2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse meets Acura RSX, Ford Mustang, and Mini Cooper

Rear View

Of course, for all the discussion of pure style in the automobile, there must be function, too. The first time you take the Eclipse GT onto the highway, it's clear this is a sound piece, less flimsy than before though not exactly carved from a billet of steel. There's a broad field of view through the windshield, and the upright sides of the cabin make the cockpit feel more spacious than the interior passenger volume of 81.6 cubic feet would suggest. On the road, the Eclipse's suspension is very well damped, and it doesn't pound the bump stops over rural potholes or freeway expansion joints.

That's because the Eclipse is really a big car beneath the small-car skin. The platform of the Galant lies under the sheetmetal, and Mitsubishi's 263-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 is doing business through the front tires. Nevertheless, the Eclipse still feels small in several annoying ways, such as when you discover there's no rear three-quarter vision at all or when you try to clamber into the rear seat.

Like the Eclipse, the Mustang is a big car at heart, and it's terrific on the highway. The driving position offers a great view through the upright windshield, and the 1960s-style interior trim transforms cheap plastic into a style statement. Overall, the Mustang feels tight and modern on the road, although there's a very retro-style slack spot in the steering's on-center calibration.

Full Front View

We're also prepared to say that a V-6 with an automatic transmission in the Mustang is no bad thing. The tingle of the 210-hp, 4.0-liter, SOHC V-6 recalls a tightly wound small-block V-8, as does its sharp bark through the exhaust, and the optional five-speed automatic proves very responsive. Meanwhile, the use of 65-series tires helps the Mustang's solid-axle suspension deliver excellent ride quality.

The Acura RSX Type-S has all the rightness of a small car from Honda, and you can feel it as soon as you're behind the wheel. In fact, the RSX feels even smaller than it looks, although a hatchback gives the car an extra dimension of utility. The interior is very well done in the modern style, while the cockpit controls are artfully formatted to make the driving experience as intuitive as possible.

For all that, however, the RSX is simply too intense to drive slowly. The 2.0-liter engine has to climb to 7800 rpm to deliver all the goodness of its 210 hp, and while this is not bad in theory, the unmusical thrashing beneath the hood isn't inspiring, even though new acoustic insulation takes the edge off the unpleasantness. The Type-S rides well on smooth pavement, but the bumps will send unhappy jolts through the stiffly sprung, short-travel suspension.

The same could once be said of the Mini Cooper S, largely because the stiff sidewalls of its run-flat tires made the car hop down the freeway on its short-travel suspension. Yet now the 195/55VR-16 Dunlop SP Sport 5000 DSST tires are far more comfortable in everyday driving than we remember from before. Meanwhile, the cabin of the Mini continues to have the cleverness of a European kitchen, a miracle of design in which everything looks terrific, has six functions, and fits together like a puzzle.

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