Alternative Nature: Mitsubishi Galant (1999)
Having owned a 1991 Galant GTi-16V, its hard not to compare how the Galant has evolved since then. I've always loved my GTi because of two reasons: handling and punch. Allow me to explain further, the GTi had a stiffened suspension system and 195/60 R15 as standard (the first car to offer a mag size bigger than 14 inches as standard). This meant that the car steered well into the corners with confidence and security while giving the car a firm, but gentle ride (it has a better ride quality than a Corolla). The punch really stands for the GTi's 145-bhp 2.0 DOHC 16-valve inline-4 engine complimented with standard Ralliart exhaust systems, my old car can accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds, a respectable time until now.
So having loved my GTi so much, how can I compare this to the new Galant VR that Mitsubishi has been babbling about as the 'ultimate driving pleasure'? It's a simple answer, really. On some areas, the new Galant VR is far better than my GTi, but on some, surprisingly the GTi still fares better. Now, let's get to the oil bits...
The new VR's heart and muscle comes from a 2.5 SOHC 24-valve V6. This is of course, a rather crude way to increase torque. The increase in displacement has increased the VR's torque to 228 Nm from 210 Nm of the previous 2.0 DOHC 24-valve V6. However, the resulting engine has fewer horsepower: 163-bhp compared to 165-bhp, and a less-refined feel. The new VR's idling indicates a creamy smoothness that I can liken to the Nissan Cefiro. However, unlike Nissan's luxury vehicle, the Galant VR doesn't feel smooth throughout its power bandwidth. The reason could be because the 'new' 2.5 V6 is actually just a carry over engine from a previous model, and couldn't quite compete with the newer V6 engines it challenges. On the bright side, the VR offers tons of torque that neither the Cefiro nor the Accord could match. This of course certainly helps when dueling near the stoplight.
Ironically, the 2.5-liter V6 could be exploited fully with the use of a proper 5-speed manual transmission, but it seems that Mitsubishi contented themselves with releasing a 4-speed INVECS II (driver adaptive) transmission for their top of the line flagship. Though the fuzzy logic promise of the automatic transmission sounds good on paper, it couldn't seem to find the proper 'logic' when dealing with me when I drive. On one part the car shifts immediately when I want it to maintain. Sometimes it's the other way around. It's a shame, since this brutish engine is wasted with a rather spongy transmission.
The four-wheel disc brakes with standard ABS provide a good stopping power to this new VR. The brake feel is much better than the Camry or the Accord (the former has rear drum brakes, the last time I drove it, the later one had a spongy feel), and perhaps its in the same league as the Cefiro's. Which means it has feel and confidence, which is rather right for the sudden stop-go traffic situation we have here in the Philippines.
The ride of the new VR is quite similar to the one on, basically because they are riding on the same platform. Though this car has the famed multi-link suspension on both front and back, it still cannot match the ride quality of the Honda Accord, which uses a double wishbone / 5-link combination. Nonetheless, the ride is firm but gentle. Too gentle in fact, that it betrays its unique history of being rally bred racers. The steer-in, though precise, is on the slow side. Understeer is pretty much hampers this Galant's great sporty nature.
Going to away from the oily bits, I can now start to focus on the styling of this new VR. To put things short, the new Galant, overall, is quite handsome. It's styling is a lot better than anything Toyota, Nissan or Honda could put out. The aggressive grille and light clusters as well as the heavily chiseled appearance has very much a BMW-feel to it. Though some styling cues may have been borrowed from the Bavarian propeller, the Galant still retains some of its distinguishing marks such as the simplistic front grille with the swooping chrome finish and wide headlights which have always been a Galant design cue ever since 1988.
However, problems with the styling come out with a closer inspection with the details. For instance, the Bridgestone Potenza RE88s are betrayed by the mags rather mundane looks. Though the mesh-grille type wheel design is another copy from the BMW 316i, it was best to place, say sporty 5-spoke mags instead. The mesh-grille mag already looks butt ugly on the 316i, why copy a proven flawed design? Maybe they were copying too blindly. Hmmmm... The door handles of the VR came from the Mitsubishi Lancer. Though this maybe the result of cost cutting, it wouldn't do harm if Mitsubishi would at least give the handles a better feel. C'mon, you're paying for a PHP 1,300,000.00 car, I'd be expecting more!
Coming inside the VR, things get rather ugly. Yes, the controls and switches are all in ergonomically reachable positions (a Galant strength ever since), but they are made from econobox plastics! The power window controls for instance, have more of a Lancer feel to them rather than a proper luxury car's such as the Cefiro (even the Nissan Sentra has a better switch feel than the Galant!). The standard beige leather seating on the VR provides a livelier cabin than most other leather-clad cars such as the Accord (dark gray) or the Cefiro (black). However, the grade of the cowhide is again, below norm for a luxury car. The leather on the seats feels as if it was synthetic (but it isn't), the airbag fitted-steering wheel feels as if it was hard plastic (but it isn't). Same treatment goes for the wood grain paneling (or should I say, plastic wood-alike paneling), which already borders on the cheesy side, but thankfully doesn't cross it. It looks too shiny and too curvy to be real wood (Mitsu guys should have known better). All in all, the interior doesn't fit the description of a Galant, but rather, a Lancer on steroids.
The power seat for both front drivers is a welcome change, though. The increments can be adjusted with a degree of accuracy, perfect for looking for the best driving position. Seat support is rather normal for a car of this kind (but the Galant GTi's were a lot better with aggressively bolstered seating). The scooped out front seats, which began with the 1988 Super Saloon, provide ample rear knee room. However, comparing it to the sheer rear seat size of the Nissan Cefiro or the Honda Accord's, the Galant is certainly no match for either of the two. Seat support at the rear isn't ideal with the short cut rear bench, which doesn't feel good with extended travel.
The sound system is also better over the predecessor with standard 6-speaker system and a single CD Clarion sound system (but I'd wish they'd put more CD capacity like the Cefiro or the Accord). The ventilation system, like the Cefiro and the previous Galant, is a smart automatic climate control system. However, despite what setting you place the thing in, the original Mit-Air couldn't cope up with the Manila heat while I was driving this thing.
So would I recommend the Mitsubishi Galant VR over the other Japanese rivals? Most certainly...not. The Galant VR does provide some excitement with its bold styling statement and punchy engine, but it isn't enough to cover for the lack of refinement and agility that other Japanese luxury cars have. The Honda Accord is still the one to have because it has a more refined engine, better steering, smoother ride, bigger space, a manual transmission option and of course, PHP 200,000 cheaper.
Me? I'd rather settle for my 1991 Galant GTi. Though it has lost some of the gem power compared to the newer Japanese cars, it still provided the handling characteristics I have come to love.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Mitsubishi Motors Philippines
Originally Published in the June 1999 Issue