2012 Mitsubishi Galant- Let’s Pop Some Tags

DSCI0101It’s possibly a sign of the times, but the #1 hit across the Billboard charts at this very moment is Macklemore’s R&B/hip-hop song “Thrift Shop.”  For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it’s a paean to all things inexpensive and quirky that can only be found by pure luck at a second-hand store.  Typically, most rap songs are boastful about conspicuous consumption; mansions, Escalades, Bentley’s and large yachts, but “Thrift Shop” goes to the beat of a different drummer and glorifies the unique styles that can be had for cheap and mocks overpriced name brands and fads.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a catchy tune and I continually found myself singing it while driving the Mitsubishi Galant.  Not only because it was played on every pop station while cruising around, but ironically it also describes this car’s place in the world.  It may not be for buyers looking for the latest or trendiest, but for anyone who is looking for an absolute deal, it could prove to be a gold mine.

DSCI0107Mitusubishi  has had a rough couple of years and has taken a long, dismal spiral from its glory days of the 1990’s.  Back then, it was still the somewhat offbeat Japanese brand, but gained a cult following with the Eclipse sports car, rugged go-anywhere Montero 4×4, and the honest-to-goodness, competent Mirage and Galant sedans.  But something went askew in the 2000’s and the Eclipse became a bloated boulevard cruiser, losing it’s Fast and Furious status. The Montero was killed off and was replaced by uncompelling crossovers, and the sedans weathered on for years without changes.  Sadly, the current dwindling lineup of three-diamond vehicles for 2013 are the Outlander SUV cousins, compact Lancer, and the small niche market all-electric i-MiEV. 

Wait!?  Where is the Galant that we’re testing?  Along with the Endeavor and Eclipse, 2012 proved to be the last year for the Galant and the last example, after a 23 year run, rolled off the assembly line in Normal, Illinois on 30th August, 2012.  Ours was assembled in May 2012 and is one of the “Last of the Mohicans.” 

DSCI0093Things really do look grim at Mitsubishi and I had a chance to speak to some company reps during the LA Auto Show this past December.  With the demise of Suzuki in the US, all eyes are focused on Mitsubishi’s next move.  Upon asking them about the brand’s shaky situation- the reps were surprisingly upbeat and chipper, admitting that they do sell the lowest volume of cars in America of any mass-production company, but someone has to be in that spot and why not them?  The CEO of Mitsubishi Motors, Osamu Masuko, did host a presentation during the show, guaranteeing that the brand will not be leaving our shores and an array of new, small, fuel-efficient vehicles will be arriving in the near future to rebuild the brand’s portfolio.  Only time will tell.

DSCI0104But enough doom and gloom, let’s look at the car.  To be honest, I was disheartened when receiving the keys to the Galant.  It’s an underdog, an als0-ran, in the family sedan market.  It hasn’t received much attention or desire from me over the years, or come to think of it, from consumers either.  But after three days and 600 miles in this car, there is more than meets the eye here.

DSCI0110However, what the eye does see is a design that debuted nine years ago for the 2004 model year.  Some passengers, who weren’t familiar with this model’s lifespan,were intuitive enough to note that the car appeared “dated” and that it “looked like an old car.”  Regardless, it’s still an attractive style and is clean and uncluttered.  Square-edged headlights, complete with separate smoked bezels for the indicators, and a DSCI0094chrome mesh grille are an improvement over the original split-grille front design when this generation was first introduced.  The greenhouse has a simplistic look with an unimaginative, yet tidy overall shape.  The cats-eye tailights, which appear similar to the units on the current Mercedes E-Class, were added in 2009 and look like the afterthought and touch-up that they are.  They’re not as cohesive as the orignal blocky look.  Overall, the Galant will  never win any beauty contests, but it will never offend.  It’s the perfect bland car for a financial analyst.

DSCI0119The inside look also reflects this car’s decade old origins.  But that’s not a bad thing.  Although equally blah as the exterior, all controls are very simple to use compared to many modern, yet more complicateddesigns .  The radio controls consist of large, intuitive buttons and knobs, and the ventilation is managed by refreshingly intelligible twist-knobs.  There’s not a sea of endless menus to make basiDSCI0128c adjustments and the driver can make most changes by touch alone.  The radio display is high in the dash and within eye sight of the road. Gauges are also straightforward, amply sized, and there’s no gimmicks- and they lit at night in a BMWesque redish hue.  Although attractive, backlighting isn’t evenly distributed on the instrument panel and does DSCI0121appear somewhat blotchy.  One other strange quirk is that it’s difficult to see the dash light that advises that the rear defoster is turned on.  Initially I thought it wasn’t working, but ended up having to extend myself over the console to finally see that is [faintly] glowing.  Oddities aside, everything is logical and the Galant’s cabin is a model of simplicity and logical design.

DSCI0117The plastics on the dash and doors featured an interesting dimpled, egg-crate surface that added character Although not at all opulent, they did have a soft touch feel and weren’t any near as cheap and nasty as some more expensive cars, such as last week’s Nissan Maxima.  Some parts did scream cheapness though- the tiny glove box shuts with a hollow sound and vibrates for several moments after being closed and the turnDSCI0118 signal stalk feels as substantial as a chicken wing.  All the pieces were well screwed together and lovingly assembled.  The psuedo-chrome look was all the rage ten years ago and it was overdone on the Galant even back then- covering the console and entire center stack.  If Mitsubishi had restrained it to the strip leading across the dash on the passenger side, DSCI0120it wouldn’t seem so overbearing.  Some other details that bellowed this car’s age were a lack of a telescoping steering wheel and trip computer.  The cloth seats featured a nice, sporty and grippy upholstery and the headliner had a very upscale feeling mouse fur texture.  The seats themselves were comfortable overall, but did lack lumbar support- which caused sore backs on longer drives.

DSCI0115Interior space is very impressive.  The front seats have enough space for most body shapes, and the rear seats offered sufficient head and leg room, even for taller passengers.  The low cowl and large windows added to the feel of airiness and an open cabin.  Thanks to the generous glass area and thin pillars, visibility all around was notable.  The side mirrors covered enough of the rear view, but do not fold, potentially leading to expensive and needless body repairs. 

DSCI0112Another feature lacking on any Galant is a folding rear seat.  This seriously hampers the car’s versatility and cargo hauling capabilities.  Better think twice before hauling that bike or large picture frame in the Galant.  As a tease, the trunk does have a pass-through for skis, which is only helpful if you have skis…..or a pogo stick.  Otherwise, the trunk is  a decent size at 13.3 cu. ft and has a usable shape.  The liftover is low and the opening is generous, supplemented by gas strut hinges that cost more but free up space for luggage.  Thank you Mitsubishi!  The Galant also does hide a spare tire under its cargo floor.

DSCI0123Take the Galant on the road and the performance is much like the rest of car; a little dull with some pleasant surprises.  The only engine on all Galants is a 2.4 liter four-cylinder that churns out 160 horsepower.  It’s not a whopping figure and the car’s performance reflects that.  Full accelerations are tame and unexciting.  The Mitsu isn’t at all a slow car, but doesn’t have the thrilling performance and high engine output that competitors do.  That being said, it still never felt overly burdened while climbing hills or on the freeway.  Only when passing did it feel somewhat out of breath, but this little engine will do fine for most family sedan buyers.  The powerplant does have an almost truckish, rugged sound when starting up and can feel rough at higher rpm’s, but the noise was fine once at cruising speeds.

DSCI0095The Galant’s engine is teamed to a four-speed automatic (no manuals are available).  Some critics may complain about the four-speed being antiquated and old-fashioned, but it’s a very competent setup.  Every shift was very smooth and well-timed, even under hard accelerations.  There are other midsize cars out there that feature one or more forward gears, but could learn from the  slickness of this transmission.  Also unlike more modern units, the four-speed doesn’t try to creep up to the highest gear whenever possible, which helps make the most of the 2.4 liter’s modest power.  It was an impressive unit and an example of how the numbers on paper can be misleading.

DSCI0109But the biggest surprise was the Galant’s handling and ride.  This is one of the most composed family cars that I have driven recently.  Steering feel is very linear and communicative, no matter what speed.  On some twisty mountain roads near Yosemite, the vehicle always felt well planted and propelled itself without argument to wherever the road headed.  There was no tire squeal and this midsize car felt nimble and smaller than it is.  The back end has a fun habit of swinging itself out when pushed to the limits but allows the driver to stay in control.  It is a smile inducing drive and one that was completely unexpected.

DSCI0102The four-wheel independent suspension with Macpherson front struts and multilink rear provided a refined ride.  Not only was it stable during cornering, but it absorbed potholes and road imperfections without hassle.  It would take a major road rut to throw the Galant off-course.  The suspension tuning, overall, was an ideal balance of comfort and firmness.  It was yet another surprise on this car.

The EPA rates the Galant’s fuel economy at 21 city and 30 highway.  I averaged 31mpg on a 200 mile freeway run and 27mpg combined with a mix of city, mountain, and freeway driving.  That’s pretty admirable on a family sedan, although it doesn’t match recent family car offerings from Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, and Hyundai.

Our car had 21k miles on it and seemed rock solid.  The only issue was a remote keyless fob that wasn’t working.  Not a big issue, and it could be simply a dead battery in the transmitter.  However, it did bring to light that the trunk does not have a key hole, but we were fortunate that the Galant does have a traditional trunk release beside the driver seat.  Otherwise, everything on the Galant worked as it should.

DSCI0100Our test model was the base ES trim- which starts at $21,899.  With that comes standard features such as  16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, the tilt-only steering wheel, cruise control, driver-seat height adjustment and a six-speaker stereo with CD player and auxiliary audio jack.  The more upscale SE adds $2500 to the price and more upscale goodies such as bluetooth, sunroof, and navigation.  Our model had no options and once destination was added, rang in at $22,694.  However, due to the demise of the Galant and a surplus still on dealer lots- Mitusbishi is offering $3500 in rebates at the time of this writing, and some dealers are discounting on top of that.  One local dealership was slashing the price by $5000 off of MSRP with factory and dealer rebates.

The Galant itself is not a bad car.  In fact, it does everything a family sedan should do.  It’s very roomy, is built well, accelerates decently, and can be a fun drive.  Plus it comes with some hefty discounts and Mitsubishi’s generous 10 year/100k mile warranty for the powertrain.  There is little to fault on the car- and the few issues it has are pretty minor, namely the lack of a fold down rear seat, some modern features, and personality. 

DSCI0106It truly is like that plaid couch that you found at the thrift shop.  Sure it may not be the most stylish and may have a few quirks because of its age.  And like that couch, it doesn’t come from a familiar brand name and is not for everyone’s liking.   But it does the job, and does it well.  And the price is right.  To sum it up- the Mitsubishi Galant is a bargain if you think it is.  An unexpectedly decent score of 3.5/5.0 boomerangs

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