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Galant making gallant effort to catch competition

Mitsubishi is making a Galant effort to catch the competition.

But battling midsize competitors like the best-selling Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima isn't getting any easier.All those models have emerged from the makeover salons recently enough to raise the stakes in auto retailing's most competitive segment. And after 15 years in the United States, Mitsubishi still lacks the strong brand loyalty of its Japanese rivals.

Frankly, the Galant will have a hard time pulling ahead of traffic without a V6 engine, something that was expected last year but later canceled.

The current 141-horsepower 4-cylinder engine in the Galant is no dog. A lot of drivers would have trouble guessing whether the smooth, quiet engine had four cylinders or six based on performance.

But when the competition - Altima excepted - offers a V6, you had better have one, too.

For drivers looking for attractive, reliable, upscale transportation, the Galant fits the bill. Paying the bill runs from $15,420 to $23,980 across the Galant's three trim levels, DE, ES and LS.

All versions of the front-drive Galant are powered by the 2.4-liter, 16 valve, single overhead cam engine that has a cast iron block and aluminum cylinder head.

Horsepower and torque (148 foot-pounds at 3,000 rpm) are identical to last year's models. But Mitsubishi improved smoothness and quietness with counter rotating balance shafts to offset vibration.

The Galant DE gets a 5-speed manual transmission, with 4-speed automatics standard on ES and LS models.

The review car, an ES base priced at $18,115, provided smooth takeoffs and good responses in passing situations. But when slowing to a stop, the car tended to tremble slightly, possibly a side-effect of the optional anti-lock braking system.

Surprisingly, the Galant's fuel efficiency beats a V6-powered Nissan Maxima's by only half a mile per gallon, despite the Maxima's 49-horsepower advantage.

Burning unleaded at the rate of 22 city and 28 highway miles per gallon, expect to spend $750 a year filling the 16.9-gallon tank.

The Galant's interior is improved with a new, lighter color scheme, a larger center armrest positioned at the same height as the door armrest, new headliner material, sportier four-spoke steering wheel and a variety of other tweaks.

All Galants have dual air bags, tilt steering wheel, front storage console, remote fuel door and decklid releases, tinted glass, rear window defogger. The ES trim includes air conditioning, cruise control, upgraded upholstery, folding rear seat with center armrest, power windows and door locks, AM/FM/cassette stereo, power mirrors, woodgrain interior trim and cargo net.

The top-of-the-line LS adds automatic climate control, power driver's seat, leather upholstery, power sunroof, Infinity audio system and HomeLink universal garage door opener, fog lights, alloy wheels and other features.

The review car's bottom line landed at $21,287 with $965 for anti-lock brakes and a $1,787 package that included alloy wheels, power sunroof, remote keyless entry, fog lamps, the HomeLink system.

With all that gear, you end up with a pretty luxurious car. But when the price gets past $21,000, you also might start thinking about that Maxima.

PLUSES: Styling, comfort, ride and handling.

MINUSES: No V6 engine available, fuel economy.

BOTTOM LINE: The competition's too quick for Mitsubishi.

*****

Additional Information

Facts and figures on '98 Mitsubishi Galant

Where built: Normal, Ill.

Price: $18,115 base, $21,287 as tested.

Power: 2.4-liter, SOHC, 16-valve, 141-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine; four-speed automatic transmission.

Suspension: Independent.

Brakes: Power discs/drums, ABS.

Length X width X height: 187.6 x 68.1 x 53.1 inches.

Wheelbase X track: 103.7 x 59.4 inches.

Curb weight: 2,934 pounds.

Gas mileage: 22 city, 28 highway mpg; estimated annual fuel cost $751.

Standard: Air bags, air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette/6-speaker stereo, remote fuel filler/trunk release, power windows-locks-mirrors, tinted glass, rear window defroster.

Options: Anti-lock brakes ($965); premium package includes alloy wheels, power glass sunroof, security system, keyless entry, fog lamps, Homelink system, vanity mirrors, rear-seat heat ducts.