- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

As the automobile and truck market grows in variety and complexity, reputation becomes increasingly important to a buyer’s decision.

It is now nearly impossible for someone in the market for a new car to physically check out the choices.

For example, in the midsize family-sedan category, the subject here, there are at least 20 different nameplates.

A prospective buyer would have a heck of a time trying to visit all the dealerships for test drives.

So the tendency is to gravitate toward the cars with the best reputations — in this case, the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and, to a lesser extent, the Ford Taurus and Nissan Altima.

That’s why it’s been so difficult for a worthy competitor such as the Mitsubishi Galant to make much headway against the leaders. In 2002, for example, Mitsubishi Galant sales totaled 97,343, compared to Camry’s 434,145, Accord’s 398,980, Taurus’ 332,690 and Altima’s 201,822.

Nevertheless, the folks at Mitsubishi believe they can whittle away at those numbers with the redesigned 2004 Galant, which is bigger, more powerful and stiffer than its predecessor.

It’s an understandable ambition. Despite the avalanche of sport utility vehicles, millions of people still prefer a traditional passenger car, and most of those choose a midsize version.

There are four models of the new Galant, all with front-wheel drive: The base DE and the better-equipped ES, both with four-cylinder power, and the LS and GTS, which have V-6 engines. There is only one transmission available — a four-speed automatic which, on the V-6 cars, has a manual-shift mode.

They are priced right in the heart of the family-sedan market, with the DE starting at $17,997 and the top-of-the-line GTS with a suggested sticker of $26,292.

As might be expected, the GTS comes loaded, with only a few options available. On the test car, the only option was a package that included heated front seats and heated outside mirrors. It brought the retail price up to $26,572.

That’s not what’s regarded these days as luxury-car territory, but the GTS interior has something of that ambience, with woodgrain trim, leather on the seats, steering wheel and shift knob, automatic climate control, a premium stereo system with a CD player, side air bags, antilock brakes and traction control, remote locking with a security system, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and projector headlights.

Unfortunately, that ambience does not carry through to the lower-priced four-cylinder Galants, which have the same basic interior design but not the same quality look and feel.

The front bucket seats are nicely shaped for support and comfort, and the controls and instruments are easy to find, use and see. The center control panel for climate and stereo adjustments, as on some other Mitsubishi models, was designed to resemble a high-tech home audio system, with large knobs and displays. At the top of the panel is a color liquid-crystal display that provides climate and other information.

Thanks to the new Galant’s stretched dimensions, the back seat is spacious for two to relax on long drives. The center position, as on most cars in this class, is less than desirable. There’s a nicely upholstered trunk that, at 13 cubic feet, is smaller than the trunks on some competitors’ cars. Moreover, the rear seatback does not fold down for extra cargo or long items.

On the road, the Galant GTS is a capable performer with rapid acceleration and effortless cruising at extra-legal speeds. Zero to 60 mph acceleration is in the seven-second range. The enabler is a 3.8-liter V-6 engine that puts out a solid 230 horsepower, which is right up there with the leaders in this class.

However, the Accord and Camry now come with five-speed automatic transmissions, where the Galant makes do with a four-speed.

It’s not something the average driver likely would notice much, but when you have to do most of your shopping from brochures and specification sheets, the shortage of that extra gear tends to stand out.

In highway driving, the GTS has a solid feel and tracks true, with little need for steering corrections.

On twisting two-lanes, an independent suspension system and grippy all-season tires make for competent handling. The ride is biased somewhat toward the performance end of the spectrum, but is well within comfort parameters for this class of car.

Mitsubishi has gone through some turmoil in its marketing practices, but despite that has developed interesting new vehicles such as the Outlander and Endeavor SUVs, as well as the Lancer RalliArt and the race-track capable Lancer Evolution. The new Galant follows that trend.

All it needs is a reputation.

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