with a purpose. It was intended to be a mid-level model, and would slot in beneath the higher-end Mitsubishi 3000GT (Dodge Stealth). Mitsubishi developed it specifically for the North American market, and it was built in Normal, Illinois. Debuting in 1989 for the 1990 model year in North America, it was eventually exported to Japan and Europe, too.

Mitsubishi Eclipse 1990 Pictures 1

Mitsubishi Eclipse 1990 Images 2

As Japanese automakers oversaw the changing of the guard into 90s design tropes, the Eclipse helped lead the charge. It had a low hoodline, pop-up headlights, and rounded edges that separated it from the prevailing 1980s aesthetic. It was often painted with a contrasting black roof, too, which gave the glasshouse a sleek, shadowed look. 1993 would see the car updated with a simple, clean facelift. It lost the pop-up headlights but gained a more modern look for the mid-90s era.

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As was common in the era, you could option the Eclipse in all manner of different configurations. Base models had a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that was only good for 92 horsepower, solely driving the front wheels. This was the model you’d get if you wanted the look, but you couldn’t afford the go. You could step up to the 2.0-liter 4G63 if you had a little more cash, which would deliver a more respectable 135 horsepower to the front tires.

The money models, though, were the GS Turbo and GSX. Both rocked the legendary 4G63T, and the latter got all-wheel-drive to boot. You could get up to 195 horsepower in the later models, assuming you specced the five-speed manual. Automatic models were stuck with 180 horsepower courtesy of a smaller turbo and fuel injectors. Even then, it was still a decently hot ship.

Photos Mitsubishi Eclipse 1989 1

The 4G63T is one of those glorious Japanese engines that tuners fell in love with. Throw on a big turbo and the right supporting mods, and making over 500 horsepower isn’t out of the question. The same engine gained legendary status in the Lancer Evolution, but America had little need for the rally-bred model. You could get the same power and all-wheel-drive grip in an Eclipse, and you weren’t stuck in a four-door sedan, either.

Under the Diamond Star Motors collaboration, the first-generation Eclipse was also sold as the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser. All were well regarded, with badges and some minor visual tweaks being the biggest difference between them.

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Images Eagle Talon 1990 1

Plymouth Laser 1989 Pictures 1
The Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser also sold in great numbers alongside the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

The first-generation Eclipse was one of those models that made people fall in love with Japanese sports cars. It had modern looks and good power courtesy of boost. Plus, turbo cars proved eminently tunable. They quickly became a desirable model in the import scene—even if they were being built domestically for U.S. buyers.

The Hero’s Journey

Mitsubishi didn’t rest on its laurels. A sports car might sit on sale for over a decade today, but that wasn’t the case for the Eclipse. The Japanese brand was already retooling for the second-gen model for the 1995 model year.

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Press photos of the second-generation Eclipse coupe are almost impossible to come by for some reason.

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Photos Mitsubishi Eclipse 1995 1

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Mitsubishi Eclipse 1997 Images 1
“I just wanna go back, back to 1999” – Charli XCX

The Eclipse was now a beautifully curvaceous thing, round and svelte and of the moment. Where the first-gen still had some details that hung around from the 1980s, the new model was as fresh as frosted tips. It also scored a couple of new engines for lower models while retaining the beloved 4G63T for the performance trims.

Oh, and this time around? Mitsubishi even sprung for a drop-top Spyder model. Why? Because the Nineties were rocking hard, and Mitsubishi was having a ball.

Photos Mitsubishi Eclipse 1996 1
So. NINETIES. Note the new bumper from the mid-cycle refresh.

For the US, base models were far better off than the previous generation. They got a healthy 140 horsepower courtesy of the 2.0-liter 420A engine from Chrysler. It was related to the engine that would end up in the Dodge Neon, another benefit of the partnership between the two companies.

Meanwhile, peak power from the turbo models was boosted to 210 horsepower. It was all thanks to higher compression ratios and improved turbos, with Mitsubishi beefing up the driveline to suit. The beloved 4G63T was available in the front-wheel-drive GS-T models, or you could upgrade to the GSX for all-wheel-drive. The only caveat is that Mitsubishi wouldn’t sell you a convertible with all-wheel-drive.

Eagle Talon 1995 Photos 1
Eagle kept doing its thing with the second-generation model. Note the amber heckblende.

Fundamentally, the second-generation Eclipse was cool for one reason. You were getting the same rad drivetrain in an even hotter body than before.

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The second-generation model is probably the most famous Eclipse of all. That’s by virtue of its starring appearance in The Fast and The Furious all the way back in 2001. Thanks to the influence of car consultant Craig Lieberman, the 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse ended up as O’Conner’s car at the start of the film.

Brian’s Eclipse would go on to explode shortly into proceedings before he stepped into the orange Supra that became the JDM star of the film. Regardless, it was still a huge role for the Eclipse, and the car still has star power to this day. One of the movie cars sold for a mighty $170,500 back in 2022, despite being a low-powered automatic with few of the mods seen on screen.

It’s worth noting that The Fast and the Furious didn’t define import car culture; it was a reflection of the scene at the time. Not least because most of the hero cars were real builds rented from real owners. The Eclipse seen in the film was a great example of a hot build of the era. If you had big turbo power in the 1990s, it certainly didn’t hurt to have a laptop onboard for tuning. It was also cool, nay—expected—that you had a killer sticker pack that boasted of the performance parts under the hood.

Screenshot 2024 04 08 143647
Tell me how to vote for the economic conditions that enabled this to happen.

Sliding…

The second generation gave way to the third for the 2000 model year. Mitsubishi switched up the visuals and the engines once more, but this time, it got a little twisted along the way. Basing the car on the same platform as the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus didn’t help matters.

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The styling was confused at best. The new model had sharper lines for the new millennium. It also had a bunch of odd strakes, vents, and indents that overcomplicated the design, much to its detriment. From some angles, it looked like the designers couldn’t choose between a retro throwback look and something that was futuristic and modern throughout.

The third-gen wasn’t bad, but it could have been better.
No excuse for those taillights, though.

Mitsubishi also turned away from greatness in the engine selection, too. The 4G63T was out, with emissions making things complicated. Base models got a 2.4-liter inline four, good for 150 horsepower. The top models got the 3.0-liter 6G72 V6, which offered 210 hp in peak configuration.

On paper, the new V6 matched the outgoing four-cylinder in output. In reality, though, it wasn’t nearly as good. That’s because the new V6 simply didn’t have the same tuning potential as the 4G63T. With no boost as standard, making big power would require installing an entire turbo kit at great expense. The V6 layout would make this far more complicated to boot.

Mitsubishi also abandoned all-wheel-drive at this point, too. The Eclipse was now front-wheel-drive only.

A convertible was still available in the third-gen.

The loss of killer performance models wasn’t the end of the Eclipse, though. In every generation, more lower-end models were sold compared to the top trims. The third generation was, at first, selling in bulk, just like the previous two generations.

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For context, Mitsubishi was regularly selling over 50,000 Eclipses in the 1990s, with a peak of 72,468 sold in 1992. In addition, the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser versions raked in a ton of additional sales. A whopping 80,033 Lasers and Talons were sold in 1990 alone.

The third generation kept up the good fight, shifting a healthy 72,041 units in 2002. That quickly sunk to just over 20,000 units by 2004, however. The masses were turning a blind eye to the Eclipse, and the enthusiasts weren’t falling in love with it, either.

Withered On The Vine

Mitsubishi was ready to arrest the slide with the fourth-generation model. It boasted a cleaner look in line with Mitsubishi’s then-current design language. However, while neater than the third-gen, it was heavy and burdensome, with a look not befitting a lithe and sporty coupe.

It wasn’t just the looks, either. Curb weight had swollen to 3,472 pounds for the V6, while the base model weighed 3,274 pounds. For the first-gen model, the original GSX weighed just 3,095 pounds in comparison, with an all-wheel-drive drivetrain and turbo on board to boot. The base model was a featherweight, at just 2,524 pounds.

Mitsubishi Eclipse Concept E
The concept was radical…
2009 Mitsubishi Eclipse Gt
…the execution less so, but still good.
Images Mitsubishi Eclipse 2008 3
The fourth-gen Eclipse looked great from some angles, but was a larger, heavier car than its predecessors. Being front-wheel-drive only also hurt its performance credentials.

Once again purely sold as a front-wheel-drive model, Mitsubishi sold the new Eclipse with a 2.4 liter four in the base models boasting a decent 162 horsepower. The top-tier GT model scored a comparatively massive 3.8-liter V6 also seen in the Pajero, Galant, and 380. With 268 horsepower, it was a new high for the nameplate.

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Nonetheless, the fourth-gen failed to connect with enthusiasts once more. The styling wasn’t there, the cool engine was gone, and the Eclipse wasn’t finding an audience. First-year sales were lukewarm and things didn’t really improve much from there. Peak sales for the fourth-gen came in 2006 at under 40,000 units. As noted by GoodCarBadCar at the time, it was proving too expensive to compete versus rivals with more power, better looks, and fancier badges.

2009 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder Gt
The Spyder didn’t have the right proportions. A convertible is a fashion accessory and should fit you like a good suit. You don’t want to show up to the function looking like a kid peering over the lip of a giant bathtub. 

Mitsubishi would go on to tease greatness, in the form of the Mitsubishi Eclipse Ralliart. Shown off in searing red with gold wheels, it rocked an aggressive stance, a sweet rear wing, and a 4G63T under the hood. All-wheel-drive was back, too, and Mitsubishi boasted it had an “estimated” 400 horsepower on tap. The body was dripping in carbon fiber parts, while the interior rocked Recaro seats with racing harnesses included.

Pictures Mitsubishi Eclipse 2005 2

What could have been.

Nevermind, though. It was just a concept. Mitsubishi had no serious plans to put it into production.

Sales dipped below 5,000 by 2009, and the writing was on the wall. The Eclipse’s final year of production was 2011 for the 2012 model year. Mitsubishi sold just 784 examples in 2012, and a further 40 cars in 2013.

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The Eclipse went out, not with a roar, but a whimper. By the end of production, Mitsubishi simply didn’t give a shit. Nor did anybody else.

The final example ever built was set aside. It would be auctioned off for charity. The last Eclipse wasn’t given some grand glory tour, though. Instead, it was trucked out behind the factory by a photographer who made no effort to capture its charms. They took some of the saddest, most lifeless press photos you’ll ever see on this website.

Lasty
If I turned in this photo, the editors would politely ask if things were okay at home.
The Last
The Eclipse deserved better than this.

Before long, the coupe would be a distant memory. Mitsubishi slapped the name on a boring SUV, and the Eclipse was gone for good. What a way to go.

Remember The Good Times

The Eclipse is a bit like your favorite sitcom. It started out pretty good, and after a few seasons, it was kicking serious goals. Laughter, fun, excitement—it had it all! Then, the studio wanted to juice it for everything they could get. They forgot what made it great, and started churning out crap under the same name to turn a buck. Eventually, there was no more to give, and it was put out of its misery.

Thus, I implore you to remember the Mitsubishi Eclipse for what it was: a genuinely cool tuner car with legions of diehard fans. And if you ever doubt the cultural impact of the original Eclipse, consider this. Despite Mitsubishi trashing the name by slapping it on a humdrum SUV, Google still confuses the current model with the legendary coupe.

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Screenshot 2024 04 08 1157003

The Mitsubishi Eclipse was a beautiful thing, even if its later examples were bloated, uninteresting, and in no way true to the name. A glorious Mitsubishi coupe may never redeem us, so we pay tribute to the ones that have passed.

Image credits: Mitsubishi

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TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
3 months ago

The Eagle Talon is the best looking version.

Chally_Sheedy
Chally_Sheedy
3 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

But the little black belt on the Eclipse is so handsome!

Eagle Talon as a name, though…?

Almost too rad.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
3 months ago

My sister had a 1992 turbo Eclipse, 5 speed manual. That thing was a rocket, a real blast to drive. Really, really fun.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
3 months ago

Fun fact: the plant in Normal where these were made is now where Rivian makes its vehicles.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
3 months ago

Second gen Talon will always be a dream car. Seems like unlike a lot of 90s cars where the good examples are suddenly coming out of the woodwork and going for big money there really just aren’t any good DSMs left.

10001010
10001010
3 months ago

As a previous owner of a ’91 Eagle Talon TSi AWD (popups FTW) and a ’97 Eclipse GSX I can authoritatively state that there were only 2 good generations of the DSM. The 3rd and 4th gen simply don’t count. No 4G63T, no AWD, not a real DSM.

Insufferable Pedant
Insufferable Pedant
3 months ago
Reply to  10001010

As a former 3G owner, I endorse this statement.

To be fair, it was a better car than people think, but, at the end of the day, it was a fairly middling sports coupe at best. A supercharger kit existed for the V6 at one point, but it disappeared before the 4G came out, and there were a few instances of folks doing engine and drivetrain swaps in the 4cyl models to build their own 3G GSX, but you were still left with a heavy car that didn’t handle all that well. It was a decent looking car for the time, but all the magic of the Eclipse dried up by the end of DSM.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
3 months ago

Reading all the comments has answered my question about where all the first generation cars went. They were everywhere, then they often seen modded in the early fast and furious days, and now they pretty much all seem to be gone. Sounds like they were expensive to keep going, especially the 4wd versions. They also rusted pretty badly as I recall.

3WiperB
3WiperB
3 months ago

My parents got my sister a red Eagle Talon TSI 5-speed in high school (turbo AWD). It was such a fun car. It felt so much more modern than anything else I had driven at the time. Modern versions of cars like that just don’t exist anymore.

Bdot
Bdot
3 months ago

I think the 4th gen didn’t deserve all the hate. Maybe if Mitsu billed it as an actual grand tourer instead of its fire-breathing replacement, maybe it could have been perceived as great. I haven’t driven a 4th gen or a comfy grand tourer, but maybe it was time to grow up market

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
3 months ago

Oh wow, I never realised that the 4th gen Eclipse was sold until 2012. I honestly thought it went out of production in like 2008.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
3 months ago
Reply to  Marc Fuhrman

I think everybody else did too

Ham On Five
Ham On Five
3 months ago

The Eclipse had the power and prestige to propel Mitsu well into the 21st century … alas

Wolfpack57
Wolfpack57
3 months ago

The second gen was aerodynamically very advanced. I believe it had a cd of 0.29 and was one of the first cars to incorporate sharp rear corners, even carried through the taillights, to help flow separate and reduce wake.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
3 months ago
Reply to  Wolfpack57

Toecutter? Is that you?

Wolfpack57
Wolfpack57
3 months ago

No I just read a book that featured the Eclipse. A Century of Car Aerodynamics by Julian Edgar.

Abdominal Snoman
Abdominal Snoman
3 months ago

I got a 3rd gen convertible for a rental car once in a string of trips shortly after that generation came out. Next two stops on my trip had an altima and a sonata as my rentals… As this was my first time driving each of them that generation I expected my enjoyment to go from best to worst, but by the end of those two weeks, as far as a driver’s car my opinion was completely reversed. I’ve only come across 3 other cars I’ve hated as a rental as much as that thing, from worst to best a sebring, the eclipse, a caliber, and finally the durango. The first two felt like they had the structural rigidity of an overcooked noodle which makes sense now that you said they share a platform, and the latter two were just aggravatingly uncomfortable. The caliber because it was just ergonomically wrong in every way, and the durango because there was something about the seat + pedals that I’d either get a pain in my thigh or I’d have to effectively hold my heel off the ground using the pedals. Unfortunately that trip had me drive from Chicago to Columbus, to Canada via Detroit, then back to Chicago so after that 1K miles I really really wanted to burn that thing.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
3 months ago

The first gen was best. The Eclipse turbo is still my favorite of the Japanese coupes because it feels so much more light on its tires than the Supra or 300ZX.

Just like every other Mitsubishi of the era, failed CV joints were common and new halfshafts required every 60,000 miles or so.

Huja Shaw
Huja Shaw
3 months ago

I would drive by Normal, IL where these things were built in the early/mid 1990’s.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
3 months ago

I had a coworker that only drove his wife and daughter’s hand-me-down cars. I can’t remember all of them, but he had a third gen Eclipse. Then he had a Kia Soul.

I kinda felt bad for him. But when he retired, he finally got the car he wanted…. a Santa Fe.

Spikersaurusrex
Spikersaurusrex
3 months ago

I had a 3rd gen Eclipse GT. It was a decent car and by far the fastest I had driven up to that point. 210 HP mated to a five speed manual, it would pull 100 MPH without feeling like you were going to kill it. Was it a looker? meh. Did it handle well? not really. But it was comfortable with big leather recliners, had decent acceleration and was far more reliable than it’s predecessor, a 1999 VW Jetta.

Insufferable Pedant
Insufferable Pedant
3 months ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Honestly, you can skip the 3G. The 4G is, essentially, the same idea, but much better executed. And as much as people will crap on those latter generations, the 3.8, by all accounts, was a perfectly reasonable engine for that car. The only trouble was that, like the 3G, it didn’t handle all that well, and the aftermarket was essentially non-existent.

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