2010 Mitsubishi Galant SE Review
By Chris Haak
The Mitsubishi Galant, sold in its current form since the 2004 model year, has been relegated to something of an also-ran in the hyper-competitive midsize sedan segment. While competitors such as the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, and Mazda6 have already moved onto their next-generation vehicles since the Galant’s late-2003 on-sale date, Mitsubishi has asked its Galant to soldier on with few substantive changes through the 2010 model year. Most of the car’s changes are related to equipment packages and pricing, in an effort to keep the car on some buyers’ radar screens. The car also received a mild update to its front and rear end styling for the 2009 model year that only the most-dedicated tri-diamond watchers would notice.
On paper, the Galant seems like a reasonably good value. The Galant SE that I reviewed had six airbags, automatic climate control, cruise control, 660 watt audio system, Sirius Satellite Radio, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, Bluetooth phone connectivity, 18 inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, a backup camera, heated cloth seats, and DVD-based navigation with a 7-inch LCD screen. That the Galant SE costs just $23,999 with all of that equipment ($24,719 after adding the $720 destination charge) is somewhat unusual in a segment where heavily-optioned models can top $30,000 without much trouble.
Unfortunately, the first time a perceptive buyer sits down in the Galant, the premium veneer quickly falls away. Though the doors fit well with narrow panel gaps, they don’t swing on their hinges very smoothly and are fairly light weight. Consequently, I often found myself pulling a door shut, but the door’s momentum was not enough to carry it to point of latching. The next step, of course, was to re-open it and slam it shut with more conviction.
It’s not just the doors, though. Having spent seat time in most of the Galant’s midsize competitors, the car just feels cheaper inside than they do. Cars in this class are far from Bentleys, but many – such as the Accord and Fusion – impart a perception of quality and solidity when touching buttons, actuating switches, or operating the gear shift. The Galant’s interior does not. The interior design appears to be very dated. For instance, aside from the windshield, the instrument panel is likely where the driver will focus the most attention when driving. But with small gauges that have traditional backlighting rather than being the clearer electroluminescent variety, the only thing remotely premium-looking about the gauges is the plastic chrome rims around their edges. Too, the backlighting does not illuminate the gauges evenly, with brighter and dimmer spots at various places on the indications.
Pull the door closed (after the re-open and slam), and the next thing you’ll notice is that you have to put an old-fashioned key into a lock and turn it to start the car (the horror!) You’ll then look over at the center stack, which has a 7 inch navigation screen that lookslike it’s supposed to fold into the dash, but doesn’t, and audio and ventilation controls that are painted silver and surrounded by most fake-looking silver-painted plastic background you can imagine. As your eye moves down to the gearshift, you’ll briefly perk up when you see the chrome surround and a +/- gate to the right of the main shift gate. But then you’ll be disappointed again when you see the old-fashioned T-handle shifter with a pushbutton, and realize that it’s connected to a four-speed automatic as you shift the car into gear.
Move your hands to the drab black steering wheel, and you’ll find an overly-thin (strike one), overly-large (strike two) wheel. The redundant audio controls are found behind the wheel rather than on the front, just as they were in a 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee – you know, 17 years ago. Strike three. As you drive, you may be inclined to rest your elbow on the center console’s armrest; don’t do so without an elbow pad, because while technically it’s padded, it’s very hard and uncomfortable. The headliner is the same gray “mouse fur” material that 1980s Pontiacs had, and there’s a surplus of hard, shiny plastics throughout where cost cutting is quite visible. The fake wood across the dash is among the least-realistic I’ve seen, topping only perhaps a 1992 Pontiac Bonneville and a 2008 Saturn Outlook’s fake wood. On the plus side, most of the dashboard itself is padded (though more rubbery-feeling than anything), so at least there’s something of an oasis from the hard polymers. Another plus for the interior: it’s reasonably comfortable in all seating positions for six footers. The cloth-covered seats seemed to be reasonably comfortable as well, at least from the pilot’s seat.
Switchgear in the Galant generally lacked the refined feel of other competitors, and particularly those from Japan. Instead of a silken-smooth twist or button push, there were more loud clicks than I’d care to hear. There aren’t many buttons for the audio system, which is generally a good thing from a simplicity and ease-of-use standpoint. There are buttons to change between the various radio bands and the CD player, plus the preset buttons, the scan and repeat/random buttons, and the seek track up/down button, but everything else is handled via the touchscreen display. It took me about 50 miles of driving until I figured out how to change the station in Sirius (not the tuning knob, but the track seek up/down button does the trick). It’s quite possible that I’m an imbecile, but perhaps more likely that the interface is non-intuitive.
The audio system looks good on paper; it’s sourced by Rockford Acoustic Design (from the same parent company as Rockford Fosgate) and includes eight speakers and an impressive 650 watt peak rating. The system provides several sound modes (really equalizer presets) and seemed to deliver a fairly treble-happy sound and not enough clarity. Most of my audio experience with the Galant was on Sirius (until the trial subscription ran out), then I switched over to good old FM; a CD would likely have produced better, cleaner sound.
That the Galant SE includes a navigation system and rearview camera was a pleasant surprise, particularly at its price point. The camera worked as advertised; it’s more similar to the Ford system that shows static guide lines regardless of the steering wheel’s angle, while Nissans show the guide lines moving when the steering angle changes. The navigation system (branded as a “Mitsubishi Multi Communication System with DVD-Based Navigation”), on the other hand, didn’t really live up to the hyperbole that its name suggested. True, it combined navigation and secondary audio controls (such as fade/balance, equalizer mode, etc.), and had a trip computer, weather station (no lie), and more. But its user interface left a lot to be desired. Many competitors have moved onto hard disc navigation data storage for faster response times, but the Galant’s DVD was kept in a fairly large black box mounted inside the top of the trunk, just past the lid. That it was DVD-based meant that when it had to change the route on the fly due to a missed (or intentionally ignored) turn, there was an alarming multi-second lag until it re-calculated the route. The display was somewhat low-resolution and was only a two dimensional map (no “bird’s eye view,” in other words).
As mentioned earlier, the Galant SE includes Bluetooth phone connectivity. It worked reasonably well, but its controls are just two buttons and a small microphone tacked to the ceiling above the rear-view mirror, tacked on like an afterthought. Conversations were easy enough to understand on both ends, and it did integrate with the audio system so that music was muted when receiving or placing a call.
The Galant’s greatest strength, aside from its fairly-high equipment levels, is its chassis solidity. Over uneven or rough surfaces, the Galant never emitted a shudder or shake. My tester had less than 3,000 miles on the clock, so it was a very new car, but I was still impressed. The ride/handling balance is tuned more toward the “ride” end of the scale than I’d prefer, yet the car never felt excessively floaty or uncontrolled.
Steering was not the car’s strong suit. Aside from the overly large, overly thin steering wheel, the steering ratio was among the slowest I’ve encountered in a modern car, requiring sometimes-significant wheel travel to make directional changes. The slow ratio and low-grip tires contributed to a lack of communication from the road to the steering wheel. Brake feel was par for the class, again hampered by the tires – surprising, since they were 18 inchers.
Acceleration from the 160-horsepower 2.4 liter four cylinder could best be described as leisurely – something over nine seconds in the trot to 60 miles per hour. Competitors are now offering 2.4 and 2.5 liter engines in the 180-200 horsepower range. You wouldn’t know that the car is somewhat slow based on the sensitivity of the throttle, though; coupled with the low-grip compound on the tires and aggressive throttle tip-in, it was easy to smoke the Galant’s front tires on dry pavement from a stop. Thanks to the car’s four-speed automatic, first gear is too tall, and there’s a definite loss of momentum each time the car shifts gears, because the engine is falling out of its powerband. The engine is somewhat noisy as well, but at least idles smoothly. Mitsubishi no longer offers its big 3.8 liter V6 in the Galant; that former engine choice also included a five-speed automatic. The Galant SE’s four-speed unit includes a manual-shift capability, but what’s the point, really?
The EPA rates the Galant’s fuel economy at 21 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway; the highway number is significantly improved over the 2009 model’s 27 mpg rating, likely thanks to a gearing change in the four-speed slushbox. During my week with the car and over about 250 miles of mixed, though mostly city and rural (non-highway) driving, I observed 22 miles per gallon according to the trip computer.
The Galant will have a tough time standing out in a market filled with more refined, better looking, more efficient, more powerful, and more comfortable competitors. This will be the last Galant to be built in the US; any future models will be imported from Japan while the Galant’s assembly plant in Normal, Ill. will be used for production of small cars instead to better utilize its production capacity there. There isn’t really any one thing that sets the Galant apart from its very tough competiton, nearly all of which enjoy superior interior materials, a more modern design, better performance, and a better brand reputation. I once had a coworker who swore by Mitsubishis (though she called them “Mitsu-BISH-ees”); she and her husband had at one time or another (depending on prevailing fuel prices) matching Galants or matching Endeavors, and her daughter had an Eclipse Spyder. Mitsubishi needs to find more people like her to keep the lights on in the US until the Galant is next refreshed, and other new products hit showrooms.
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