For the kids' sake
Marc Stengel, Fri, 11 Nov 2005 08:00:00 PDT
It is remarkable-to this fuddy-duddy, at least-that two ailing carcompanies are pinning their hopes for survival upon the up-and-cominggeneration of youngsters. I've got three daughters of my own (two incollege, mind you). I love 'em dearly; but I wouldn't be counting on them tobail me out financially. I guess that explains why no one has beencalling me for advice about how to save the respective company fortunes ofMitsubishi and Saturn.
From my middle-aged perch in the driver's seat, it looks like the debut of the redesigned 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse and the arrival of Saturn's 2005 Ion "Red Line" Quad Coupe represent the very essence of a Youth Strategy. Both are front-drive hot-rods; both target young males in their lusty twenties; both can be picked up, appropriately configured, in the low $20,000 range. As turnaround strategies go, this one seems to be putting an awful lot of faith in the bankability of testosterone.
Over the last 16 years, Mitsubishi's Eclipse coupes have made a reputation for themselves as urbane sporty cars for the singles' bar set. For 2006, the fourth-generation Eclipse struts into view with some very sleek styling and plenty of mojo underhood. In GS trim, there's a 2.4-liter inline-four that delivers 162 horsepower. The GT evaluated here is dramatically stronger: 263 hp from a 3.8-liter V6.From my middle-aged perch in the driver's seat, it looks like the debut of the redesigned 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse and the arrival of Saturn's 2005 Ion "Red Line" Quad Coupe represent the very essence of a Youth Strategy. Both are front-drive hot-rods; both target young males in their lusty twenties; both can be picked up, appropriately configured, in the low $20,000 range. As turnaround strategies go, this one seems to be putting an awful lot of faith in the bankability of testosterone.Over the last 16 years, Mitsubishi's Eclipse coupes have made a Aficionados, however, will be impressed with the overall tight integration of the GT's engine, suspension and braking performances. Power from the single-overhead-cam V6 is best described in terms of "gobs," and those gobs accumulate at a fever pitch (and to a maximum torque of 260 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm) thanks to variable valve timing. Throughout, the exhaust note is trumpeting splendor.reputation for themselves as urbane sporty cars for the singles' bar set. For 2006, the fourth-generation Eclipse struts into view with some very sleek styling and plenty of mojo underhood. In GS trim, there's a 2.4-liter inline-four that delivers 162 horsepower. The GT evaluated here is dramatically stronger: 263 hp from a 3.8-liter V6.Prices match performance: the GS starts just under $20-grand. The GT's base price is $23,699; and as-tested, with a $3,200 performance package and other goodies, it stickered at $27,834. That's a lot of dosh for a bunch of prospective buyers who are mostly trading up from skateboards.
Eclipse is rakish and low, and this together with firm springing delivers cornering delight. A relatively short wheelbase of 101.4 inches trends toward neutral handling, and monster antilock disc brakes at each corner are predictable and dependable, even deep into turns. The car's still a front-driver, though. Stomp on it, and the front tires try to wrest control from a driver's hands in a flameout of torque-steer. Traction control tames the beast, albeit fairly abruptly. Stability control is not available.As for that compact wheelbase: It's nice to say that the 15.7 cubic-foot trunk is generous for this class of coupe. But trunk space comes at the expense of rear seat space, so that it requires not only a Houdini to slip into the back but also a Tom Thumb to endure the ride.
That's not my principal peeve, though. Instead, it's the batchelor-pad design aesthetic of the interior, with its curvy forms and narrow windows, that puts me ill-at-ease. It was difficult for this five-foot-sixer to find a seating position that was simultaneously comfortable and accessible to adequate sightlines. Actually, I never quite managed it and left it to fate whether anything ominous was lurking behind me or not. Come to think of it, Mitsubishi may be doing just the same with regard to what happens next in this company's bid for rejuvenation.
At least the unintended coincidence of astronomical symbols isn't quite as ironic for Saturn as it is for the Eclipse. As planets go, Saturn is certainly way out there, but its name doesn't actually call attention to a prospect of total disappearance. No, by contrast, the name "Ion" is fairly abuzz with connotations of limitless, tireless energy, raised to further frenzy by the agnomen "Red Line."
Saturn's wish is that its prospective audience of twenty-year-old auto enthusiasts will look upon the Red Line label as indicative of an in-house skunk-works or tuner-shop. Accordingly, it has taken the humble Ion econocar that's available for anywhere from $12,000 to $18,000 and "massaged" it to improve performance.For starters, the 140-horsepower 2.2-liter inline four is gone. In its place, Ion Red Line boasts a 2.0-liter twin-cammer with a supercharger. Wow! At 205 hp, that's an almost 50-percent bump; and in a car that's already 500 pounds lighter than the new Eclipse, the Red Line is legitimately feisty.What's more, its as-tested price is $23,705, which is precisely $6.00 more than an Eclipse GT before you add any extra goodies to the Mitsubishi.
Out where it counts, on the pavement, the Ion Red Line is enjoyably quick, with great brakes and tolerable handling. It would have been too expensive to change the standard Ion's torsion-bar "semi-independent" rear suspension, so the Red Line has to make do. This, for most folks, ain't no big thang. Only at extreme cornering limits does the loss of wheel articulation invite a bit of potential oversteer. But the symbol, man! A hot rod without four-wheel independent suspension is asking for trouble among today's status-savvy 18-to-34-year-olds.
Then, again, there's this: The Ion Red Line is longer and taller than an Eclipse, and the beneficiary is the rear passenger. Not only does the smaller 14.2 cubic-foot trunk imply more legroom for two rear travelers but they can also enter and exit the rear seats through Ion's clever, invisible "quad coupe" panel doors. These are only accessible after the front doors are open, but they're still a godsend for accessing a coupe's traditionally cramped rear quarters.
Unlike Eclipse, Saturn's Ion Red Line isn't a "save-the-company" kind of car. It is, instead, a "do-more-with-less" exercise that's meant to tempt a few additional trendy buyers into the Saturn fold. Will it help Saturn's image along the way? Ion know.
2-door, 4-pass.; 3.8-liter SOHC V6 w/ vvt; FWD, 6-sp. manual; 263 hp/260 ft.-lbs.; 18 mpg/city, 27 mpg/hwy w/ premium; trunk: 15.7 cu. ft.; std. equipment: four-wheel ind. suspension & ABS disc brakes, HVAC, AM/FM/1-CD in dash audio, 17-in. wheels, front/front-side/front-head airbags; base price: $23,699, as-tested: $27,834
4-door, 4-pass.; 2.0-liter DOHC inline-4 w/ supercharger; FWD, 5-sp. manual; 205 hp/200 ft.-lbs.; 23 mpg/city, 29 mpg/hwy w/ regular; trunk: 14.2 cu. ft.; std. equipment: front-wheel ind. suspension & four-wheel ABS disc brakes, HVAC, AM/FM/1-CD in dash audio, 17-in. wheels, Recaro Sport front seats, front airbags; base price: $20,885, as-tested: $23,705