Ignore rumors of Detroit's involvement in the conception of the 1998 Mitsubishi Galant LS. It's just gossip.

Some people looked at the new Galant and concluded that it was the offspring of the Oldsmobile Cutlass and Intrigue. Though patently erroneous, their surmise was understandable. The Galant closely resembles those mid-size Oldsmobile cars.

For example, the Galant's pinch-nosed, bifurcated grille is practically identical to the front end of the Cutlass. And the Galant's flippant, slightly upturned rear end surely looks like the backside of an Intrigue.

The similarities continue inside. There is the slightly hooded, somewhat elliptical instrument panel -- an increasingly popular design cue in a variety of cars and trucks. And there are the requisite touches of polyurethane forestry -- enough fake wood grain to give the interior a touch of class and warmth. It looks like Detroit, but it's all Mitsubishi's doing -- well, sort of.

Mitsubishi, like other Japanese car companies, has decided to go American. That means making cars bigger, plusher, and more mainstream -- nothing offensive, nor exciting, but all acceptable and comfortable. Anyone doubting the trend should take a look at the Toyota Avalon or new Toyota Camry, or take a spin in the new Nissan Altima. They are all very Detroit-kind-of-cars designed and developed by Japanese automakers.

This contradicts the still popular notion that the Japanese are dedicated to fuel economy. When it comes to cars and markets, the Japanese are like everyone else.

To wit: America wants bigger, faster, better-equipped cars, and Japanese automakers and everyone else competing for the U.S. auto dollar will do whatever is needed to supply them.

Background: The auto industry's motto is: "Show me the money!" And the money, nowadays, isn't in small cars -- not in the United States, anyway. Want proof? Take a look at the Environmental Protection Agency's latest Top 10 list of the most fuel-economicalcars available in this country.

That's "economical," as opposed to "efficient." A three-ton truck can be "fuel-efficient," depending on the amount of fuel used to do what the big truck is designed to do. But "economical"? Well, that's another story.

But anyway, go ahead and look at the EPA's fuel-leader list. What you will find are a bunch of little cars that constitute barely 1 percent of the U.S.market.

That's not because car companies aren't supplying fuel-sipping automobiles. It's because Americans generally aren't buying them. They're buying bigger Galants, Camrys, Accords and Altimas-- that is, when they aren't buying pickup trucks, minivans, vans and sport-utility vehicles.

It's sort of what you'd expect to happen in a democratic society and free-market economy fueled by cheap gasoline. Under the circumstances, Mitsubishi and its Japanese peers would have goofed by not expanding the size of their bread-and-butter family cars. Thus, we have the bigger Galant for 19 98.

It's a front-wheel-drive, five-passenger car with a decent, 12.5-cubic-foot trunk. It's equipped with a smooth, 2.4-liter, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder engine that can produce 141 horsepower at 5,500rpm and 148 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm.

Standard brakes include power, ventilated front discs and rear drums. Anti-locks are standard on the top-line Galant LS, optional on the midlevel ESand not available on the base DE.

A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the lesser Galants, which also can get a four-speed automatic as optional equipment. The automatic is standard on the LS.

All three models come with dual front air bags and seat belts. Buckle up!

1998 Mitsubishi Galant LS

Complaints: No functional faults. But Lordy! The seat fabric was the ugliest I've seen in years! It was a kind of sculpted, crushed velvet, reminiscent of coffin lining.

Praise: The Galant handles long and short drives easily, allowing passengers and operatorto arrive at destinations rested and in reasonable cheer. This is a very competitive car in the mid-size segment. It deserves a prominent place on auto shopping lists.

Head-turning quotient: I had to examine the name plate to make sure it wasn't an Oldsmobile, and I was not alone. Several people mistook it for the Oldsmobile Cutlass or the Oldsmobile Intrigue. I guess, well, this isn't your father's Mitsubishi.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Very competent in all three categories. Truly an easy driver. Excellent braking.

Mileage: About 25 miles per gallon (16.9-gallon tank, estimated 411-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded), combined city/highway, running with two occupants and light cargo (12.5 cubic feet trunk capacity).

Sound system: Eight-speaker AM/FM stereo radio with cassette. Mitsubishi/Infinity premium sound system. Bravo!

Price: Base price on the tested Galant LS is $25,310. Dealer's invoice on base is $21,509. Price as tested is $25,730, including a $420 destination charge ($540 in Alaska).

Purse-strings note: Good value. Compare with Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Mazda 626, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Oldsmobile Intrigue, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Chrysler Sebring, Concorde.