We must confess that looking good while driving fast is really important to us. And the Eclipse GT is a genuinely quick car, as our test results prove. The combination of lots of mid-range power from an eager V-6 engine, a very clean-shifting six-speed transmission, and 235/45VR-18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires gets the car from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and takes it to 100 mph long before its competition. And yet the Eclipse GT really isn't the best of sporty cars. It's too heavy, a whopping 3540 pounds, even heavier than the Mustang. The Mustang V-6 resembles the Eclipse GT in its preference for wide-open motoring. It's the slowest car in this group by a substantial margin, it has the least amount of cornering grip and the longest braking distance, and the 65-series tires that make the car so good in the real world are largely responsible. Still, the Mustang feels very good, perhaps because the weight of this rear-wheel-drive car is pretty equally distributed between front and rear.
Nothing about the Mini Cooper S promises speed, because there's nothing that looks big enough, from the narrow sixteen-inch tires to the 1.6-liter engine. But that's just the point, as the Mini also lacks weight, and its 2668 pounds give it a big advantage in this group. The smooth-running supercharged engine works willingly through the crisp six-speed transmission, and the Mini is quick to the quarter-mile mark, clings very well to the pavement in the corners, and reaches 135 mph.
There's no debate about the seriousness of the RSX Type-S when it comes to fast driving. This car has always been keen, and yet the chassis of the revised RSX is substantially more rigid, while the Type-S's antiroll bars are substantially stiffer, and there's a chassis brace between the front suspension struts. All this makes the Type-S's steering pinpoint sharp. This is a driver's car, and you know it as soon as you grab the leather-wrapped steering wheel and feel the light, crisp action of the transmission linkage.
Driving these cars reinforces the fact that the talk of a decline in enthusiasm for small, sporty coupes is so much hype, because there's always room for lots of style in a personal package. The Mitsubishi Eclipse GT makes a big statement in a car that's just right for everyday driving, but it's a little too big for real driving excitement. The Ford Mustang V-6 is the best ride yet for a trip to the ice cream store on Saturday night, but it's better if you don't want to get there quickly. The Acura RSX Type-S is a pure driver's car, but you have to drive it so hard that it can wear you out.
For us, the Mini Cooper S is the best of these cars. Completely utilitarian yet utterly stylish, the Mini Cooper S is the most personal expression you can buy for twenty-five grand, especially because its broad range of accessories ensures that no two cars are alike. Meanwhile, it drives like sports cars that are three times more expensive and turns every trip into an adventure.
The design guys have reminded us with these sporty cars that it's possible to make big-time style available to everyone, and the Mini Cooper S proves how great the result can be.