Generally, buying a used car is a practical decision based on reliability ratings, condition and price. There’s lots of sensible used cars out there to pick from. But if you’re looking in the $5k-$7k range, you’re probably not going to find anything “exciting”. And if you do happen to find a used sports car in this price range, it’s probably not going to be worth buying. Unless you consider a 3G Mitsubishi Eclipse GT (the ‘3G’ is an acronym for 3rd Generation–2000-2005), in which case, you’ll be quite excited to buy a used car.
The Mitsubishi Eclipse GT is a 4-seat sports car, built in Illinois by Mitsubishi Motors North America. This generation is noticeably bigger and softer than the preceding 2G Eclipse, popularized in the movie Fast & Furious. Intended to draw a more mature (i.e. Monied) customer base to the brand, the top-spec 3G Eclipse GT (the GTS didn’t come along until 2003) gives up some of the athleticism found in the turbocharged 2G GS-T, in exchange for a less taxing ride, and a more luxurious interior. With struts upfront, and a multi-link setup in the rear, the Mitsubishi Eclipse GT will handle quite admirably when you push it. But you will feel the car’s weight as the suspension sets itself in a turn, especially in the Spyder. Once the car has positioned itself however, the meaty 17-incher’s will hold the road like a cat on a rug. The steering wheel tells you what the front wheels are doing, and you’ll suddenly find the confidence to push the little car harder.
On the road, the ‘softened’ suspension soaks up bumps before they have a chance to find your spine, The bucket seats are supportive, yet supremely comfortable on a long journey. Granted, the rear seats are completely useless for anyone with legs. But this car really isn’t designed to accommodate more than two people. In the hatchback, you can make the best use of the rear stools by folding them down to expand the cargo hold. The trunk room in the Mitsubishi Eclipse GT Spyder is about as limited as you would expect in a convertible. So just use the rear seats to carry your larger items.
When you’re just cruising around, the 3G Mitsubishi Eclipse GT behaves like a proper Grand Tourer. The ride and driving position are superb. The cabin is nicely trimmed with soft vinyl and decent-feeling plastics. Overall, everything in the GT feels very well put together, giving it a surprisingly luxurious feel. Just like a real GT car. And all you have to do is prod the accelerator to get the car to change from a comfy cruiser, to an angry little road rocket.
As a daily driver, you’ll certainly appreciate the maturity of the 3G Eclipse. Although, the industrial-machine look of the exterior won’t be appreciated by everybody. The exterior styling looks the winning submission to an ADD art contest. There’s scallops, half-circles, odd angular bits, and pair of what look like mosquito bites at the top of the hood. 2003-2005 cars take the visual mania even further with sort of an ‘outie bellybutton’ front fascia. But mercifully, there are plenty of aftermarket bodykits available, should you be inclined to change the look.
Unlike the body, the 3-liter engine is a fairly straight forward affair. This Mitsubishi-designed V6 has seen duty in everything from the 1987 Dodge Caravan, to the Mitsubishi 3000GT. In the 3G Eclipse GT, it has a Single Overhead Camshaft, and a timing belt was used to provide quieter operation. This yielded 2t00-hp and 205 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough muscle to push this (roughly) 3,000 lb sportster to illegal speeds. Transmission choices are typical for a car of this vintage: a row-it-yourself 5-speed manual, or a 4-speed automatic. The auto option is actually quite interesting, and certainly the more comfortable choice (remember, the 3G isn’t quite a sports car). Called the Sport 4A/T, this electronically controlled gearbox will continually adjust its behavior, based on your driving style and the road conditions. For example, if you’ve been hot-footing it around, or the sensors detect that you’re no longer on the gas as you’re going down a hill, the transmission will immediately drop a gear to give you some engine-braking. There’s also a separate shift gate so you can bump up & down through the gears. But just leave it in D, and let the computer do its thing.
Responsible use of the Go-Pedal will net you around 20 mpg with the automatic, and you’ll see an average of 21 mpg if you opt for the 5-speed. Premium fuel is required, and insurance can be a bit pricey, especially for the GT Spyder. You’ll also have to shell out some extra cash when comes time to buy tires, because the Eclipse GT has to wear 17-inch rubber with no less than a V speed rating (V-Rated tires have a stiffer sidewall, and the suspension won’t react properly with softer tires). As far as reliability, the front-wheel drive 2000-2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT is pretty bulletproof, as long as you maintain it. However there are a few known issues to watch out for. Chief among them are leaking head gaskets and valve cover gaskets, which usually occurs between 90,000-125,000 miles. Look out for bad EGR valves, and you’ll need to have the Sport 4A/T transmission serviced according to schedule. Otherwise, you’ll be looking at a $2k repair bill.
When shopping for a 3G Mitsubishi Eclipse GT, it’s best to buy one that’s been adult-owned and has a full service history. These aren’t really sports cars, but rather a sharp handling personal luxury coupe, like the Toyota Solara. But young drivers won’t make that distinction, and often hammer these cars to death (granted, the growling exhaust note does tend to encourage aggressive driving). Adult-owned GT’s tend to be in much better shape, and they’re fairly easy to find too. A properly maintained 3G 2000-2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT Coupe will run between $4k-$6k, depending on the mileage and condition. The GT Spyder will cost between $5k-$7k, and it provides the most value for your used car dollar.
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On a personal note, I actually own the car pictured above; a low-mile 2001 GT Spyder. The pictures were taken in the little-known ghost town of Plainfield, Georgia. That Eclipse was purchased for resale, but I’ve yet to become bored with it. The styling is hideous in my opinion (although, it’s not Short-Bus Yellow…like the boss’ car), but you really don’t care about the looks from behind the wheel. The car talks to you through the steering and suspension, letting you know what it’s doing at all times. But it’s not intrusive like the 2G Eclipse, and it behaves rather admirably for something with 205 lb-ft of torque going to the front wheels. The suspension setup still too soft (in stock form) for me to consider a 3G Eclipse GT to be a true sports car. But at least I’m old enough to appreciate the smooth ride.