Overlooked and underappreciated, the Mitsubishi Galant deserves a second chance, especially now that sharp new styling and the addition of a decent V-6 engine brings it up to speed with midsize favorites Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Taurus.

Upgrading the Galant is an important move for Mitsubishi. The Japanese automaker, reeling from several years of poor sales in the United States and on its home turf, needs a solid mainstream hit. Either that, or it could end up quitting the U.S. side of the Pacific altogether, and closing down its assembly plant in Normal, Ill.

The Galant, which is built in Normal, needs to make a big splash, in other words. The only hit registered in recent years is the Eclipse sports car, obviously a niche vehicle that never will see the kind of big sales needed to drag Mitsubishi’s tail out of the red ink.

For ’99, the Galant arrives with sleek good looks akin to its upstream sibling, the Diamante. Though not a strong departure from standard practice – from some angles, it resembles a BMW; from others, an Oldsmobile – the Galant looks classy and attractive, with a sporty rake and nice details.

And that V-6, a variation of the 24-valve 3-liter engine in the Montero Sport, is a smooth and powerful motivator that provides the performance needed to survive in this competitive part of the market.

Acceleration is excellent, especially off the line, but the V-6 requires premium fuel.

The V-6 comes only with automatic, but it’s a good-shifting unit with subtle electronic variations for driving style. Overall, the driveability is refined and comfortable, much more so than past Galants.

A stiffened chassis and improvements in suspension make for good handling and the kind of steering response that provokes grins on winding desert roads.

The new Galant is slightly taller, wider and a smidgen longer than the previous model, though the wheelbase remains the same. Much of the additional space has been added to the interior, which is noticeably roomier, even spacious. The driver and front-seat passenger will find plenty of room in all dimensions, but rear-seat legroom is still a bit tight.

The seats are comfortable and the styling of the dashboard and door panels makes it look more expensive than it is. But then there’s the curse of fake plastic wood. If the home-stereo industry can survive without fake wood, I think the auto industry can lose it, too.

Galant comes in five different models, ranging from the budget-model DE starting at about $17,000 to the sporting GLX that hits nearly $25,000. The GLX includes a firmer suspension system for improved handling performance, but also a big, dorky-looking wing that looks decidedly out of place on a four-door sedan.

A four-cylinder engine is available in the DE and ES models, a 145-horsepower unit that should provide enough oomph for all practical purposes. Stick shift is available with the four-banger in the ES only.

The test car was a mid level ES-V6, nicely equipped for a tad under $20,000. Or, with a $400 CD player and a $2,000 “premium” upgrade package, $23,000. The premium package includes a power glass sunroof, always appreciated; side air bags, ditto; shiny alloy wheels; security system; and a Homelink system to operate garage doors and security gates.

The base price tag is pretty good for a well-turned-out family sedan, especially one that offers a bit more style and finesse. Considering Mitsubishi’s reputation for well-built vehicles, I think there’s good value here.

Now, Mitsubishi needs to get the word out.

1999 Mitsubishi Galant

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive. Base price: $19,990. Price as tested: $23,002. Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 195 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, 205 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. Transmission: Four-speed automatic. Curb weight: 3,140 pounds. Wheelbase: 103.7 inches. EPA fuel economy: 20 city, 2 7 hig hway. Highs: Handsome styling. Powerful V-6. Decent price tag. Lows: No V-6 stick shift. Ugly fake wood. Tight rear legroom.

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