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Try as Mitsubishi might, the four-door family Galant always has fallen short of the lofty standards set by the mid-size class titans, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Making matters worse, the 1998 Nissan Altima wedged itself into the top tier, making a duo a trio and inspiring jealousy with its snazzy looks, zippy powertrains and sporting handling.
So for 2004, Mitsubishi is making a high-volume gamble aimed at adding the Galant to that best-selling threesome. The new Galant is much larger, much roomier, more powerful, and more finely tuned for urban tastes.
The template is familiar: the new Galant even looks like a Nissan Altima from some angles. In fact, in the split of trim levels and engine choices, down to the way the rear roofline arches to create maximum headroom, the Galant seems purposely aimed at stealing some of Nissan’s thunder. And like the Altima, the Galant’s looks and driving character are the best points in a very good, if not great, package.
Up and down the line
The new Galant is just that — unburdened by the plain sameness of the previous generation, and endowed with much new goodness. It’s based on Project America platform that already has spawned the Endeavor crossover and is to also offer up a new Eclipse coupe soon — all of which are or will be built here in America, in a place they like to call Normal, though it’s perilously close to Gary, Ind.
2004 Mitsubishi GalantEnlarge Photo
There are four different Galants on the menu for 2004. The DE arrives with black mirror housings and a pleasantly spartan appeal. The ES is expected to be the volume leader, planned in at about 70 percent of sales. The upscale LS and GTS are V-6-powered semi-luxury entries, with niceties like cruise control, CD players, and uprated trim (and on the GTS, a small decklid spoiler and fog lamps). Prices range from about $18,000 on the DE to more than $26,000 for the GTS, with the mass-market ES checking in around $19,000 base.
Two powerplants slot in beneath the natty creased hood. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder offers up 160 horsepower and 157 pound-feet of torque; it’s mated to a four-speed automatic transmission on the DE and ES. It’s pretty effective in most driving situations, save for long passes, and delivers 23 mpg city, 30 highway.
The LS and GTS get a 3.8-liter SOHC V-6 with 230 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. Here it delivers a lot less of the throaty growl found in the Endeavor, just smoother, more silently effective power. Only with this engine does the four-speed automatic get Sportronic controls — and there’s no fifth gear to be found, unlike the more storied Japanese competition. Mitsu folk say there’s a five-speed automatic in development for the life cycle of the new car, but they gave no indication that it’s very near.
Strutting its stuff
The Galant’s transformation into a happy clone of the Altima includes its not-so-delicate underthings. MacPherson struts on their own subframe take control up front and multiple suspension links in the rear keep the front-driver’s back end in agreeable position.
Ride motions are mostly pleasant on the lesser models. Hustle the four-cylinder LS around and it absorbs most road impacts well. Tighten up the line into a curve and you notice more imprecision in the rear end, a little squirm, and some movement before it settles into predictable tire squeal. At the other end of the spectrum, the GTS is significantly tauter but probably a bridge too far in terms of ride quality. Who wants a family sedan that rides like a sports coupe, after all?
On all versions, the steering is nicely weighted, brake modulation good and pedal travel short. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on all models; anti-lock control is standard on V-6 cars, optional on the ES, and it’s paired with electronic brake distribution for an even dole of stopping power.
Base cars sport 16-inch wheels with 60-series tires; 17-inch aluminum wheels with 55-series rubber are available with the GTS, and a ten-spoke wheel can be had on the ES and LS.
Styx and stones
Is the Galant the most handsome Mitsubishi ever? We think so, though it’s derived from equal parts Dodge Intrepid and Altima. Compared to the last Mitsu mid-sizer, it’s taller by more than two inches, to 57.9 inches; rear legroom is up an inch to 37 inches, with 57.1 inches of rear shoulder room. In the rear seats, the beltline rides above even six-footer’s shoulders, it’s so deeply set. In proportion and interior feel, the Galant meets or exceeds any family’s rear-seat space needs unless they’re breeding teenagers to giraffes for sport.
Were it a little nicer inside, the Galant would be more of a breakthrough than it already is. Semi-industrial trim covers the dash, door caps and the steering wheel — imagine the texture of medical tape, and you’re not far off. The center console has similar issues and in general, the dark, plastic-addicted cabin could use a queer eye or two to zhuzh it up. The GTS adds simulated maple trim that is colored more closely to syrup than to the trees that bear it.
2004 Mitsubishi GalantEnlarge Photo
The details are thoughtful and presented in loopy, Mr. Roboto form. A five-inch LCD screen displays information on time/date/temp — why not the driver’s mood? — and dominates the center of the dash. The high-end stereos feature Infinity speakers but offer no MP3 jack. Odd, given Mitsu’s past rabidity for tech fads. Gauges are lit in blue, and glow sweetly at night — and 80 mph is straight ahead on the large speedo, in a heartening sign of priorities.
With the new Galant, what you get depends on the letters you choose. The faintly Diamante-ish GTS gets everything: leather is standard (optional on ES and LS), as are 17-inch wheels, white-face gauges, side airbags and a power driver’s seat. The power driver seat is an option on ES and LS. All cars get 140-watt audio with four speakers and a CD player. A 270-watt eight speaker Infinity Premium audio package is optional on the ES and LS and standard on the GTS.
The Galant is a basic kind of vehicle that covers all the necessary bases. It doesn’t break ground with stability or roll control or a radical new shape, but no longer sidelines Mitsu from mainstream consideration with tech overkill or compact size.
Make no mistake, Honda and Toyota still dominate this category by dint of their silky engines, stunning interior quality and competitive features (if not always pricing). The Galant figures into the second tier alongside the Altima, with more verve and huge amounts of interior room — and definite room for improvement inside.
Base Price: $18,000-$26,000
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line four, 160 hp/157 lb-ft; 3.8-liter V-6, 230 hp/250 lb-ft; front-wheel drive
Transmission: Four-speed automatic; Sportronic control (V-6 models)
Length x width x height:190.6 x 72.4 x
57.9 (58.1 GTS) in
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Curb weight: 3351-3649 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 23/30 mpg (DE/ES); 19/27 (LS); 18/26 (GTS)
Safety equipment: Dual-stage front airbags; ABS with TC standard on V-6 models
Major standard equipment:AM/FM/CD
audio, power locks/windows/mirrors, air conditioning, adjustable driver’s seat,
remote keyless entry, rear window defroster
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles; five years/60,000 miles powertrain