Mitsubishi officials know there are way more people who lust after exotic sport coupes than can afford them. So as they developed the new, fourth-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse for 2006, they kept thinking about creating an "attainable exotic," especially as they fit a new, powerful V6 under the hood.

The best-selling import sport coupe in the country over the past 15 years, the Eclipse now rides on a new, more rigid platform and is restyled with a sophisticated, expressive look.



BASE PRICE: $19,399 for GS with four-cylinder engine and manual transmission; $20,299 for GS with four-cylinder engine and automatic; $23,699 for GT manual.
AS TESTED: $27,834.
TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, four-passenger coupe.
ENGINE: 3.8-liter, single overhead cam, V6 with MIVEC.
MILEAGE: 18 (city), 27 (highway).
TOP SPEED: 134 mph.
LENGTH: 179.7 inches.
WHEELBASE: 101.4 inches.
CURB WT.: 3,545 pounds.
BUILT AT: Normal, Ill.
OPTIONS: Premium sport package (includes leather seats, power sunroof, 18-inch wheels, Rockford Fosgate audio system, automatic air conditioning, alloy pedals and power drivers seat) $3,270; accessory package (includes wheel locks, cargo mat, sport floor mats and alloy fuel door) $270.
Its also slightly roomier than its predecessor and has more safety equipment but remains a front-wheel-drive car.

Starting manufacturers suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the 2006 Eclipse is $19,994. This is for a four-cylinder model and might spur shoppers to compare the new Eclipse to lower-priced coupes such as the 2005 Acura RSX, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge of $20,845 and the 2005 Hyundai Tiburon, which starts at $16,594.

But the 2006 Eclipse GT with 263-horsepower, 3.8-liter, single overhead cam V6 and starting price of $24,294 has a potent 260 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm that compares with the 260 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm found in a manual-transmission, V6-powered Infiniti G35 coupe that starts at $33,960.

The Eclipse V6 clearly outclasses the 172-horsepower and 181 foot-pounds at 3,800 rpm of the uplevel Hyundai Tiburon with 2.7-liter V6.

In the test Eclipse GT with six-speed manual, I had to really focus on how I touched the gas pedal. Throttle tip-in was sensitive. Starting up from stop signs in my neighborhood, for example, Id sometimes find my head pressing back into the head restraint as power came on quickly even as I depressed the accelerator lightly.

The Eclipse GT also eagerly raced to highway speeds while I was still on highway entrance ramps, and I found myself needing to watch my speeds carefully.

But fuel economy isnt the greatest in this V6 coupe, where the government rating is 18 miles to a gallon in the city and 27 mpg on highways.

The base, 2.4-liter four cylinder in the new Eclipse that produces 162 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm does a bit better. Its rating is 23/30 mpg for a model with five-speed manual transmission. Automatic transmissions also are available for the Eclipse.

But Acuras RSX, which comes only with a 2-liter four cylinder that tops out at 210 horses and 143 foot-pounds of torque at 7,000 rpm, has higher fuel economy ratings.

Note that the RSX as well as the Tiburon are lighter weight than the Eclipse, which put on a considerable 200 to 300 pounds over its predecessor and now weighs more than 3,300 pounds. This is heavier than a Mitsubishi Outlander sport utility vehicle with four-cylinder engine and two-wheel drive.

In contrast to some earlier Eclipses, styling now is clean and uncluttered. This allows the shapely body, with a rear end thats reminiscent of a Porsche, to be the focal point and exude a sophisticated and sexy look, rather than a cheap look. I especially appreciated the tastefully integrated rear spoiler. And taillamps now are bright, light-emitting diode units.

The car is 3.1 inches longer, nearly 2 inches taller and 3.3 inches wider than the 2005 model. This makes for fractionally more front-seat legroom and headroom - to 42.8 and 38.5 inches, respectively - as well as nearly 2 inches increased shoulder room in front. But back-seat legroom of 29.2 inches and headroom of 34.6 inches is less than what was in last years Eclipse.

Indeed, even with a front seat positioned to give me OK legroom in back, I did not like sitting in the rear. My head brushed the rear hatchback glass, and the large, sloping rear pillar positioned a hard plastic coat hanger hook next to my face.

Cargo volume in the Eclipse declined, too, from 16.9 to 15.7 cubic feet, and there is high liftover to get items over the rear bumper.

Like any exotic, the Eclipse sits low to the ground. How low? While in the front passenger seat, for example, I found myself looking up at riders in a passing Hyundai Accent small sedan, which is hardly a tall-riding car. And with the Eclipse drivers seat adjusted up as high as it would go, someone my size - 5 feet 4 - can still be stuck peering over the Eclipse windshield wipers.

But the Eclipse GTs stick-to-the-pavement handling and lack of body roll sensations made for a fun ride. Be ready to feel road vibrations and some bumps nearly all time and hear engine tunes every time the accelerator goes down. Theres noticeable road noise, too, with the optional, large 18-inch tires.

Both trim levels - GS and GT - come standard with air conditioning, key fob entry, AM/FM stereo with CD player and MP3 playback, antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and six airbags that include front seat side-mounted airbags and first-ever curtain airbags.

Note, though, that leather seats can only be added to the top, GT model. The GT also is the only Eclipse with traction control.

The Eclipse uses the same front-wheel-drive platform of the Mitsubishi Galant family sedan. A lot of reinforcing across the floorpan and bracing under the dashboard and between the rear wheels give the Eclipse a much tighter and better constructed feel than ever before. For example, officials said the cars bending rigidity has been improved by a whopping 119 percent.

Too bad, though, that the metal brace between the rear wheel wells intrudes on the rear cargo space and makes it difficult to slide items around back there.

The sporty front bucket seats felt comfortable.

Women with even moderate nails might fuss a bit with the door handles, inside and out. I kept jamming my nails as I worked the exterior door handles. Inside, I often wound up pulling the door handle with just one finger.

Stereo sounds in the test car were terrific. The optional Rockford Fosgate system provided crystal clear tones and rich sound. The nine speaker system packs 650 watts of amplification and a lot of custom-sound tuning.

Mitsubishi officials didnt give a specific sales forecast but said about half of the sales are likely to have the V6. The new Eclipse is expected to appeal to two kinds of buyers, they added: younger men and women starting out in their careers, on the one hand, and older folks who have older children at home or are facing an empty nest who are feeling "young at heart."

The new Eclipse went on sale in late May as an early 2006 model and has already been the subject of two recalls - one of which was serious enough to require the new cars to be parked until they were checked, and, if necessary, repaired.

This initial recall, involving 1,151 cars, stemmed from a potentially defective brake booster assembly that could cause a complete loss of brake power. The second recall, in June, involving 3,760 Eclipses, was for another potential brake problem. A seal in the master brake cylinder might have been improperly installed, which could cause a longer brake pedal stroke and longer stopping distance.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet reported crash test results on the new Eclipse. Because the vehicle is new, Consumer Reports does not provide a reliability rating.

A final note: The Eclipse Spyder was not introduced with the coupe but is expected to be out during the first half of calendar 2006.