EXPERT REVIEW

The Morning Call and Mcall.com's view

Take a look at the Mitsubishi Galant, redesigned for the 1999 model year, and you’d swear you were looking at a Japanese car. But the automotive industry is international in scope, and such clear distinctions are disappearing.

Mitsubishi has had moderate success in the United States, but never enjoyed the profitability of other Asian-based automakers. So, for the launch of its bread-and-butter sedan, Mitsubishi designed the car with American tastes in mind at their research and development center in Southern California. It will be built in Normal, Ill.

OK, so you’d never mistake it for a Pontiac, but Mitsubishi is trying to create cars with a bit more personality. How successful were they?

From the front, the Galant has a heavy chromed vertical-bar grille, unusual in this class and an attempt at some kind of visual distinction. But the design falls apart out back, where Mitsubishi decided to pay homage to BMW. It’s handsome, but derivative.

With a 103.7-inch wheelbase and length of 187.8 inches, the car is within an inch of the Camry or Accord in size and a bit larger than a 626 or Altima.

Like most of its Asian competition, there are two engine choices. Puritans will love Galant’s sensible 2.4-liter, single-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine. The engine now has 145 horsepower, and has received a new intake manifold for better low-end power while returning up to 31 mpg with a manual transmission (available later this year). And available for the first time on a Galant is a new 3.0-liter, single-overhead-cam 24-valve V6. This mill is good for a lusty 195 horsepower and is certain to move the 2,880-pound sedan with authority. There’s only a 1-mpg penalty for choosing the six over the four in fuel economy.

But that shouldn’t dissuade you from looking at the four-cylinder. If you like conserving every drop of fuel, go for the four — it never feels underpowered. In fact, it feels stronger than the fours in the competing Camry or Accord. It has a great sporty sound as well.

Currently, the only transmission available is a four-speed automatic that shifts smoothly and provides prompt downshifts. But the manual transmission that will become available later this model year is a five-speed.

Because Americans tend to ride on roads that are charitably called bumpy, this Galant was tuned for ride comfort as well as sporty handling. So there’s moderate body lean, but not so much as to discourage sporty maneuvers. The suspension is fully independent at all four wheels, an increasing rarity as this more sophisticated setup falls to the cost-cutting ax at other automakers. Its responsible for the Galants adept blend of ride and handling.

A downside was the Bridgestone Potenza tires fitted to the test vehicle. They became vocal long before the suspension reached its limit.

Noise level was quiet, quite good for the class. Wind noise was minimal.

But Americans love their amenities and Galant delivers.

The seats provided good comfort and space all-around. The front bucket seats proved amazingly supportive for long drives, despite their simple adjustments. These are some of the best in the class. The dash is generic Asian efficient. The radio is victimized by a plethora of small buttons and its sound is mediocre at best. But it was mounted conveniently above the rotary climate control switches. The ignition switch was lit, a nice touch. Not so nice were the fog lamp and mirror switches, buried at the bottom left of the dash where they’re hard to see.

The cabin’s plastics generally were pleasing, and sturdy cloth decorated seating surfaces. Two open cupholders, a distinctly American feature, sit in the center console just ahead of the center armrest. Fake wood is on hand to warm up the interior look.

The roomy trunk has a bumper-level opening and features a cargo net for smaller items and bags.

There are four trim levels to the Galant: entry-level DE, mid-level ES, luxury-or iented L Sand sporty GTZ. Our test was on the ES, the volume leader of the Galant line. All Galants have air conditioning, power windows and locks, AM/FM-cassette stereo, a 12-volt power point, variable intermittent wipers, and two trip odometers. All Galants also have retained power, which allows you to operate power windows 30 seconds after the car is turned off. The climate control features an air-filtration system.

A premium package is available on the ES that adds alloy wheels, a universal transmitter for garage doors, power glass sunroof, security system, and anti-lock brakes. It’s $2,600 on the ES, $2,000 on the ES V6.

Saftey features on the ES include front and side air bags. Anti-lock brakes are standard on six-cylinder models, optional on four-cylinders. Opting for a V6 also means rear disc brakes instead of rear drums.

So this is one naturalized Asian that is well-suited to American tastes. Is it any more distinctive than its competitors? Only in value. This car starts at $16,990 for the base DE model, topping out at $24,250 for the Sporty GTZ V6. The test car, an ES with the premium package, would list for $20,500.

So the Galant now might be a true-blue American, although it has only its handsome styling to make it stand apart from its predecessors. Whether this will be enough to sell more of them remains to be seen. In the meantime, give it a try.

1999 Mitsubishi Galant ES

Engines: 2.4-liter 16-valve single overhead cam four-cylinder or 2.5-liter 24-valve single overhead cam V6.

Transmissions: Five-speed manual (available later this year) standard or four-speed automatic optional.

Tires: 195/60HR15 or 205/55HR-16.

Standard: Air conditioning, power windows and locks, AM/FM-cassette stereo, 12-volt power point, variable intermittent wiper.

Major options: Premium Package.

Base price, base model: $16,990.

Base price, test model: $17,990.

As tested: $20,920.

EPA rating: 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway.

Test mileage: 22 mpg.

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