Poseurs and Players The V6 Coupé Group Test Acura CL Type S, Alfa Romeo GT, Honda Accord Ex, Hyundai Tiburon GT, Mitsubishi Eclipse GT click to enlarge Front-wheel drive vehicles aren't usually the first choice for performance enthusiasts. And front-wheel drive vehicles with big engines are even further from the forefront of the enthusiast's mind. It's simple, really. When you talk about performance in FF cars, you're usually talking about light, boxy four-cylinder hatchbacks which will kick a muscle car's ass eight ways to Tuesday on the autocross, but which will lose to many an SUV at the stoplight drag-strip. Well, maybe if the SUV is a Porsche or a BMW, but you understand. So, in terms of the connotation 'sports car', nothing could be further from the accepted norm than a big V6-engined front-wheel drive car. For three good reasons. One: It's front-wheel drive, so it can't handle as well as a rear-wheel drive, Two: It's heavy, and Three: It's got a big engine up front, destroying the delicate balance needed to make an FF handle well. It's even worse if the car is a front-drive coupé, as theyre inherently more front-heavy than sedans in the first place. So... FF V6 sports coupés... bad idea. Or is it? We took a couple of weekend cruisers out, to try to sort the poseurs from the players. The Poseurs... errh... Players Data Panel 2003 Acura CL 3.2 Type-S - Cr. 32,420 Though it's not much heavier than the other coupés here, this one's definitely imposing. It's a brute of a car, and looks like it should have come in rear-wheel drive. It looks the classical coupé, a bit old fashioned. but good looking, nonetheless. Bob had another opinion. "It boggles the mind... Japan's version of the Monte Carlo." "Is that good or bad," I ask... but he just gives me that look. And I thought he loved domestics... go figure. The CL comes equipped with a crisp-shifting six speed and a grunty Honda V6. The CL is Acura's answer to the BMW 3-series, and at least in terms of luxury, is a good argument... how it compares to the Bimmer and the sportier coupés here in terms of driving remains to be seen. 2004 Alfa Romeo GT - Cr. 39,010 The buzz in the auto industry was that Alfa was coming back to the US. Unfortunately, the chances of that, given the Fiat Automotive Group's (c'mon, abbreviate it, I dare you...) current troubles, seems more and more remote. Some good news, though, is that Alfa is currently making some of the most stylish cars known to man. Good news, I guess, for people who can buy them. The GT is smaller and lighter than the others in the test, but is a true tourer in every sense of the word, and is more desirable in the metal than its more powerful 147 GTA stablemate. Front wheelers really don't come any better looking than this. Better driving? Lets see. 2003 Honda Accord Coupé EX - Cr. 27,480 The Honda Accord Coupé splits the size difference between the Acura and the new Mitsubishi, but is over 80 kg lighter than either of them. It comes with a 3 liter iteration of Honda's V6 that pumps out a respectable 243 hp. Though that's not as much as either of the big boys, it's still enough to give the Honda a respectable 0-60 time a shade over six seconds . The Accord was unanimously voted by the crew as handsome but bland... styling being something of an eternal bugbear for American Accords. 2001 Hyundai Tiburon Coupé FX - Cr. 33,020 The Tiburon isn't really on the radar as a premium coupé, but rather, competes in a crowded sports compact market. Being smaller and lighter than anything else here, its natural competition ought to be the Acura RSX, the Toyota Celica and the previous Mitsubishi Eclipse. But in terms of market positioning, it leans more towards the cruiser side of the market, the soft-riding side which the previous generation Eclipse catered to. Now the Eclipse gets bumped up another size and power class, leaving that segment of the market to the Hyundai. We're looking crosswise at the dealership sticker on the Tiburon. It'll be a cold day in hell before we pay this much for a Hyundai. Some digging gave us an MSRP of 18,000 for the base V6. Looking at the options on this one, we're boggled how they could add over 10k to the sticker. Sure, it's a looker and has a lot of nice kit, but this is a bit much. This car is only here, really, because we asked the PD Crew for a set of front-wheel drive V6 Coupés from 25k-35k (Which disqualifies the Alfa, too, but were not complaining about that one). We still don't know what dealership they bought this one from, but whoever sold it must be enjoying his new home theater system and jacuzzi. That's one hell of a commission he got from this sale. 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT - Cr. 25,000 Mitsubishi really needs a shot in the arm. Aside from their exceptionally good Mitsubishi Lancer Evo line, they don't really have any segment toppers in the American market. Heck, even status as an also-ran would be good for a new Mitsu. The new Eclipse, based on the Galant platform, is one car Mitsubishi is pinning its hopes for the future on. With 265 hp going through the front tires, it promises to be plenty quick. Unfortunately, it's plenty heavy, too. And the styling is divisive. Bob likes it, I think it's okay, and Ed absolutely loathes it. But you can't argue with the price. Cr. 25,000 for a 3.8 liter sports coupé? That's almost American pricing! This car is much bigger and heavier than in any previous iteration of the Eclipse formula, and we're sore about the lack of AWD, but we reckon it's a step in the right direction... which is, thankfully, as far away from the previous Eclipse as possible. It's still more sports-tourer than sports-car, but then, that's the focus of this test. Four pots good... Six pots bad? Just for reference, and for Ed to get some much-needed track time on his car, we're using the Honda Accord Euro R as a benchmark for how a front-driver should handle and perform. Also present is the previously tested Volvo S60 T5 (Which Nick has *aherm* neglected to return to PD), as a benchmark for suspension performance, as well as a meter-stick against which we intend to measure the abilities of these five sixes. Another car we've brought in is a cherry second generation 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT. At 226hp, and with a sub-7.0 second 0-60 time, the old GT sets a high standard for the new Eclipse. And this one's a four-pot, too. Whether the new car can measure up to the old one's performance is questionable, but with that much power, we're not betting against it. We debated about bringing a first generation and a third generation Eclipse, but as one had too little class, and the other had too little in terms of 'sportiness', we figured this should be a clash between what might be the best Eclipses in the family. Seattle Circuit For our first round of tests, PD invited us to their Seattle Circuit test course. Steep climbs and sharp turns mark the course, along with a tricky chicane at the pit lane entrance, straddling an access gate between freeways which can be taken without so much as a dab on the brakes if youre lucky, or which can lead to a nasty encounter with the track wall if youre not. The climb up the hills is harrowing in these cars, as at full speed, some of them can actually launch into the air. We dread to think about what it would be like going the other way. Its the perfect track for recreating the oft-imitated chase scenes of Bullitt, but those jumps delayed our testing by a week or two, as we had to have a whole bunch of broken bushings and mis-aligned suspensions fixed afterwards. Still, quite an experience. Hyundai Tiburon V6 GT - 1:56:731 Acura CL Type S - 1:55:487 Honda Accord Euro R - 1:55:210 Volvo S60 T5 Sport - 1:53:486 95 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT - 1:53:175 Honda Accord EX V6 - 1:52:841 Alfa Romeo GT - 1:52:827 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT - 1:51:984 Track Notes: Tiburon - Damn brakes. The braking down into the first corner at the Seattle Circuit was a little more dramatic than it needed to be. You'd expect a (relatively) light car to brake much better than the rest of these bellicose beasts. Otherwise, the Hyundai performed as we expected, nimble, predictable, and ultimately not as edge-of-your-seat thrilling as some of the other cars here, but a decent rush, nonetheless. The damping works well on the streets, and tail-happy is not an option you'll use much on smooth tarmac. Unflappable comes to my mind. Bob thinks it's kind of boring. CL Type S - This is a damn heavy car, or it feels like it. That soft suspension setting had us leaning and dipping almost as badly as the ten-year old Eclipse we brought for reference. In fairness, the 'sport' part of the sport-luxury equation wasn't foremost in the Acura's agenda, and the 'luxury' part it has down pat. Thanks to the lack of a handbrake (in favor of a footbrake... go figure), we couldn't e-brake this car around turns, but on the streets of Seattle, we didn't have to. A well-judged entry and a quick flick would have that long tail coming around in a long, lazy slide in no time. The big engine's low-end grunt would then spin the tires a bit before finding grip, but in an easily controlled manner. The engine is particularly good at pulling the car up hills and down the longer freeway sections of the track. It never lacks for grunt, but is surprisingly soft as revs climb. It's hard to believe that the Acura and the Honda share the same basic engine hardware, as they are dramatically different in delivery. The Acura delivers its peak torque in a plateau from 3500 rpm to 5500 rpm, while the Accords torque comes in typical Honda fashion, high up in the rev range at 5000rpm. 95 Eclipse GT - Though softer in the suspension department than the newer cars here, the Eclipse acquits itself well on the streets of Seattle. Turbo lag and ramp-up provide for some entertaining wheelspin. This car rotates well enough, once you get it turning, but the incessant understeer reminds you that this is an old-school FF sportscar. That said, the Eclipse is fast in a straight line, fast enough to give a couple of these cars a good view of its rather rotund behind. Accord EX - Through the streets of San Francisco, the Accord acquitted itself well. With flat cornering and a solid and smooth engine, the Accord neatly paces the Alfa. The Accord rotates much more easily than either the Volvo or the Alfa on the flat corners of Seattle, but feels as stable as either of them. The Accord's V6 revs smoother than the Eclipse's, and it shift much better, too. But it can't quite match its pace in a straight line. That V6 has less torque than the other sixes (only the Tiburon has less), and it comes high up in the rev range. It doesnt matter, though, as the Honda gets there very quickly indeed. Alfa Romeo GT - Not the nimblest, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the grins on our faces. The Alfa corners flat and hard, and the engine revs with a lot of eagerness. The tires skip and jump over the tarmac as we feather the throttle to keep the incessant wheelspin under control. It's a hoot to drive around the city, feeling composed and fast. It can't put enough of its power to the ground though, and lacks the outright pace of the big Mitsubishi. In other words, the Mitsubishi has this car... errh... eclipsed. Eclipse GT - This thing is nimble. Really. We didn't believe it at first, but a drive around the Seattle track had us going around turns much faster than we thought possible. Initial understeer is the norm here, given the wide turning circle, but the chassis dynamics are really superb. Once you get the car turning, it rotates, and hard. This is one big car you definitely wouldn't give to your kids... as they'd get in big trouble, and quick. Travel around corners is mediated by progressive break-away and controllable slides. The engine pulls superbly and is the most powerful here. This thing is just too much fun to be this porky. El Capitan El Capitan, as we always say, is really good at showing up a poor suspension. While its true the track rewards a fast car with a fast time, it isnt very forgiving to a car that cant deal well with its bumpy surface. The various cambers and hills of El Capitan work the suspension hard, and the varying grades on some of its turns play havoc with the natural balance of a car. A perfect 50-50 weight distribution goes out the window here. A 60-40 distribution, which is common among these competitors, often leads to understeer around the longer corners, or near-certain catastrophic oversteer on the downhill ones. Its the perfect track to sort the wheat from the chaff. Hyundai Tiburon V6 GT - 2:06:728 Honda Accord Euro R - 2:05:993 95 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT - 2:05:115 Acura CL Type S - 2:04:760 Honda Accord EX V6 - 2:03:931 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT - 2:03:208 Alfa Romeo GT - 2:03:136 Volvo S60 T5 Sport - 2:02:652 Tiburon GT - The Tiburon remains planted through most of El Capitan, too slow to actually tax itself decently on El Cap's high speed undulations and corners. It's a stimulating drive, but lacks drama of the more enjoyable kind. Most drivers would find it a spirited 8/10ths driver, and definitely a good companion on B-Road jaunts. It's kind of like a Ferrari in slow-motion, and probably a good bargain at that. 95 Eclipse GT - Light weight and a strong engine arent enough to pull the Eclipse into the thick of the battle at El Capitan. While the hills and curves of El Capitan took their toll on the front-heavy sixes, the wide-radius turns were quite unforgiving to the older car, as the Eclipse plowed much more under power than anything else here. An on-off power delivery meant you were either putting too much power into the wheels to make the turn, or just not putting enough in to keep up. Even the Acura could get the power down better than the Eclipse here, and the lap times show it. The Eclipse held a tight line, but that line often really wasnt the fastest through. CL Type S - In the hills of Yosemite, good damping and suspension travel kept all four corners of the CL planted. The car didn't like the long sweepers, but the progressive power delivery kept it from 'pushing' too hard. The ease of rotation is still there, with less of the drama associated with the Accord or Eclipse. The excellent power of that 3.2 liter V6 makes up for some of the softness of the car, but unfortunately can't pull it any closer to the pack. Accord EX - Except for the odd tail-happy moment when there isn't enough weight on the back wheels, this car drives the most like the Volvo. It's securely planted, and on the smooth streets of Seattle, takes a firm line through the turns. In the bumpy hills of El Capitan, it can be coaxed to hang its tail out a bit, but it rarely goes over that line. Acceleration is smooth and creamy, just what you'd expect from a Honda. Eclipse GT - A nagging problem at El Capitan is a lack of lateral grip, which, combined with the previously noted understeer, made the Eclipse lose too much momentum around high speed corners, which the overeager throttle cant make up. The Eclipse also loses time around long slow speed corners due to that understeer. Short corners are easily handled, though, by eliciting the Eclipses party-trick quick direction change. Its a fun drive, and a good challenge to drive well. The fact that it comes in second in the test group means that it cant be all that bad around here. Alfa Romeo GT - On the back roads of Yosemite, that stiff suspension pays off dividends, but that and the large (albeit beautiful) alloys lead to a choppy ride. The Alfa is wonderfully planted, though, and tire skip and slip never end up in anything dramatic. It's empowering, and allows the Alfa to run away from the pack. The big Mitsubishi isn't very far behind, though. Strangely, the Volvo has both cars thoroughly whipped. Although track experience and familiarity with the car both pay off dividends, it's really the Volvo's composure in low traction situations that makes it shine, allowing it to outpace cars which would walk all over it on the open highway. Infineon Raceway We return to Infineon for round three. The differences in lap times and standings between Seattle and El Capitan were confusing, to say the least, and a test at Infineon, with which most of us were familiar, helped sort things out. Plus it got us another week or so of free use of the cars, so we cant really complain. The varied track situations of Infineon give a good workout to every part of the car. There are medium length straights to test aceleration, fast 100 mph (for some cars) sweepers to test high speed cornering, esses and sudden doglegs with unusual cambers to test suspension suppleness and weight transfer, and one tight 180 and one wide 180 to test low-speed cornering ability and traction. Its a great track, and more than just a little challenging. Hyundai Tiburon V6 GT -1:56:551 Acura CL Type S - 1:55:531 Honda Accord Euro R - 1:54:561 95 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT - 1:53:589 Honda Accord EX V6 - 1:52:405 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT - 1:52:379 Volvo S60 T5 Sport - 1:52:309 Alfa Romeo GT - 1:52:169 Tiburon GT - On the track, the Tiburon shines. The engine pulls smoothly, not troubling the front tires for grip, and the Tiburon, being lighter than anything else here, handles transitions and esses with ease. Though it lacks in outright pace, the Tiburon would make a swell track car for beginners, as it's quick enough to be exciting, and neutral enough to be forgiving. The Tiburon makes you feel like a hero, and rarely does anything to make you look like an ass. CL Type S - This car really hates track work. Fast transitions catch it off guard, and our lapping sessions quickly degenerated into tire-shredding hooliganism, as the big car bucked, drifted and burned rubber into and out of turns. Not before we recorded a 1:55, though, on a clean lap. Enough to beat the Tiburon, but as that isn't even a contest, it's not something to be proud of. 95 Eclipse - Track work doesnt flatter the Eclipse either. But its predictable behavior on track meant that we could be very precise with it. The fight between that powerful turbo and the steering wheel was the worst on this track, and the light weight and soft suspension quelled most of our attempts to rotate the car. But like we said with the Alfa, understeer doesnt always mean a bad lap time, though in this case, it doesnt guarantee it. Accord EX - Another flat-out performance from the Accord. The fact that the Mitsubishi edges it out in terms of lap times doesn't reflect the whole story. The Accord on track is composed and flat, with sideways antics rarely present and squarely under control, and engine and gearbox working in perfect harmony. It's easy to get consistent lap times from the Accord out here. On another day it may have won this track attack, but today, at least, it wasnt embarrased. Eclipse GT - We were in love with the new Eclipse at first, but now we're not so sure. The Eclipse, despite having the best engine in this group in terms of grunt, has short gearing and a very abrupt rev cut, both of which conspire to ruin your rhythm. The big car rotates very well in tight corners, but that rotation comes at the expense of grip. It's a simple equation really, to make a front-wheel drive go around a turn, you must make it rotate. Lift-off oversteer and brake-induced oversteer are the most common ways of doing this. The Eclipse has a wheelbase that's just shorter than the Alfa's and just a bit longer than the Tiburon's. That it's much bigger and heavier than either of them means that this allows the Eclipse to rotate very quickly. That's a good thing for negotiating sharp corners and for changing directions really fast. But it's a bad thing for keeping traction. And keeping traction equals fast lap times. While the Eclipse is relatively fast, we can't help thinking that better rear-end dynamics would make it faster still. The Volvo, for example, is a much slower car in a straight line, but wins two out of three meetings with the Eclipse. In other words, the big engine doesn't win the race here. Alfa Romeo GT - On the racetrack, the Alfa is dominant. Precise throttle control is required to get the power down quickly, but it's not as hard to modulate as it seems at first. The Alfa understeers. This wasn't as evident at Seattle, where turns were sharper, or at El Capitan's sweeping bends, but it's there. While all front-wheel drive cars understeer to some extent, none of the current coupés understeered as much as the Alfa off the throttle. Blame it on the suspension, blame it maybe on the wide and grippy tires, blame it on the long wheelbase, but the Alfa understeers and flatly refuses to rotate in bends that would have the Accord and Eclipse driver applying opposite lock. But this isn't a bad thing. The fact that the Alfa loses none of its speed to sideslip makes it the fastest car here. Subjective Score Acura - 5th Place Not such a shock. No matter how good-looking or fast this car is, this is a race, and this car plainly isnt a racer. Rather, this is the car the FBI would be driving in those cheesy 70's cop-shows if they were still in production today. Bob loved it, and I had to admit, it was a pretty entertaining car in its own right, if not really in the hunt in terms of overall pace. But really, this isnt just your standard big American car. This thing has a mean amount of kit, an excellent engine, a short wheelbase and loose dynamics. It makes you feel like a kid all over again. Too bad Acura is killing off this car, but we cant see much justification in keeping this dinosaur alive either. Since its an Acura, though, youll still be seeing them for decades to come. Hyundai - 4th Place Although it didnt really impress us, we thought the little Tiburon had everything in the right place. Its a Ferrari look-a-like at ½ the pace, 3/4ths the nimbleness, and 1/10th the price. Unfortunately it also has about 1/100th the street credibility. It's not a bad-looking or bad-handling car, but we're unanimous about this one: It's more poseur than player, having an underpowered and underdeveloped V6. This car is facing some stiff competition, and needs to pump some iron to catch up. That said, its nimbler than the big boys here, and steering it is no hardship. Given enough power to trouble the cars here, wed bet it would acquit itself well. We're hoping the next one gets the 3.3 liter V6 from the new Sonata, as it badly needs it. Or even better, it should get a turbocharged version of that wonderful 2.0 from the old Tiburon. With better balance, less weight, and a more dramatic soundtrack, that version would be a killer. Would that formula work? Just look at the old Eclipse... the kids are still talking about it. Honda Accord - 3rd Place The differences between the Euro Accord and the American Accord on paper are very slight. Its the execution on the road thats really telling. The European Accord is more precise, as keen as a katana (Youre shameless... thats MY line. -ed) and as unyielding as a rock, a real drivers car. The American Accord is more like a broadsword. Less precise, but when you get it right, itll hit much, much harder. Unfortunately, it doesnt hit hard enough. Though its never more than a few tenths behind the Mitsubishi at any track, its the big battleaxe from Mitsubishi that wins this battle. And the fact that the Mitsubishi can dance like a butterfly and sting like a rhino, well, that speaks for itself. Mitsubishi Eclipse GT - 2nd Place The big bad Eclipse. This one split opinions on everything from its looks to the choice of engines. The last thing we needed in this test was a disagreement on the fun factor. Ed was firmly against the Mitsubishis lack of composure. I saw it as flingability. Ed hated the weight, I saw it as added momentum. Ed hated the coarse engine, I saw it as muscle. Bob just couldnt figure it out, so he just kept his mouth shut. This car is a very good example of how manufacturers have stepped up their game in terms of making front-wheel drive cars handle. The short wheelbase, combined with the classic FF 60-40 weight split make the rear end very light and easy to rotate. Thick tires front and rear, a good 235mm worth, keep wheel-slip under control, and that wide track makes the car very stable. The nearly square stance of the four wheels makes the big Eclipse turn like a hockey puck, and it would be a terrific autocross car for a track day. At the very least, it would be good for a laugh, at the very best, it would shock a lot of people with just how fast it can come around. Thats something it does better than the old Eclipse. One thing it doesnt do better is power transfer. That and the ridiculously short powerband, thanks to a low redline, make launches difficult. That said, the naturally aspirated big V6 is more linear and capable than the venerable 4G63. Whether its as receptive to tuning is something that is yet to be discovered. The only real downside to this package (aside from the porky curb-weight) is the wide turning circle. Like a lot of sports cars, the Eclipse sacrifices that extra bit of parking ability for a quick steering lock and fast reflexes. In the final equation, its this and other minor foibles that keep the Eclipse from the top spot. If price were an actual consideration though, this would be a no-contest winner. Alfa Romeo GT - 1st Place Okay, well admit it. Were in love. The Alfa looks good and drives well. Though its turn-in isnt as sharp as the Tiburons, its engine isnt as powerful as the Eclipses and its power delivery isnt as smooth as the Accords (were not going to compare it vis-a-vis the Acura for prestige, as it really is no contest, poor Acura...), the Alfa has just enough of everything to win here. Gripes first, though. The Alfa may not be the most powerful here, but try telling that to the tires. Getting the power down around corners is almost as hard as in the Eclipse, despite the linearity of that wonderful V6. And axle tramp during launches from a standing start is severe, even with the traction control system switched on. Blame it on the stiff suspension, I suppose, which also limits weight transfer under braking. Only the Accord Euro R rides stiffer, but thats not a tourer, and not officially in this test. Im not complaining about the understeer anymore, as said trait gives the Alfa terrific stability. The dynamics of the Alfa are very similar to our beloved Accord Euro R and the Volvo S60 T5, coming somewhere in between the two in terms of stiffness and stability. But the Alfa does have a wider turning circle than either, and isnt as pointy. But such observations take a back seat once you get into the Alfa. The creamy sound of that Italian six, the smell of Italian leather, and the sunlight glinting off that low sexy hood, combined with the just-right dynamics and heady power, just... click to enlarge ...well, Im lost for words... but can you blame me?