Then again, it has to be. Mitsubishi launched this bigger, more mainstream Galant just two years ago and it goes up against established nameplates such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima. That the Galant offers all the benefits of these other cars, at a reasonable price, is no small accomplishment. If you are shopping for a midsize sedan, it makes sense to visit your Mitsubishi dealer.
The one area where Galant breaks from the pack is in styling. The Galant is no wallflower. It's distinctive enough to turn heads in traffic, and not everyone will like what they see. Conversely, some of the Galant's competitors seem calculated to make no statement at all.
Galant was launched as an all-new model for 2004. For 2005, Mitsubishi enhanced Galant's safety by making seat-mounted side-impact airbags standard on all models. For 2006, Mitsubishi has subtly massaged Galant's styling inside and out, upgraded its sound systems and added MP3 capability on all but the base model; and added some standard equipment to nearly every trim level.
Mitsubishi Galant DE ($18,999); ES ($19,899); LS ($22,499); GTS ($26,499)
Not everyone agrees on the success of the design, but there's no disputing it's fresh and different. Head on, the Galant brings to mind the Mitsubishi Endeavor and Outlander SUVs. A dominating, vertical bar splits the grille, the outboard ends of which bend upward as if grinning. Sculpted headlight housings cover the forward edges of the front fenders. A strong, fully integrated, one-piece bumper and lower fascia with inset fog lights complete the presentation.
In profile, the Galant avoids the boring box-on-box look commonly associated with conservative mid-size sedans. The roofline picks up from the graceful sweep of the hood and arcs cleanly over perfectly proportioned side windows. Door handles integrate nicely into the design while providing an easy grasp. Wheel arches are mildly blistered and boldly circular, wrapping concentrically around the tires. The deck lid seems truncated, as if it were abruptly chopped off when somebody realized it was getting too long to stay in balance with the front overhang. The aerodynamicists argue this works well in a wind tunnel, but on the street, it's a bit of a visual hiccup.
The view from the rear is something else, almost as if different people designed the two ends of the car. Where the front is soft and molded, the back is angular and carved, tending much more toward the vertical. Adding to the awkward, not-quite-finished look, the license plate hangs off the lower edge of the rear bumper, almost as if it were an afterthought. The GTS presents a more finished rear departure than the other models, with its nicely tailored, understated spoiler lip along the trailing edge of the trunk lid; and its modular-style taillight assemblies.
Galant matches the generous front legroom in the Honda Accord, but Accord offers about a half-inch more headroom with a sunroof, and nearly an inch more without. Taller people should think twice about ordering the sunroof, as it reduces front headroom by 2 inches. Otherwise, interior roominess is comparable to that of the Chevrolet Malibu and Nissan Altima, placing Galant among the roomiest sedans in the class. Visibility is good all around, notably to the rear quarters, thanks to slim C-pillars. The high beltline gives passengers a secure feeling.
Controls are right-sized and easy to use, with knobs and buttons and rocker switches galore. The HVAC (heater) knobs are big and easy to operate even with gloves on. The A/C indicator is hard to see in bright sunlight, however. At night the instruments are cobalt blue on black, and on all but DE the audio panel now features ice blue LED illumination.
Quality of materials is hit and miss, with the climate control and audio panel a big hit, making the rest more of a miss than it would be otherwise. The interior of the basic DE is quite plain, of course. The ES, LS, and GTS add bright metallic trim (a silver tone for '06 replacing the '05's titanium) to the door handles, radio buttons, and the dashboard's accent panels; with a new black metallic finish highlighting the center audio panel.
In addition to its standard leather upholstery, GTS features wood accents for a richer look. Mitsubishi still offers a choice of black or creme leather; but now when you order creme the door armrests, door grips, center console lid, and seatbelts are all color-coordinated (instead of black) for a better-integrated appearance. Even the wood on the dash is lighter: With creme you get what Mitsubishi calls Brownwood, while black-leather Galants still feature Blackwood.
The dash still has a clinical look, however, friendly to the eyes but cold and austere in presence. Geometric shapes and angles in the steering wheel spokes don't mesh well with the slopes, arcs and arches of the gauge cluster. The standard steering wheel doesn't feel like a high-quality piece, either; fortunately a nicer leather-wrapped wheel comes with the GTS. Each door has a storage pocket. Two medium-size cup holders are molded into the front center console rearward of the shift gate; where dust, dirt and spilled liquids are likely to require regular wipe-ups.
The rear seat is reasonably roomy and adequate, though the seating position is a bit low and the bottom cushions could offer a bit more thigh support. Rear-seat passengers enjoy decent headroom in spite of the Galant's dramatically sloping roofline.
The Galant's trunk is slightly smaller than Accord's, and its trunk opening is a bit restricted. Galant's rear seats cannot be folded down to extend the cargo space, a significant omission in this segment.
For 2006, the keyless entry controls have been integrated into the key, eliminating the separate fob.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in the DE and ES features Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing and lift Electronic Control (MIVEC), which switches between two different cam profiles for optimum power, response, and efficiency at high and low engine speeds. The Galant four-cylinder develops 160 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 157 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm, competitive figures for the class.
The V6 in the LS and GTS makes freeway merging easy. Passes on two-lane roads are completed without drama. The V6 is rated 230 horsepower and, more important, 250 pound-feet of torque, a substantial figure; torque is that force that propels the car from intersections and up hills.
The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, although it does hunt a bit in hilly territory. In the normal mode, it shifts automatically. With the Sportronic feature, it can be switched into a semi-manual mode for more control; it will not shift up or down automatically when in the manual mode, so the driver has full control over shifting.
For its size and heft, the Galant feels decently planted on all but the most twisting roads. The GTS suspension feels firm. The suspension used in the DE/ES/LS models is softer, so the car moves around a little more when driven hard through corners.
The V6 models come standard with electronic traction control, which can selectively apply the brakes at one or more wheels and/or reduce engine power to control wheel spin on uncertain surfaces. It's especially useful in the rain, but even in dry weather can eliminate annoying screeches from the light when you take off.
Brake feel is solid and reassuring, but the Galant is not a light car. Anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) come standard on all but the base model. EBD proportions braking pressure between the front and rear wheels depending on how the car is loaded, and adjusts stopping pressure dynamically as weight shifts forward under hard braking. The idea is to send the brake pressure to the wheels with the most weight on them, which is where it can do the most good. This gives the Galant stable braking performance.
The Mitsubishi Galant represents a viable alternative among mid-size sedans. It does everything reasonably well and is enjoyable to drive. Compare prices to the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and other cars in its class.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from San Francisco; editor Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.