The Best Sports Car for Beginner Tuning

Tuning is a great modification to squeeze some extra horsepower out of a car but requires a lot of education. An improper fuel mixture can cause all kinds of engine problems, and before you know it, the car can’t start because a rod punched a hole through the crankcase. It’s important to not only know what you’re doing while tuning, but to have a car that’s forgiving, both in price and build quality. With this criterion in mind, the best sports car for beginner tuning would have to be the 1995-1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX.

What is the Eclipse GSX?

The Eclipse GSX was a turbocharged all-wheel-drive coupe that Mitsubishi built from 1990-1999, that underwent a face-lift in 1995. It had a manual or automatic transmission and weighed 3,210 pounds, only made with a hardtop. Other Eclipse trims could come as convertibles, with front-wheel drive and naturally aspirated or turbocharged engines. The first generation, from 1989-1994, was lighter by about 200 pounds but frankly isn’t as pretty or lustrous as the second generation. The second-generation GSX made 210 horsepower, while the first-gen only made 190.

Why the Eclipse GSX

The first two generations of Eclipse came with Mitsubishi’s own 4G63T. It was a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, which might sound familiar as the engine that came in the first nine generations of the Lancer Evolution. The short block is known for its robust construction. It uses a cast-iron block with an aluminum head and dual overhead camshafts, as well as forged steel connecting rods.

Although this generation GSX is getting rare, they’re still around for less than $10,000, about half the price of an Evolution IX, and it comes with the same engine bottom end. Aside from being relatively cheap, the 4G63T can handle more than 20psi of boost without having to touch the internals. 

How far does a tune get with the 4G63T?

fast and the furious mitsubishi eclipse gsx
Mitsubishi Eclipse used onscren in The Fast and The Furious (2001) in London | Ollie Millington/Getty Images

Owners report 500 horsepower at the wheels with proper tuning. Even if the engine explodes, owners state the first part to go is the cylinder head. Pushing enough boost, the cylinder head will lift off of the block and cook the head gasket, which allows engine coolant to enter the oil sump. Tuners can avoid this with a metal head gasket and better head bolts, which allow the engine to hit 28 psi comfortably. Even if the head gasket gets damaged, the cylinder head is one of the easier parts to change on a four-cylinder engine, especially since it’s aluminum.

Get to tuning

fast and the furious mitsubishi eclipse gsx
Mitsubishi Eclipse used onscren in The Fast and The Furious (2001) In London | Ollie Millington/Getty Images

Having a ceiling of 28 psi leaves a lot of room for tuning. The 4G63T is one of the most robust engines ever built and came in a car that’s still relatively cheap. Even if the engine blows up, there’s plenty on eBay for about $3,000, which isn’t a lot for 500+ horsepower. Just be sure to change the head bolts and head gasket before you get to tuning to avoid any potential headaches.

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