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Published: 09/09/2003 - by Erin Riches, Deputy Editor
A fringe player in the family sedan segment, the previous-generation Galant suffered for its small backseat, dull engine and transmission offerings and mediocre interior design and materials. A good value for the budget-minded consumer? Yes. A one-to-one substitute for a class leader like the Accord or Camry? No.
But having watched Nissan supersize its Altima, stuff a powerful V6 under the hood and attract droves of new customers, Mitsubishi knew exactly what to do when it was time to redesign the Galant. Accordingly, the '04 Galant, the first car by this name to be engineered exclusively for the American market, is bigger on the outside, roomier on the inside and available with a 230-horsepower V6. Its handsome, if derivative, exterior body lines draw inspiration from such cars as the Altima, Maxima and Passat, while the cockpit ensemble is as trendy a design as you'll find in this segment.
A more likable car than its predecessor, this new Galant should have little difficulty attracting new customers. After spending a week with one, though, we can't help but think that a few lapses in interior materials quality, ergonomics and storage space along with the absence of features like full-length side curtain airbags, a manual transmission (at least on four-cylinder cars) and a folding rear seat will keep this car from breaking into the family sedan leaders' circle. Still an alternative choice, the Galant, but as alternatives go, this one is rather appealing.
As in the past, Mitsubishi is offering the Galant in four trim levels base DE, midlevel ES, luxury-oriented LS and highline GTS (formerly known as GTZ). Priced around $18,000, the DE comes with most of the equipment buyers on a tight budget are apt to want a 160-hp, four-cylinder engine (155 hp in California); four-wheel disc brakes; air conditioning; power windows, mirrors and locks; keyless entry; a 140-watt stereo with a CD player; and a height-adjustable driver seat.
However, those who want safety items like antilock brakes (with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) and side airbags (for front occupants) will need to move up to the ES, on which they're available as options. In addition, the ES adds body-color door handles, mirrors and moldings; cruise control; faux titanium trim; and a couple extra speakers (for a total of six). Order the oddly named Diamond Package and you'll get alloy wheels, a 270-watt Infinity audio system with an in-dash CD changer, and faux titanium center stack controls with blue backlighting. Order the Leather Package and you'll get leather seating surfaces and a power driver seat.
Next up the line is the LS; it offers much the same equipment and options as the ES, but the 230-horse V6, ABS and traction control are standard. Spring for the loaded GTS and all of the above items are included, along with 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded projector-beam headlights, clear-lens taillights, an integrated rear spoiler, a sunroof, white-faced gauges and either metallic mesh or wood grain trim. The only option on the GTS is heated seats and mirrors.
Our test car was a GTS, and we quickly warmed to its sporty but even-keeled demeanor out on the road. Large in displacement for this class, the single-overhead cam, 3.8-liter V6 under the hood comes through with plenty of torque, making it easy to launch the car from stoplights and execute passing maneuvers on the highway. Output is rated at 230 horsepower at 5,250 rpm and 250 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, which makes the Galant one of the most powerful cars in the family sedan segment. In practice, it doesn't feel quite as fast as a car like the 245-hp Altima attributable to the Mitsubishi's 400 extra pounds of curb weight nor is the power delivery as refined as that of the Altima, Accord or Camry.
The engine is matched to a four-speed automatic transmission that delivered satisfactory performance. Downshifts were delivered in a crisp and timely manner, and the transmission dutifully held third gear on steep highway grades (rather than shuffling in and out of overdrive). On a few occasions, we found it slow to downshift when trying to make quick lane changes in heavy freeway traffic. We suspect that the electronically controlled transmission's efforts to "learn" our driving style were the culprit: Apparently, after 15 to 20 minutes of puttering along in gridlock, the author had been tagged as a passive driver never mind the hasty stabs of throttle and inadvisable speeds that preceded these unplanned interludes. In any case, no one wants to be left waiting for the transmission to find the right gear in dicey traffic situations, so we certainly wouldn't mind a little more subtlety in this four-speed's adaptive programming.
We're a little surprised that Mitsubishi decided not to go with a five-speed automatic (as Honda, Mazda and VW have done), particularly since you can't get a manual transmission on the Galant. Compared to the four-speed, a five-speed would have improved acceleration and fuel economy. As it is, the GTS model's mileage estimate of 18 city/26 highway is respectable but not class-leading a V6 Accord, for example, can get up to 30 mpg on the highway. We averaged 22 mpg over 800 miles of hard driving.
The Galant does have an automanual shift mode, which offers full control to the driver, such that it's up to you to upshift before the engine finds the rev limiter. We enjoyed using this feature during more aggressive driving, though it's no substitute for a manual gearbox as there are slight delays between gear selection and actual engagement. One other thing we noticed about the Galant's transmission was the high level of concentration required to move the gear selector smoothly between the gates from "Park." Pull back on the lever in a hasty, unthinking manner and it won't budge. We thought this might be a peculiarity of our test car, but the gear selector in another Galant we tried behaved similarly.
If the transmission left us with any doubts, the Galant's ride and handling characteristics certainly didn't. For consumers looking for the best of both worlds a quiet, comfortable ride on the highway, and agile handling around twists and turns the Mitsubishi delivers in a way that few other family sedans can. Keys to the sedan's balanced dynamics are the all-new platform (shared with the Endeavor SUV) that incorporates a 4.6-inch wheelbase stretch and a 2.5-inch wider track front and rear, and a stiffer overall structure that offers twice the rigidity of the outgoing Galant. Of course, a larger, more rigid structure is apt to weigh more, and in the absence of significant weight-saving measures (like the use of aluminum), this, along with the bigger V6, has caused the car to put on several hundred pounds: the GTS weighs 3,649 pounds; a 2003 GTZ weighed just 3,296.
So indeed the Galant is one of the heaviest midsize family sedans in its price range, but the extra weight was only noticeable to us when pushing the car hard around tight washes on a two-lane road a manner in which few owners will wish to drive the car. Around the gentler, high-speed turns and entrance ramps more commonly encountered, the GTS performed admirably, maintaining a flat, predictable stance. A surprising amount of road feel is transmitted through the driver seat, and the steering, although a little sloppy on-center (when traveling a straight line), feels responsive when entering turns. These attributes give the Galant a personable quality that encourages the driver to have fun with it in the midst of everyday travels not a quality you'll find in an Accord or Camry.
Along with all the compliments, we must point out one practical annoyance: the car's unnecessarily large turning radius. DE, ES and LS models turn a 37.4-foot circle; the GTS adds 17-inch wheels and tires and a 40-foot radius. Parking lot maneuvers take more time than they should, simply because the front wheels aren't allowed to turn very much, and before you know it, you're at full steering lock.
For their part, the 17-inch Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires on our test car provided ample grip on dry roads without causing a lot of road noise inside the cabin. The brakes proved strong and easy to modulate on steep winding descents, though the brake pedal is positioned on a slightly higher plane than the accelerator pedal, which was initially bothersome. During a couple simulated panic stops, the brakes still felt confident, though there was some excess noise and vibration just before the vehicle arrived at a stop.
Inside the cabin, our GTS tester greeted us with an attractive two-tone color scheme the top of the dash and door panels were black, while the leather-upholstered seats and lower dash were a creamy golden hue. In between, there was plenty of titanium-colored plastic one editor liked it, but several others expressed doubts about its long-term desirability: How stylish will it look three to five years from now? Is the expensive titanium finish likely to peel? Reasonable questions, to be sure, but ones that we're hard-pressed to answer at this point. Alongside all the metallic trim was an unusually light-color wood grain trim all but camouflaged in the lower half of the dash; when it does catch your eye, though, it looks good for the fake stuff. How to tie together these various hues? Well, bright blue backlighting for the instrumentation and center stack controls was the answer Mitsubishi designers came up with. Our author found it somewhat garish but liked it nevertheless (the gauges are very easy to read at night); those who prefer a more traditional look may find fault with it.
One thing everyone could agree on, however, was the hit-or-miss quality of the interior materials. True, this Galant was a preproduction model, but we've since examined a regular production car that had the same issues. The soft leather upholstery was pleasing to the touch, and the plastic used on the console and the lower dash was acceptable in quality for a car in this price range. What didn't seem acceptable was the pebble-grain material on the top of the dash and door panels, and the hard plastics used on the steering wheel and door release handles. The window buttons, too, had a brittle feel, and only the driver window button was lighted, leaving us to fumble around in the dark for the rest of them. Add to this list the faux titanium trim that several editors weren't happy with and you can understand why we were less than enthusiastic about the materials quality in the Galant. On the plus side, build quality was impressively tight considering the car's preproduction status.
Settle in behind the wheel and you'll find the driver seat soft and roomy. Some people may find it too soft and lacking in the kind of firm support needed to make it comfortable on long road trips. Our author was inclined to think so, too, initially, but during a subsequent uninterrupted three-hour drive, she remained content. Even so, the front seats could use more lateral bolstering to keep occupants from sliding around during aggressive cornering. Additionally, we would have liked to see telescoping adjustment for the steering wheel and increased range for the seat-height adjustment. As it was, one editor always felt she was sitting too low further compromising the rearward sight lines in a car with a high rear deck.
The large center stack controls are within easy reach from the driver seat, and the three-dial automatic climate control setup in particular is very easy to use. But if you want to know the exact temperature, the CD track or the radio station, you have to direct your eyes to a small display at the top of the dash. In theory, an all-in-one display positioned at eye level is not a bad idea. The Galant GTS uses colorful blue/white-on-black graphics, and you can decide which bits of information take precedence (and appear in a larger type size) clock, compass, stereo or climate. But after spending several hundred miles in our test car, we're still convinced that the screen is too small for comfortable viewing while driving. Certainly, owners can adapt, but the Accord's larger center stack multipurpose display is easy to read. Alternatively, the Passat allows the driver to view CD track/radio station information right in the gauge panel.
The rest of the controls inspired little cause for complaint, except for the fact that the driver window is auto-down only at a time when most manufacturers are offering at least two auto-down windows or full one-touch ease for the driver. Surrounding the steering wheel, there's a familiar three-stalk arrangement for headlights, wipers and cruise. Feel around on the back of the wheel and you'll find one of the payoffs of Mitsubishi's close relationship with Chrysler the industry's best satellite audio controls.
The previous-generation Galant wasn't known for its hospitable backseat, but the '04 model is much improved in this regard. Shoulder room is up almost three inches, while legroom is up by seven-tenths of an inch. It doesn't sound like much, but the reality is that this is a sedan that can easily transport a pair of adults in the backseat. It's not quite as roomy as the Camry's backseat, but it's comparable to what the Accord and Altima offer. Still, there are a few details that Mitsubishi might have handled better. One, the outboard headrests are not adjustable. Two, although there is a fold-down armrest back here, the lack of padding on the door armrests is uninviting. Three, there are no grab handles to aid entry and exit. And four, the use of overly soft cushioning ultimately makes the Galant's backseat less comfortable than the Accord's, which offers a superior blend of cushioning and support. As always, your experience may differ, and that's why a test-drive is so important.
Beyond that, the storage situation in this family sedan could use some improvement. Up front, storage areas consist of a pair of small door bins, a single-tier center console container, a small shelf under the center stack and a roomy pair of cupholders in the center console. In the back, the provisions are limited to a single map pocket and a couple of cupholders in the fold-down center armrest. Surprisingly, the trunk has less capacity than that of the previous-generation Galant 13.3 cubic feet versus 14.6 and is now the smallest of any midsize family sedan on the market. Fortunately, the space provided is quite usable, thanks to a wide opening and a low lift-over height. There is a ski pass-through to accommodate longer items, but oddly enough, the rear seats do not fold down, nor is this convenience available as an option.
As you can tell, we're not sold on the idea of the Galant as an ideal midsize family sedan. Engineered with a fun personality and roomy seating for its passengers, its potential to satisfy is limited by materials shortcuts in the cabin, a lack of side curtain airbags, a small all-in-one stereo/climate display and too little storage space and trunk capacity. From an enthusiast's standpoint, the fact that you can't get a manual transmission with either the four- or the six-cylinder engine is also disappointing. All is not lost, though, as the Galant is still basically a solid sedan especially if you want one that handles as well as it rides and suitable for those who don't want to drive what "the experts" think they should drive.
Editor in Chief Karl Brauer says:
Just as the all-new 2003 Endeavor impressed me with its styling, capability and high-value pricing, the new Galant is threatening to make me rethink the ranking in the midsize family sedan category. Historically, Mitsubishi has played second fiddle to Honda, Toyota and even Nissan (especially since Nissan's revival over the past four years). But while driving the Galant I found myself wondering why I would not consider it over an Accord, Altima or Camry. The V6 is torquey and powerful, the seating is comfortable and the styling manages to be unique without being overwrought.
If there's an area where Mitsubishi still needs to "up its game" it's the interior materials region. In addition to the GTS test car that was the focus of this road test, I also drove the upscale Galant LS. The dash and upper door panels were covered by a grainy, abrasive rubber material that didn't translate to "premium" in my mind. The seat leather felt adequate, but not as good as what you'll find in an Accord, and the even stylish gray plastic around the center stack (which looked good) felt subpar. I liked the car's driving dynamics, straightforward climate controls and (as I stated previously) exterior styling. I'm not ready to badge it a full-fledged Camry alternative, but I can't dismiss it as a second-tier player, either.
Looks like comparison test time .
Senior Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
One drive in the new Galant and it's obvious that Mitsubishi's engineers understand the importance of torque. Nail the gas and this car accelerates with authority, making it feel every bit as fast as its higher-horsepower competitors like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Quick, firm shifts from the four-speed automatic reinforce the car's athletic feel, but it would have been nice to see Mitsubishi step up with a five-speed unit for better mileage like the Accord. The power delivery is smooth although a bit raucous at higher engine speeds, with less overall refinement than an Accord or Camry. When it comes to ride quality, it safely straddles the line between family sedan comfort and sport sedan performance, as it feels stable and secure without any harshness. Driving enthusiasts would probably prefer the light-on-its-feet feel of a Mazda 6, but the Galant isn't far behind.
As much as I was impressed with the Galant's performance, however, the interior let me down. There's nothing inherently wrong with the overall design, but the quality of the materials is disappointing for a car in this price range. Certain elements like the soft seats feel upscale and luxurious, but there are far more instances of cheap plastic trim that reminded me of a Saturn more than a midlevel family sedan. And like the Mazda 6, the Galant's switchgear seems to sacrifice quality and refinement for a hipper look. It looks fine now, but I can't help but think that in a few years it will lose much of its luster. The overall effect doesn't completely torpedo the Galant's chances of gaining some market share, but it does keep it firmly entrenched in the alternative category of midsize family sedans.
System Score: 9.0
Components: Aware of the new standard set in the family sedan class by the excellent Bose sound system in the Nissan Altima, Mitsubishi took pains to upgrade the Galant's premium stereo offering in the 2004 model. The result of the company's efforts might not have quite the bass attack of the Altima's Bose, but it's still a great-sounding system for this segment.
This Infinity-branded setup came standard in our GTS test car, and it's optional on lower-line ES and LS models. A 270-watt amplifier feeds power to eight speakers, among them a pair of 6-by-9 full-range speakers in the rear bulkhead, 6.3-inch full-range speakers in all four doors and 2.6-inch tweeters mounted at each corner of the dash firing upward into the glass. You'll find a six-disc CD changer in the dash, 12 FM radio presets and six AM presets, but no cassette player.
The head unit features large, easy-to-reach controls, including oversize volume and tuning knobs and a double-sided seek button. Additionally, thanks to Mitsubishi's relationship with Chrysler, you'll find the industry's best satellite audio controls mounted on the back of the steering wheel you can't see them, but they sure are easy to use. Alongside the simple control layout, drivers must acclimate to a small display mounted at the top of the dash. The display is at least at eye level, and drivers can choose from four different screens to organize the information (the display covers audio, climate, compass and clock functions). Still, we think a larger display would work better here.
Performance: Although the Galant can't boast the 315-watt amp and rear subwoofer of its Endeavor platform mate, this system is well suited to this midsize sedan's cabin. Try as we might, we couldn't find a type of music that wasn't enjoyable to listen to on this stereo. The system plays loud, and bass tones are strong and crisp with no distortion. Highs are clean and refreshingly devoid of the trumped-up artificial sound present in some of today's systems. Despite the system's reliance on do-it-all full-range speakers, the separation is excellent strings are distinct and warm whether you're listening to an orchestral score, hard rock or classic jazz.
Best Feature: Rich, crisp sound.
Worst Feature: Small all-in-one display at the top of the dash.
Conclusion: An excellent stereo that prioritizes refined sound quality over bludgeoning the occupants with bass. Erin Riches
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