Mitsubishi’s new 2004 Galant can now play with the big boys

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Speak of mid-size family cars and the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry immediately spring to mind for most people. And they should.

Between the two of them, Honda and Toyota sell more than 800,000 units a year. Their success is no secret. Both feature pleasing but conservative styling, impeccable build quality, trouble-free driving, a long list of amenities for a reasonable price and incredible resale value.

The Accord and Camry are such a solid pair of sedans it makes you wonder how much room there is for competitors in a shrinking segment.

The competition has to pick up the scraps left at the Toyota-Honda table, and if a manufacturer can equal even half the sales of either the Accord or Camry with a mid-sized sedan, it is considered an overwhelming success.

The Nissan Altima and Ford Taurus are in that category. They fall into the second tier of sales behind the volume leaders. That means the rest of the field in the segment (and there are a fair number of them) are left as minor players.

That doesn’t suggest a minor player can’t be successful. For instance, the
Mitsubishi Galant has managed to sell in numbers approaching 100,000 per annum over the past few years with an average vehicle that has gained some of its appeal through low price and because of its uniqueness - every other car isn’t a Galant.
The Galant has been Mitsubishi’s top-selling car in the United States almost from the time of its introduction in 1985. It was completely made over in 1994 and again in 1999 keeping it up to date with rapidly changing automotive technology.

But the last Galant had shortcomings such as a small backseat, a rather mediocre interior design and below-average performance.

Mitsubishi has now attempted to overcome the shortfalls by taking a run at the meat of the market with an all-new vehicle for the 2004 model year.
A week behind the wheel of a Galant ES, the most popular model, has us convinced that Mitsubishi has done its homework. The newest Galant is larger with styling that sets it apart from the Camry and Accord, has more lusty engines than the previous model, has a modern and handsome looking interior and dashboard layout and exhibits excellent road manners.

From its split Mitsubishi grille (ala Pontiac) to its hiked up rear end, the new wedge-shaped Galant is rather handsome and offers a more imposing figure than the last model. It falls on the liberal side of conservative, particularly in a field of mostly look-alike sedans.

If the Galant looks bigger than the last one, it’s because it is bigger. It has a 4.6-inch longer wheelbase and it is 3.9 inches wider. This translates into a roomy interior with very comfortable seating for four adults, and unlike the previous version, backseat passengers won’t be cramped with their knees against the front seatbacks.

Two engine choices put the Galant on nearly equal footing with the mid-sized field. The base 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, which is expected to be the choice of about 65 percent of Galant buyers, now possesses 160 horsepower and 157-pound feet of torque. That’s a gain of 20 horses over the previous engine.
Mitsubishi has really beefed up its 6-cylinder edition, replacing the old 3.0-liter V6 with a 3.8-liter V6 generating 230 horsepower, a gain of 35 horses. That falls about mid-pack, 20 more horses than the Camry V6 but 10 less than the Accord V6.

Unfortunately, both engines come with a 4-speed automatic transmission. Most new entries today are outfitted with 5-speed automatics which tend to improve gas mileage as well as performance.

And there is no manual transmission option with the Galant, a feature offered by most of the competition. But the automatic does have a manual shift mode and it offers seamless shifts.

As it is, even with the extra horses, the 4-cylinder is no speed merchant. But it does get the job done effectively and it’s still fun to drive. We had no qualms with its performance in all phases of driving including merging and passing.

The engine has the coarse, throaty sound of a domestic 4-cylinder as opposed to the quiet sewing-machine-like engines found in Toyota and Honda models. But this is not off-putting, just an example of where Mitsubishi might have a harder time selling itself if a prospective buyer drives an Accord and a Galant back-to-back.

For comparison purposes, the 4-cylinder has been measured in 9.2 seconds from 0 to 60 and 17 seconds at 82 miles per hour in the quarter mile. We suspect the V6 is at least a couple of seconds faster to 60.

The Galant has a quiet interior befitting a mid-sized family sedan. It seems the Mitsubishi folks have done their homework in making the new entry about as devoid of noise as anything in class.

The ride may be a bit on the stiff side for some people, but we found it satisfying, and the slight firmness gives the Galant the feeling that if the need arose to zip through some corners above the posted limit, this car would offer no drama.

The dashboard layout sets the interior apart from competitors. It’s a job well done. The simulated titanium center stack controls are pleasing to the eye and easy to use. Stereo and climate control knobs have a quality feel.

The Galant is a very enjoyable sedan. We were drawn to it over another vehicle in the driveway throughout the test week.

But there are some strange lapses considering this is an all-new model and considering the cream-of-the-crop competition. For instance, there is no PRNDL display on the dashboard; the driver has to look down to the transmission shifter between the seats to determine the gear. And there is no folding rear seat, something many families need for carrying additional cargo.

Although the Galant has a nice array of safety features, side curtain airbags are not on the options list. Antilock brakes and side impact airbags are standard equipment on the top two models.

There is a four-model lineup - DE, ES, LS and GTS. Prices begin at $18,592 including destination charge for the DE. The ES may be the best buy with several upgrades for a base of $19,592. The LS with a V6 starts at $21,592 and the loaded GTS begins at $26,292.

Our ES test car came with such standard equipment as air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, power window and door locks, 140-watt stereo system with CD player, black gauges with blue illumination and four-wheel disc brakes.
Side impact airbags and antilock brakes are optional on the ES.

Our test car came with the optional Diamond Package for $1,262. Included are 16-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel controls, a 270-watt, 8-speaker stereo system with 6-disc changer, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. That brought the sticker price to $21,354.

Overall the new Galant is a pleasing, well-done alternative to the Camry and Accord. And you will stand out from the cookie-cutter crowd at an attractive price.