Pardon us for saying so, but Mitsubishis have been looking kind of weird lately. It started with the current Eclipse, intensified with the Adrien Brody-nosed Outlander, and reached a crescendo with the Endeavor. The Lancer somehow slipped out of the design studio with its dignity intact, and the wildly plumed Evolution looks great, but otherwise it's been a strange run. All this explains the collective surprise this past spring when the new Galant was unveiled at the New York auto show. The front end's Brody beak has been toned down, the profile's rising beltline and sloping roof effectively convey sportiness, and the rear manages to be distinctive yet not ridiculous. When you're trying to get noticed standing next to heavyweights such as the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, it helps to be good-looking.
The Galant's newfound presence is also a result of the fact that there's more Galant present. Based on the Endeavor platform, the 2004 Galant has been stretched in every dimension and rides on a five-inch-longer wheelbase. Interior space has grown commensurately, with the Galant now on par with the top sellers. That means six-foot adults can sit comfortably behind one another-there's even sufficient rear headroom under the sloping roof. We only wish the seats themselves weren't so squishy and unsupportive.
There are four trim levels: four-cylinder DE and ES and V-6 LS and GTS. The DE suffers cheaper materials and the colorful ambience of a coal mine, but in all the others, the generally swell exterior design carries over to the inside. The stereo and climate controls are not only attractive but also easy to use. Our top-of-the-line GTS, with its black-and-cream color scheme and impressive surface treatments, was positively VW-esque.
In addition to being the most deluxe, the GTS also does duty as the sporty model, so it gets a firmer suspension and seventeen-inch wheels, but it needs better body control before it can challenge the Mazda 6 as the family man's sport sedan. It does ride well, and its steering enjoys natural efforts and seamless transitions between higher assist at low speeds and less boost at highway speeds; the steering in the four-cylinder, however, is less precise. The Galant's four-wheel-disc brakes are easy to modulate; ABS is standard on the GTS and the LS, optional on the ES, and not available on the DE.
Six-cylinder Galants have a new, 3.8-liter engine, whose 230 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque are a healthy boost over the 195 horsepower and 205 pound-feet eked out by the old, underachieving 3.0-liter. Working through a four-speed manu-matic, the V-6 moves the Galant with alacrity but neither sounds nor feels particularly special. The four-cylinder engine remains at 2.4 liters, but its output has increased as well (to 160 horsepower and 157 pound-feet), thanks to a comprehensive makeover headlined by the addition of variable valve timing. Despite its new sophistication, the four is merely average on the road and somewhat noisy when strained. It can be had only with a four-speed automatic, which shifts smoothly but still left us thinking it would be better served by a slick five-speed stick, a combo that works so nicely in the Accord and the Camry.
In the end, the Galant succeeds more on style than on personality. But that style may be enough for the fifth-generation U.S. Galant to grab a bit more of the limelight, despite sharing the stage with industry giants.