Going Topless

By Hannah Wallace May 31, 2006

There is just something about driving a convertible in Florida.

So far, the legislature hasn't made it a residency requirement, but now that there are so many pleasant convertibles available the matter might need to be reconsidered.

I expected great things of the 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GT. I expected state-of-the-art performance and handling, comfort, safety and convenience. Alas, I was disappointed in every consideration.

Begin with the fact that Mitsubishi had to reinforce the structure of its hardtop Eclipse when the convertible was made. New cross-bracing had to be added to stiffen a roofless car. As a result, the car's weight ballooned to more than 3,700 pounds-there went performance. And with an iron-block V6 in front, the nose became heavy, giving the car an undesirable 60-40 weight-distribution ratio. That explains understeer, where the car plows ahead when you beg it to turn.

The beloved all-wheel drive is gone. And front-wheel drive, such as the Spyder GT uses, is a coffin nail for any car aspiring to sport. When power is applied to the Spyder GT, hang on tight to that steering wheel, because the car is about to launch itself in a direction of its choice.

So the Spyder GT, overweight, out of balance and with the wrong drive-train setup, is no performer or handler. Mitsubishi says it can run zero to 60 in seven seconds. Maybe so, but the only thrill here will be keeping it in the proper lane of traffic.

But doesn't it look good?

Overall, yes. This is a car that would like to be mistaken for a '50s Porsche Spyder or newer Boxster. It borrows well from that striking classic design, but its butt is too big. The whole car design falls apart at the rear. I hear you: "They needed trunk room." Wrong. You will not get even an overnight's worth of luggage back there. The storable ragtop steals all the cargo space.

Do not even think of seating an adult in the two rear seats. These appear to be an afterthought. And don't put children back there either. Mitsubishi put side air bags in the front seats, but none in the rear.

Not since the Plymouth Prowler have I encountered worse visibility from the driver's seat. A driver simply cannot see well enough to back out of a parking space into a lane of traffic, which, after all, has the right of way. The blind spots to the left and right rear are huge; you have only a small glass opera window.

Here's a kicker for younger buyers: There is no navigation system and no way to plug in your iPod. But the 650-watt audio system is first rate. And the car is quiet by convertible standards with the top up.

So you want a four-passenger convertible? It happens I recently tested a new Chrysler Sebring and New Beetle.

The real shock with the familiar Sebring was the price sticker. My tester was $33,995. Worse, its base price was $31,475. And it looked and felt like an old car badly in need of a redesign. It does seat four comfortably, however, and rental agencies love this car. Not me. I consider this a decent $25,000 car.

The New Beetle is wonderful. It's cute, roomy and fun to drive. You can wear a Stetson and not brush the roof liner. Mitsubishi pokes fun at the VW by saying its soft top stacks like a "baby buggy," meaning it folds but doesn't cover itself as the Spyder does. Big deal. The problem with VW this year is sinking reliability ratings. VW is once again among the 10 lowest-rated manufacturers for vehicle quality.

Frankly, few of the offerings mentioned here carry four people in comfort. If that's not important to you, buy a real sports car. Real sports cars have two seats. Period. Then the auto world opens up to you.

Robert C. Bowden produces The Car Place, a Forbes Best of the Web selection, and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

Filed under
Show Comments