Saturday, June 12, 2004

New Galant bigger, spiffier

Despite new look, sedan still no match for Accord, Camry

By Carol Traeger
Enquirer contributor


The 2004 Mitsubishi Galant is roomier and more stylish.

Wheels rating: (out of 5)
3 wheels
Ready for prime time, but in a supporting role

What I drove: 2004 Mitsubishi Galant LS, a four-door, five-passenger sedan with a four-speed automatic transmission

Base price: $20,997

Price as tested: $23,654

Options on test vehicle: Sunroof Package (power sunroof, integrated front map lamps with storage, dual illuminated vanity mirrors); Diamond Package (16-inch alloy wheels, integrated blue LED-illuminated titanium audio control panel, Mitsubishi/Infinity AM/FM/6-Disc CD changer w/ 8 speakers, diversity antenna, steering wheel audio controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, titanium interior door handle, front door reflectors, panic alarm)

Summary: Ready for prime time, but in a supporting role

Drivetrain layout: Front engine, front-wheel drive

Engine: 3.8-liter V6 producing 230 hp and 250 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 4-speed automatic w/ Sportronic manu-matic shifter

Wheelbase: 108.3 inches

Length: 109.4 inches

Width: 72.4 inches

Height: 57.9 inches

Weight: 3,560 pounds

EPA mpg, city/hwy: 19/27

Warranty: Basic: 3 yrs/36,000 miles; powertrain: 5 yrs/60,000 miles

Assembled in: Normal, Illinois

Safety: Dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, antilock brakes

Cool: Standout exterior styling, spacious interior, peppy new V6

Uncool: Cheapish interior materials, squishy seats, hesitant transmission, no fold-down rear seat or curtain airbags

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Despite Americans' continuing infatuation with trucks and SUVs, midsize sedans retain the title of best-selling vehicle segment in America. Also known as family sedans, these four-door conveyances account for one of every five vehicles on the road.

The Mitsubishi Galant has long played a bit role in this hotly contested segment. Its tight back seat, uninspired engine and wallflower styling made it no match for the class-leading Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and the redesigned Nissan Altima.

For 2004, Mitsubishi aims to break into the big time with an all-new, completely made-over Galant.

Designed specifically for the North American market, the fifth-generation Galant is bigger, more powerful and more stylish than its predecessor.

Gone is the bland and conservative exterior, replaced by an edgy and athletic new skin. The high beltline and sloping roof convey sportiness, and the slightly raised, angular rear end (which looks almost Cadillac CTS-ish) gives it a forward motion stance. The front end is less impressive. The headlights look as if they were tacked on as an afterthought. This car looks better going than coming.

The cockpit's clean and modern design is undercut by the use of cheapish-looking materials and dubious surface treatments, including nubbly plastic on the dash and steering wheel, and plasticky faux-aluminum trim. The stereo controls, however, are attractive and easy to use

Bigger and better

The new Galant will stand out in a crowd, partly because it takes up so much room. I didn't realize how big it was until I parked my '04 Galant tester beside a 2003 model, which it positively dwarfs.

Based on the midsize Endeavor SUV platform, the Galant has been stretched in every dimension. It's longer, taller and wider than its predecessor, and rides on a 5-inch-longer wheelbase. The interior has grown proportionally, too. The rear seats are big-car spacious, offering plenty of shoulder and head room for two 6-footers to lounge in comfort.

I only wish the seats were more supportive. The driver's seat in my tester was as squishy as an old couch, and it lacks a lumbar adjuster. During my three-day, 700-mile test drive, I had to keep a towel rolled up behind my back. The steering wheel tilts, but doesn't telescope; and when I got my feet within striking distance of the pedals, the wheel felt too close to my chest.

Four trim levels

As for cargo-hauling, the Galant's trunk can swallow 13 cubic feet of gear. It includes a pass-through for skis; but, unlike the big boys, its rear seats don't fold.

The Galant comes in four trim levels - DE, ES, LS and GTS - with base prices ranging from $18,000 to $26,000.

The DE and ES are powered by a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that generates 160 horsepower and 157 pound-feet of torque, and comes mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. There's no manual transmission, which is a shame, because it's quite entertaining in the Accord and Camry four-cylinder models.

The LS and GTS are motivated by a new 3.8-liter V6, which delivers 230 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque - a hefty boost over the 195 horsepower and 205 pound-feet produced by the old 3.0-liter. The V6 is joined to a four-speed automatic with Sportronic (manu-matic) controls.

In addition to the more powerful V6 engine, the LS and GTS feature specially tuned suspensions, larger front ventilated disc brakes, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and traction control, and a high-end Infinity stereo with in-dash six-disc CD changer.

Competent, but uncompelling

The top-of-the-line GTS gets everything, including a firmer suspension, leather seats, power-adjustable front seats, projector-beam headlights, 17-inch wheels and a rear spoiler. Heated seats and mirrors are the GTS's only option.

The V6 engine in my LS tester produced plenty of power, but delivery was hampered by the four-speed automatic, which lagged even in manual-shift mode. The steering felt responsive in turns, but semi-loose in straight-ahead cruising. The suspension is supple and forgiving, and while not agile, it held the car level through every long sweeping curve and cloverleaf on-ramp. Stopping was a snap, thanks to well-modulated four-wheel disc brakes.

In safety features, the Galant lags behind the competition. While it features smart airbags (the front passenger airbag won't detonate if that seat is unoccupied), side-impact airbags are available optionally only on LS and GTS models. Head-protecting curtain airbags aren't offered. Anti-lock brakes, which come standard on the LS and GTS, are optional on the ES and not available on the DE.

In the end, the all-new Galant is a fine car. It's roomier, vroomier, and has far more fashion sense than its predecessor. But it still has a way to go - mainly in the areas of refinement and interior quality - before it can hope to share top billing with the likes of the Camry and Accord.

The Galant is competent in all areas, but outstanding in none.


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