A Solid Alternative By Philip Reed Date Posted 10-06-2003 When our editor arrived in San Francisco for the 2004 Mitsubishi Galant press event, he caught a glimpse of a car passing by that he didn't recognize. "What was that?!" he wondered. It was sleek. It was stylish. And, as it turned out, it was the newly redesigned Galant. Buyers considering this latest incarnation in a long line of nine generations of Galants (five in the U.S.) might have a similarly strong first response. It has a bold new look and an aggressive stance that makes it appear much bigger (some, however, have criticized the busy, angular back end). As it flies past it is sure to turn heads. But will it turn shoppers into buyers? Later in the same event, our editor asked a Mitsubishi executive what he would say to a neighbor who asked him why they should choose the Galant over the Accord or the Camry. The executive said, "If we can get them to drive the Galant, I think they will choose it over the Honda or the Camry." So it appears that the bold new design will lure shoppers and then the driving characteristics will close the deal. This sounds like a winning sales strategy. How did it play out in reality? Before we answer that question, here's a look at what the Galant offers besides a flashy new exterior. In a nutshell, the '04 Galant is bigger on the outside, roomier on the inside and available with a 230-hp V6. Mitsubishi is offering the new Galant in four trim levels — base DE, midlevel ES, luxury-oriented LS and high-line GTS (formerly known as GTZ). The DE has 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. The ES offers as options antilock brakes (with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) and side airbags (for front occupants) and a host of styling touches and interior amenities. The LS offers much the same equipment and options as the ES, but the ABS and traction control are now 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. The DE and ES trim levels come with the 2.4-liter, 16-valve, 160-hp, four-cylinder engine (155 hp in California due to emissions standards). This engine is coupled with a four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. We didn't get a chance to drive a Galant with this engine in it. But for the record, it makes 157 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm (in California it makes 155 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm). The fuel economy is rated at 23 mpg around town and an impressive 30 mpg on the open road. The LS and GTS models come with the single-overhead cam, 3.8-liter V6. Output of the V6 is rated at 230 hp at 5,250 rpm and 250 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, which makes the Galant one of the more powerful cars in the family sedan segment. This engine gets 19 mpg around town in the LS (18 in the GTS) and 27 mpg on the highway (26 in the GTS). When we got a chance to drive the GTS, we found the V6 had plenty of punch to get it moving off the line but didn't have the boost in the midrange that we expected. Certainly, there was enough passing acceleration for most legal driving maneuvers. However, in the sheer kicks department, the Altima, with 245 hp, was noticeably faster and more responsive. The Galant comes with two types of four-speed automatic transmissions. Both have a "learned control" feature that matches the shift points to the driver's style. When we used the Sportronic mode (mated to the V6 in the LS and GTS), the car seemed to come alive and was a whole lot more fun to drive. Again, though, for normal driving, the automatic will get the job done more adequately. Mitsubishi executives proudly claimed that the 2004 Galant is 2.4 times more rigid and stronger than the previous generation. This is achieved by using an all-steel frame that features many reinforcement points and support members that develop a stiff unibody design less prone to bending and twisting. What does all this translate to in the real world? On the open road the Galant is noticeably more solid and tighter than other cars in this class. It doesn't seem to flex or twist at all. This gives the driver a very pleasing feeling of security and confidence. Additionally, the car seems level and composed through tight corners. Once the transmission is moved to Sportronic, the engine and suspension seem to be well matched and the potential of the car is realized. While it's not blazingly fast, or retina-detachingly quick off the line, it makes up ground in the way it rides and handles. The interior offers a clean, contemporary look with imitation wood grain panels running under the dash. Probably the coolest bright blue backlighting yet seen in any car is used for the instrumentation and center stack controls. There is a hit-or-miss quality to the interior materials. 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. 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 felt cheap. On the plus side, build quality was tight. The driver seat was roomy and comfortable with ample range of adjustment. The large center stack controls were within easy reach from the driver seat, and the three-dial automatic climate control setup in particular was very easy to use. But the display screen, listing such information as temperature and CD track, was uncomfortably small. Some of the graphics were neat (such as the directional compass) while others were a little odd. The '04 Galant is much improved in rear-seat legroom. The legroom is increased by seven-tenths of an inch while shoulder room is up almost 3 inches. It doesn't sound like much, but the reality is that this is a sedan that can comfortably transport a pair of adults in the backseat. It's still not quite as roomy as the Camry's backseat, but it's comparable to what the Accord and Altima offer. 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. This was unexpected because the first impression is that the trunk is huge. The opening is especially wide making the loading of certain items (think golf clubs) easier. There is a small pass-through window between the trunk and the backseats but the rear seats do not fold down. Pricing on the new Galant is expected to start at $18,000 for the base DE. The ES will start at $19,000 and the LS will cost $21,000. The upscale GTS will have a price tag of $26,000. All these prices are without the destination charge. This means that the LS, at $21,000, will compete against, for example, the Honda Accord LX V6 with a sticker price of $23,760. While the Accord offers a few more standard features (a five-speed automatic transmission, folding rear seats and a more powerful 240-hp V6), the Galant costs some $2,000 less. The 2004 Galant seems significantly improved over the previous generation. We just wish Mitsubishi could have seen its way to upgrading some of the interior materials, including all the amenities offered by the giants in this segment. Still, if style and price are important to you, this is definitely worth a good, long look.