Mitsubishi, one of the lesser-known Japanese automakers, never has been a big player in the U.S. market, particularly in the popular midsize-sedan class.

But the Galant has been completely restyled for 1999 in an attempt to challenge the market-leading Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

I don’t expect the Galant to overtake either one of those giants anytime soon, but the new Galant is nevertheless a capable competitor and an outstanding value when compared with the Japanese and American midsize sedan offerings.

For $17,990 (plus $435 transportation), consumers can buy the fully equipped Galant ES model, which comes with everything you would find on Camry or Accord models that cost at least a couple of thousand dollars more.

And even at this price, there are features that ordinarily are found only on luxury cars — such as headlights that stay on for 30 seconds after you leave the vehicle; power windows that will operate up to 30 seconds after the ignition is turned off; woodgrain door and dash trim; and a unique feature that lowers the high beams and deactivates the fog lamps when the lights are first turned on, so as not to blind oncoming drivers.

Compared with the 1998 Galant ES, the slightly larger ’99 ES costs $450 less but adds such amenities as fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors and a trunk cargo net.

Included are air-conditioning, power windows/mirrors/door locks, premium cloth seats, an AM/FM/cassette stereo with four speakers, cruise control, rear defroster and lots more.

For this price, the Galant comes with the base 2.4-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine, rated at 145 horsepower and 155 foot-pounds of torque. This is the same engine used in the previous Galant, although retuned to boost power slightly.

There is plenty of power here; don’t worry that it’s just a four-cylinder engine. I drove the car for a couple of days before opening the hood, and until that time I thought I was driving the optional V-6.

For $2,000 more you can get the ES V-6 model, which adds a key safety feature: four-wheel antilock disc brakes. This package also gets 16-inch wheels instead of the 15-inch wheels in the four-cylinder version.

This is the first time Mitsubishi has offered a V-6 in the Galant. Until now, you had to buy the premium Diamante sedan to get a V-6. This 3.0-liter engine cranks out 195 horsepower and a hefty 205 foot-pounds of torque, more than any Japanese competitor except the Accord V-6, which has 200 horsepower.

If you can afford it, the V-6 upgrade is worth the money just to get the antilock brakes. But for pure value, you can’t go wrong with the four-cylinder engine. It’s the second-most-powerful among the Japanese midsize sedans with four-cylinder engines, including the Mazda 626, Camry and Accord. Only the Nissan Altima, at 150 horsepower, is beefier.

The V-6 engine isn’t the only thing the new Galant has in common with its more e xpensive Diamante sibling; the exterior styling is similar, too. I think the car looks more like a midsize Buick than a Japanese car, a great compliment. The ride is so smooth and the interior so comfortable that you can easily imagine yourself in a Buick — even with the four-cylinder engine.

Mitsubishi is taking a real chance providing a car that comes so close to the Diamante but costs thousands less. The lowest-priced Diamante is nearly $28,000. Still, Toyota has done the same thing, patterning the Camry after the $30,000-plus Lexus ES 300. For the consumer, this means you can buy what is essentially a luxury car for about $10,000 less than you would pay to get a vehicle with the luxury name. What a value!

Like Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota, Mitsubishi builds its midsize sedans in the United States to help keep costs down and convince buyers that they really are buying an American car.

Our test car came with Mitsubishi’s outstanding four-speed automatic transmission, wh h has a computer brain that automatically sets the shift points to match the operator’s driving style, and also controls shifting on hills to eliminate annoying, unnecessary up- and downshifts.

A five-speed manual transmission is available with the four-cylinder models only, a concession to drivers who want more control. It will help to get the optimum power out of the smaller engine.

Galant comes in four trim levels, beginning with the base DE at $16,990. Even that model comes well-equipped — including air-conditioning, power windows and door locks, and most other popular features. The only factory option is the front side air bags, which are available on all Galant models.

The ES and ES V-6 models come next, followed by the luxury LS at $24,250, with almost every feature of the Diamante, including V-6 engine, leather interior, power driver’s seat, 190-watt premium stereo, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

For $24,350, you can opt for the GTZ sport model, which comes with the V-6, a rear-deck spoiler, sport-tuned suspension, leather inside trim, and white-faced instruments. This is Mitsubishi’s “image” model.

A premium package on the ES raises its price to $20,500, while the ES V-6 with premium package is priced at $21,990. The package adds alloy wheels, side air bags, power glass sun roof, security system, and a universal garage-door opener. In the four-cylinder model, the package also includes the antilock brakes that are standard with V-6 models.

The interior is as roomy as those of the Camry and Mazda 626, and roomier than that of the Altima. The Accord is slightly bigger: 4 more cubic feet.

Compared with the previous Galant, this car is much roomier and slightly larger outside, too.

The only options on our test car were a trunk-mounted CD changer ($399) and a trunk mat ($75). Total price, including transportation, was $18,899.

Fuel economy with our four-cylinder automatic was EPA rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 m.p.g. on the highway. For the V-6, the numbers are just slightly lower: 20 m.p.g. city/27 highway.

The gas tank holds 16.3 gallons.


THE PACKAGE: Midsize, four-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder (or optional V-6), front-drive sedan, completely restyled for 1999.

HIGHLIGHTS: Larger and roomier than the previous model; the four-cylinder engine has plenty of power but, for the first time, a V-6 is optional; the interior is comfortable, and the ride is smooth as glass.

NEGATIVES: Antilock brakes should be standard across the product line but isn’t; exterior styling is Buicklike — pleasant but uninspired.

MAJOR COMPETITORS: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda 626, Nissan Altima, Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Chevrolet Lumina, Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Intrigue, Buick Century.

EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 21 miles per gallon city, 28 highway (four-cylinder automatic).

BASE PRICE: $17,990 plus $435 transportation (four-cylinder automatic).

PRICE AS TESTED: $ 18,899, including transportation.

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