- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

Sport utility vehicles may seem poised to rule the automotive world, but they are likely to be thwarted by a huge number of customers who still prefer the midsize family or sport sedan.

Why not? Not everybody needs a tall, all-wheel-drive truck that can tow boats and carry a huge load. They're happy with a vehicle that can transport four adults comfortably, with enough trunk space to accommodate their luggage.

There are other advantages. Midsize sedans handle better, ride better and deliver better fuel economy. They also don't cost so much.

A prime example is the tested 2002 Mitsubishi Galant LS V-6 four-door sedan. It competes against such icons as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus, as well as such other decent vehicles as the Volkswagen Passat, Nissan Altima, Chrysler Sebring, Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6 and Chevrolet Impala.

The Galant comes from a Japanese company, but it is built in the United States in a plant in Normal, Ill. There are six distinct models, ranging from the base DE, with four-cylinder power, to the top-of-the-line sport-tuned GTZ.

The subject here, the LS V-6, is one notch below the GTZ, which means it has most of the performance characteristics of the GTZ but without some of the stiffer suspension tuning. The result is a car that might give up a bit in hard cornering on twisting roads but has a better ride and is more suited to all-around daily motoring.

Some of the Galant's appeal lies in its price. The tested LS V-6 had a base sticker price of $23,372, which included a motorized glass sunroof, 16-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, fog lights, a stereo system with a CD player (but no tape deck), remote locking, air conditioning, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, power windows and mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and illuminated vanity mirrors.

It also came equipped with two option packages: traction control and heated outside mirrors at $310 and, for another $1,118, a power driver's seat, leather seating surfaces and a leather-covered shift knob. That brought the total delivered price up to $24,800, including the destination charge.

There were just two notable deficiencies: There were no side air bags or grab handles inside over the four doors. The latter are a small and not very costly item, but they sure come in handy when people climb in and out.

The Galant is handsomely styled, particularly at the front, although there is nothing about its overall, somewhat chiseled look that stands out. It has trim outside dimensions but interior space that rivals that of most other midsize sedans.

Inside, there's little in the way of adornment except for plastic trim that mimics titanium. It's the only somewhat classy look in an otherwise plain interior. The instruments are basic but easy to read and the controls follow modern ergonomic practices.

Up front, the bucket seats are firm but comfortable, and there's a manual adjustment for lumbar support. Outboard seating positions in back are roomy enough for average-size people, although shy on headroom because of the sunroof. Oddly, the fifth seating position in the middle, although still ridiculous, is somewhat better than in most competitors' midsize sedans.

The trunk size is about average for this class of car, and it is well shaped and finished. There's a pass-through to handle longer items, but it's small and located inconveniently on the right side. Just one-third of the rear seat back folds down.

The Galant's V-6 engine delivers 195 horsepower, accompanied by a throaty growl that imparts a sporting ambience. It is linked to the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission that shifts crisply and adapts to the driving style of the person who uses it most. The automatic, which is the only transmission offered, does not have a manual shift mode.

Among the more satisfying attributes of the V-6 Galant is its handling prowess in urban traffic. It has a point-and-shoot quality that makes it seem ideal for the cut and thrust of fast-moving, congested streets and boulevards.

Contributing to the sporting feel are brakes that have a solid feel and react quickly, along with a large, well-placed dead pedal for left-foot bracing of the driver's torso.

On the downside, some road and engine noise makes its way through the chassis into the passenger compartment. It can be overcome by simply cranking the volume on the stereo, but it does get intrusive on harsh roads.

Mitsubishi has an array of interesting products, ranging from small economy cars all the way to large truck-based sport utility vehicles. Some, like the tested Galant LS V-6, even have endearing qualities, but their overall quality has not matched that of the industry leaders, so prospective buyers will have to weigh that as part of the decision.

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