2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Chris Chase
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Mitsubishi Galant

Oshawa, Ontario – In the relatively short time it’s been in Canada under its own nameplate, Mitsubishi has put a vehicle into almost every segment, including the hotly-contested midsize sedan market, where it offers the Galant.

The Galant took a year off for 2008, and returns for 2009 as a redesigned model. It’s sold in three flavours: the ES, starting at $23,998; the GT, at $27,998; and my tester, the Ralliart, at $32,998. Primarily, it’s the engine that makes the difference. The ES uses a 2.4-litre four-cylinder producing 160 horsepower and 157 lb-ft of torque. Both the GT and Ralliart use a 3.8-litre V6, but in the GT, it produces 230 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque; adding the company’s MIVEC variable valve timing to the Ralliart pumps it up to 258 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. It’s a nice power jump, but unlike the other models, it also requires that you put premium fuel into the filler neck.

2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Jil McIntosh
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Chris Chase
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; top photo by Jil McIntosh, bottom photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

As much as I like the Galant, the Ralliart always seems to me like it’s in search of an identity. It’s got sporty performance, but its styling is bland; it breaks the $30,000 barrier, but has some cheaper-looking interior plastic bits; it’s got several high-end standard features such as a navigation system, but makes you pay extra for a cargo net and iPod adapter; and while Mitsubishi calls it a “world-class sports sedan”, there’s no available stick shift, and the only choice is front-wheel drive.

That aside, the Ralliart’s engine is a slightly detuned version of the 3.8-litre found in the Eclipse Coupe and Spyder, and this is a much better home for it. The Ralliart still pulls to one side on hard acceleration, but it’s nothing like the sharp right turn that the Eclipse makes. This is really a very sweet powerplant, with a fat powerband and smooth, linear acceleration, and it’s easy to forgive the lack of a stick given how well the five-speed works with it (should you want to have a little control, there’s a manual shift mode). As powerful as it is, the engine is surprisingly quiet, but with a nice burble out the back. It would look much sportier if that rumble came from dual pipes instead of the single exhaust tip, though. Against a published figure of 12.9 in the city and 8.1 on the highway, I averaged 9.9 L/100 km.

The Ralliart also feels much stiffer than the Eclipse and is far more tossable; unlike its ES and GT siblings, this top-end model includes a front strut tower bar and rear stabilizer bar. It takes hard corners cleanly, with smooth turn-in and equally even return to get back to the straight stuff. A major downside is its huge turning radius, though, which makes parking lot manoeuvres far more difficult than they need be; depending on how tight the spaces are, you’ll need at least two and sometimes three attempts to line this car up.

2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Jil McIntosh
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Jil McIntosh
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Chris Chase
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; top photos by Jil McIntosh, bottom photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

In the stopping department, larger front discs are matched with Ralliart-only ventilated rear discs. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and traction control are standard, but electronic stability control is missing, even as an option. That’s surprising, especially given that it’s either standard or optional on rivals such as the Camry, Accord, Malibu, Altima and Mazda6. The other “expecteds”, such as side and curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system, are standard items across-the-board on all Galant models.

A facelift gives the Ralliart a more streamlined grille and smoother hood than its 2007 predecessor, along with a lower, more muscular stance, and upswept taillamps that replace the smaller previous ones, which looked like screwed-in units from the tuner-car parts vendor at the flea market. At the front, though, Mitsubishi clings to its multi-bulb headlamps, which seem to have come from the same guy’s booth. A set of projector-beam headlamps would look much classier and, once again, play up the factory-sports-sedan image.

The Ralliart offers a high level of standard equipment, including automatic climate control, metal pedals (which are slippery with wet rubber-soled shoes), auto-dimming rearview mirror, power sunroof, heated leather seats, 360-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo, XM satellite radio, and a DVD-based navigation system. As far as the aforementioned cheap plastic bits go, the nav system is the worst offender, especially since it’s the most noticeable thing there. It’s meant to look like the type that automatically rises up out of the dash, but it doesn’t; it simply sits there in its hard plastic housing. Its DVD mechanism is stored under the parcel shelf, so be careful when packing the trunk full. Unusually, the system uses a male voice, which I found to be a welcome change (even while I was chuckling about the traditional male aversion to asking for directions), especially with his enthusiastic directions to “turn LLLEFT!” when required, as if we were off on an adventure.

2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Chris Chase
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Chris Chase
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Chris Chase
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photo by Chris Chase
2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart; photos by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

Otherwise, the dash design is busy, with a number of various plastic textures, metallic finishes and black-grained faux wood. Backlighting is fine on the centre stack, where it improves the visibility of the climate and stereo controls at night – it can be hard to quickly read the black writing and symbols against the silver background in the daytime – but the company needs to be more generous with it on the doors, where only the driver’s window is illuminated at night. No driver or passenger should have to fumble for lock or window buttons in the dark. Thankfully, Mitsubishi has addressed its previous problem of too-dim instrument panel lighting – in some models it was very difficult to read the speedometer at night – and the simple, white-faced gauges are easy to see in any light conditions.

Legroom is good, both in the front and back, but the seats proved to be an oddity, both to me and to several passengers: while the seatbacks are very comfortable and supportive, the seat cushions are hard and flat, and turned out to be butt-numbing after an hour on the highway.

The rear seat doesn’t fold, but it includes a pass-through, accessible through a fold-down rear armrest that also contains two cupholders. The trunk is 93 cm in length, with a reasonable lift-over for getting the groceries home easily.

For all that I think $30,000 is a lot for any vehicle, the Ralliart has its competition firmly in its sights, and it’s done the math very well. Shoehorn the biggest engines into some of the other midsize sedans, and add options such as leather seats, automatic transmissions and navigation systems if they’re not standard, and you’ll look at more than $35,000 for a Toyota Camry, almost $37,000 for a Honda Accord, and nearly $37,700 for a Nissan Altima. And they don’t come close to Mitsubishi’s warranty, which covers almost everything bumper-to-bumper for five years or 100,000 km, and then looks after the powertrain until 10 years or 160,000 km.

All of that adds up to a car that, despite its flaws, hands forth an excellent powertrain, a roomy cabin, an overall satisfactory driving experience, a number of higher-end touches, and in comparison with other models, a viable price-tag. Mitsubishi may be one of the smaller automakers on the Canadian scene, but it’s certainly going in the right direction.

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