I was in college when the second-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse made its debut for model year ’95. Having been a fan of the previous, first-generation of Diamond-Star coupes (which also included the Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon), I was slow to warm to these new ones. The first cars were so cleanly styled, so smooth, so pretty. The new Eclipse and Talon (there was no new Laser for ’95) looked more aggressive, muscular, and mean. I didn’t care for them much at first… then something happened.
Let’s take a moment to remember Mitsubishi’s white-hot streak of coolness and elevated relevance in the U.S. market starting in the late 1980s which lasted about fifteen years (with the exception of the Lancer Evolution, which finally made its way to our shores for 2003 to do battle with the Subaru Impreza WRX). The Galant was a competitive, well-styled alternative to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry which were starting to become omnipresent, and there were lots of subcompact Mirages running around. The Montero was a credible SUV with real off-road capability.
Mitsubishi sales in the United States peaked in 2002 with close to 346,000 units sold, the third consecutive year in which this make sold more than three hundred thousand vehicles here. Just two model years later, however, Mitsubishi sales in the U.S. would be less than half that figure, at just 162,000 units, and would continue to fall. (Sales have rebounded somewhat, however, with 118,000 units sold in 2018.)
Starting in the late ’80s, though, Mitsubishi’s crown jewel, in my eyes, was the Eclipse. I’ve always been more of an American car fan, but I’ve long had a soft spot for the slew of Asian sporty coupes of the late-’80s through the mid-’90s. My perception was also that it had been the Toyota Celica that led the pack by default, offering the best combo of looks, performance, and affordability, the latter being a very important consideration in the youth market. The Honda Prelude offered more optional features and technological doodads (all-wheel steering!), but the Celica seemed to be the benchmark import-branded sports coupe for Everyman, not just those with a few extra bucks to spend.
Then the second-generation Eclipse happened. It’s really hard for me to remember when my indifference toward them changed to all-out admiration, but it did. It wasn’t even so much that the Eclipse did anything particularly well that the competition didn’t. It was something much more intangible – the impression I had gotten by observation that many of my “cool”, upwardly-mobile peers had selected the Eclipse over other cars of its kind.
I had owned a lightly-used, ’94 Ford Probe in my twenties, and the thing I remember most about the arrival of the new, ’95 Eclipse was how daring its shape seemed at the time in comparison to that of my new-to-me sports coupe. Even if it took me a while to warm to the new Eclipse’s more aggressive shape, there was no question in my mind that Mitsubishi’s stylists had taken more chances than Ford’s. There was the dramatic sweep of its well-integrated hatchback with its compound-curved glass, the pinched, triangle-shaped rear quarter windows, sculpted sides, and a pleasingly chunky tail. Many external design elements of the second Eclipse seemed almost blade-like, including the shape of the taillamp lenses and backup lights.
I was that person at the time who read car magazines and used car pricing guides with the intent of comparing my current ride with other cars in its class. Despite being priced about the same, when new, as the same-year Eclipse, my Probe’s resale value always seemed substantially lower (a good 10 – 20%) than those of the same-year Eclipse. (I would often shrug this off by correctly being thankful for the cool car that I had.) The Eclipse was a car that held its resale value relatively well due to high demand.
It’s not really that hard to draw a comparison between a new-design ’93 Probe / ’95 Eclipse matchup and one between a ’74 Mustang II and a ’76 Plymouth Arrow. I’ll further qualify this by saying I’ve always been vocal (against popular opinion) about liking the Mustang II hatchback in many forms. The Plymouth Arrow (born as the Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste in Japan), however, is a car I consider to be one of the best-looking small hatchbacks sold in the U.S. in the ’70s, period, and its styling has endured extremely well to these eyes. The above picture of this blue example is Exhibit A of the Arrow’s striking, mini-Barracuda fastback side profile.
Aesthetic tastes are inherently subjective, but I’ll opine that the Arrow’s arrival to the States for ’76 (having made its debut for ’75 in its home market) would be another example of Ford having trotted out a new edition of a small, sporty car leaving time for Mitsubishi (with the help of Chrysler Corporation) to subsequently introduce what is arguably a much more modern-looking example of the same, basic idea. The “Silent Shaft” engines available in the Arrow over its five model-year run (in displacements of 1.6L, 2.0L and 2.6L) also made for a much smoother, more pleasant driving experience under acceleration, than probably any normally aspirated 2.3L four-cylinder Mustang, ever.
I hadn’t yet made any significant mention of the Lancer Evolution series of sport sedans only because I consider those to be a different kind of car, altogether. It’s true that the levels of performance of the “Evo” would embarrass some Corvettes manufactured just a few years prior. (In 2003, the editors of Consumer Guide clocked a Corvette with the 350-hp engine and a six-speed at 4.9 seconds from 0-60 mph; Car and Driver reported just 4.1 seconds from the Evo.) However, I’m more into a balance of aesthetics and ability than all-out performance, and I’m also a Coupe Man. I probably will always be both of those things. I respect the Evo, but nothing about the way it looks will ever move me. I can say that with finality.
The second-generation Eclipse, though, will always look hot to me in the way my mind’s eye often sees onetime crushes from my young adulthood. Also as with old flames, it’s sometimes really tough for me to see the shape they’re in today, like the Eclipse’s once-mighty parent company, Mitsubishi. Their current U.S. market product lineup (Mirage hatchback, Mirage G4 sedan, Outlander, Outlander Sport, and Eclipse Cross – the latter three being CUVs) is okay, and I’m not trying to knock the quality of these vehicles (with which I have no experience) or the judgment of the consumers that have purchased or leased them. It’s just that in their onetime quest for import sales domination, Mitsubishi had seemed so invincible, once like I felt around the age when I first came to appreciate what I consider to be Mitsubishi’s last (to date) home-run in the styling department.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, October 6, 2019.
I thought it was a nice, clean design when it came out. It was the choice rice-rocket when I was in high school. But as time went on, you would be hard pressed to find nice examples; the ones left were clapped out, sprayed matte black, and driven into the grave. They were kind of to the ’90s what the Datsun Z’s were to the 70s. I haven’t seen a nice example of one in a long time.
Someone I worked with at my high school job had one of these, green with tan interior. I thought it was very cool. Of course, he was a loud aggressive type and drove accordingly, so he fit the stereotype of this kind of car.
Nice find Dennis. I haven’t seen one of these in years and had forgotten about it.
We had the Mitsubishi GTO in the early 70s a sporty coupe forerunner to the Celeste highly collectable now and a much better looking car and a step up from the Celeste with 2.0 litre from the get go with 5 speed manual, they were sought after new by teens like me, things like Mustang2 never ever made the grade into desirable. I’d actually buy a Mitsu GTO now to keep if I could find an affordable one for sale.
It’s crazy how strong the sport coupe market once was where companies had a junior coupe, The Mustang had the Probe, the Supra had the Celica, and the 3000GT had the Eclipse. Myself, I always preferred the big brothers.
I have a hard time shaking my prejudices for this generation, as I vividly remember the mostly douchebag high school drivers who all had the requisite diagonally mounted fake blued fartcan mufflers and prominent aftermarket intercooler that wasn’t hooked to anything underhood because they were always NA, and the ziptied on rear bumper covers after failed attempts at handbrake turns… Yet, I like the styling significantly more than the rather toyish DSMs, and they are much more appealing than the succeeding generations, which, forgive me, were chick cars. I realized I liked this generation Eclipse deep down enough inside when I got triggered by the Eclipse Cross when it came out.
XR7Matt, I agree with everything here. Also, I had never thought about the aspect of the “junior” sport coupes relative to the bigger, more powerful cars with which they shared showrooms. Great that you pointed that out.
In the mid 1990s, I was going to college and dating my first, real, serious girlfriend and she had one of these in green, either a ’95 or a ’96.. I dont know the trim levels but I guess it a mid-level with nice wheels and the little rear spoiler. No turbo and an automatic. I drove it a lot and was not impressed with its performance as I was (am) all about RWD V8s, but it was a good car for her. If only it was a turbo….
I was also big into the heavier alternative rock at the time and as soon as I saw Joseph’s feature car, this song immediately came to mind
Excellent. LT Dan, like you, cars from a certain era are usually tied to music of the same time, even if the Venn Diagram of our musical tastes overlap to a certain degree.
Coincidentally, the following generation of Eclipse will always remind me of that Dirty Vegas song, “Days Go By”, which was used in the commercial.
This was THE CAR to have if you were young in the late 90s. This and hand me down chrysler minivans ruled my high school parking lot.
These didn’t do much for me, but I did like the Spyder convertible variant. I had aged out of the sporty coupe phase by the time these came out, and was firmly into my suburban yuppie years, so they didn’t register.
I do relate to the sadness over the state of Mitsubishi today. I think the decline started right about when this car came out, as that was the height of the “We Can Finance Anyone” campaigns by just about every Mitsu dealer in the land. It just led to a cheapening of the brand and the decimation of any cache it had earned. I owned a 1982 Dodge (Mitsu) Challenger with the 2.6 and a 5 speed, and it was a well screwed together, nicely equipped little car and a pleasure to drive. Following that, a 1985 Conquest was one of my favorite cars ever. Mine was the “flat side” non TSi model with a 5-speed. It was solid, had amazing performance for the time and was better equipped than anything else at its price point. With a lot of hard use that car didn’t rattle or squeak and was as impressive to drive at 5 years old as when it was new.
More recently I’ve carpooled with a co-worker in her Outlander Sport, and to say I’m unimpressed would be an understatement. I wonder if the relative success the brand achieved competing as a low cost alternative to the Japanese big 3 caused Mitsubishi to lose the plot. They really had some great mojo going once upon a time.
This was one of the more attractive without being over the top coupes of the time as far as I was concerned. Lots of power in the right configuration, AWD available, a name with strong racing (rally) pedigree, and an attractive interior to boot. I think I was deep into one of my Euro-phases at the time but not really any reason I wouldn’t have owned one.
Mitsu made (makes) a good product, it may not be to everyone’s taste but it isn’t the garbage a lot of people seem to think it is. There have been a lot of very popular and decently reliable vehicles from them over the years with very few stinkers. Even the Mirage that everyone likes to bag on these days serves a purpose and seems to do quite well in its segment. Low price (much lower in reality than the sticker), a couple of frills, a fantastic warranty, and no pretensions at anything is a refreshing formula. And if the Eclipse name now seems to sell a few more CUV’s that everyone’s buying vs a new version of a coupe that nobody would buy anyway, then more power to them, it seems that they inspired Ford to do the same.
These have all been seemingly run into the ground by tuners here.
The Plymouth Arrow GT (Chrysler Lancer here) is indeed a sweet looker, and regarded as one the better-driving examples of ’70’s Jap recirculating ball-underdamped-leaf-sprung orthodoxy. Meaning, ofcourse, it was not quite up to even the least capable of the much pricier Lancia or Fiat or Alfa coupes of similar size, so faint praise. But also ofcourse, it was well-equipped and wouldn’t break, as they so often weren’t and would.
In a very different market, Mitsubishi is the fourth best-selling brand here, and Jim Klein is right, they make perfectly good vehicles. I will concede, though, that they never QUITE seem of Toyota-level quality, in feel or long service. And it must also be admitted that it’s many years since they made a car desirable on its merits, rather than sensibly good cars at decent prices.
I don’t know why but these never called my name. And I had a soft spot for Mitsubishi after some time spent in the 83 Colt that went from my future wife to my future brother in law to me. Even now it does nothing for me. So I’m glad you found it instead of me, because you did it justice.
Thanks, JP. To be clear, the mid-’90s is probably toward the latest era of car that really captured my imagination (before the advent of the 2005 Ford Mustang).
We had family friends who owned the Plymouth Champ variant of the generation of Dodge Colt you mention, I remember that car being trouble-free.