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2011 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder (PETRINA GENTILE FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
2011 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder (PETRINA GENTILE FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

2011 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GT-P

Mitsu's blue collar convertible Add to ...

Convertibles aren't exactly the most practical ride for Canadians. Our summers are short and sometimes temperamental. Yet it's appealing to go topless and hit the open road - especially when you're driving a new-and-improved 2011 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder.

Sure, it rained for most of my week-long test drive. But with every glimmer of sunshine, I stopped and dropped the top - a feat accomplished in about 20 seconds by unclasping two levers and pressing a button. For me, those fleeting moments basking in the sunshine justify a convertible any day of the year.

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Plus, you don't have to be rich to own a convertible. The 2011 Spyder is reasonably priced for a four-passenger soft top. It's actually $1,800 cheaper than the previous 2009 model (there is no 2010 version available). Now, the base GS trim costs $30,498; the top GT-P, my test vehicle, starts at $35,998.

For 2011 you'll find more standard equipment and some stylistic improvements, but mechanically the underpinnings remain the same. The base GS model has a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine that delivers 162 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque; while the GT-P has a 3.8-litre V-6 engine that pumps out 265 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. My tester has a six-speed manual transmission - an optional five-speed automatic bumps the price to $37,198.

While the GT-P is solid and secure in a straight line, this FWD vehicle isn't as agile around corners and bends. The ride is often bumpy - it doesn't soak up pot holes and other degradations in the road well. But it's still a more lively and spirited ride than the GS. And the deep engine note, especially when pushed, is pleasant.

Surprisingly, there's little wind turbulence in the cabin when driving topless. Even without a wind blocker, my hair didn't get too tangled or messy so it makes open-top driving pleasurable and fun.

If you're concerned about fuel economy, you might want to stick with the four-banger. It is rated at 10.6 litres/100 km in the city and 7.3 on the highway using regular fuel. The V-6, however, is thirstier, rated at 13.1 city/8.0 highway. And it takes premium fuel.

The base GS model is well-equipped for the price. New additions to the standard equipment list include hands-free Bluetooth, a rear-view camera and auxiliary audio inputs. That's in addition to a long list of items such as cruise control, power windows, door locks, remote keyless entry, front airbags, side airbags, ABS, traction control, stability control, heated front seats, a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate premium audio system with an MP3 player, nine speakers including an eight-inch subwoofer nuzzled between the two rear seats, and speed compensated volume control.

The GT-P adds leather seats, aluminum pedals, aluminum scuff plates and a six-way power driver's seat. Personally, I'd stick with the base trim and save the extra cash.

The exterior styling is sporty and youthful with long, clean flowing lines from front to rear. The black upper and lower front grille is low-key and unobtrusive; while the dual exhaust outlets with polished exhaust finishers and beefy 18-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels add a sporty flair.

My tester's sunset pearlescent - bright orange - colour stands out on the road. And when the roof is down, my tester's funky terra cotta leather interior complements the exterior while adding some pizzazz to the cabin.

And roof down, the Spyder's silhouette is attractive; it's actually nicer than when the roof is up.

But if you're planning a weekend getaway you'll have limited space for luggage. There's only 147 litres of cargo room. At least you have the two rear seats to store extra stuff; the rear seats are stiff, too upright, and uncomfortable for adults to sit in.

You also feel claustrophobic in the back seats when the roof is closed. Kids, on the other hand, will love it. They'll find it easy to access the rear seats, too. Adults will find that task trickier, especially when the roof is closed.

The front seats are more spacious and comfortable. The driver's seat is six-way power-adjustable with height and lumbar support adjustors. The passenger seat moves four ways manually. A one-piece race-inspired design has high side bolsters to keep you firmly in place when taking corners quickly.

The interior is uncluttered, clean and user-friendly. Large, round HVAC dials are easy to use and find; all are within the driver and passenger's reach. The black-face meters with ice-blue illumination adds a pleasant and youthful feel to the cabin while remaining easy to read, even in the dark. Front-door pockets, a centre console with dual cup holders, and dual illuminated vanity mirrors are handy as well.

The rear-view camera is useful for reverse parking, especially when the roof is closed. But I don't like its location. The display appears on the left-side of the rear-view mirror -it's distracting and can be hard to see clearly in bright sunshine. I prefer it displayed at eye-level on an LCD screen.

The Eclipse Spyder scores high marks for its summer fun factor and its price as one of the cheapest convertibles on the market. Plus, it comes with a great warranty - 10-year/160,000-km on the powertrain, five-year/100,000-km comprehensive, and five-year/unlimited kilometres roadside assistance.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

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2011 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GT-P

Type: Two-door, four-passenger convertible

Base Price: $35,998; as tested, $37,598

Engine: 3.8-litre, SOHC, V-6

Horsepower/torque: 265 hp/262 lb-ft of torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/ 100 km): 13.1 city/8.0 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Volvo C70, Volkswagen Eos, BMW 328i, Ford Mustang, Chrysler Sebring, Mini Cooper cabriolet

Follow on Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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