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October 19, 2009

Review: 2009 Mitsubishi Galant SE

Before the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, there was only one executive car of choice, and its name is Mitsubishi Galant.  This nameplate has an almost mythical ring to it especially in conjuring up images of a sharply-styled and sporty sedan that’s capable as it is comfortable.  However, somewhere along the road to the present day, it has lost its way; ending up in executive car limbo in the process.

But while the Galant was losing its way, Mitsubishi worked hard to improve both its image and its products coming out with winners like the Outlander, Lancer EX, Montero Sport and Strada.  The process certainly took several years and a product lifecycle or two, but the spirited and youthful vigor of the three-diamonds has returned.  Now, the question remains: can it work its magic on its flagship sedan—the Galant?

For those looking for an all-new model, you’ll have to wait a bit longer.  The 2009 Galant is essentially the same one launched four years ago, so any fundamental change is ruled out.  In fact, a look at the Galant SE (the 240M moniker has been dropped) reveals that the only changes lie in tweaks to both its styling and features.  A walk around the car immediately shows the obvious: it’s a huge car.  At almost five meters long, it’s actually classified alongside the Chrysler 300C in terms of size.  However, carefully placed styling cues such as the sharp creases, rising window line and minimal chrome embellishments hides the girth very well.  Compared to its modern rivals, the Galant SE sits lower, giving that traditional sporty look.  Thankfully, the only questionable piece of styling—the infamous Boulay grille—has been dropped in favor of a spiffy chrome-trimmed one.  In addition, the wheels have grown in size: it now sports the prerequisite 17-inch alloys seen in other executive cars.  All in all, despite its age, the Galant SE manages itself quite gracefully.

This graceful aging is short-lived though as the interior already feels too dated.  Though the materials are still generally considered plush, you can’t help but notice that they’re all switchgear sourced from the Mitsubishis of old.  Magnifying this problem is that the ovoid-shaped dashboard is certainly a throwback to the early 2000’s as newer Mitsubishis such as the Lancer EX and the Montero Sport have sharp and angular designs.  Though some new executive cars also offer an all-black interior, the lackluster surfacing on the Galant’s dash makes everything look all too plain.  Perhaps a two-toned interior or the use of bright faux wood would have brightened things a bit.

Generally, it’s easy to drive the Galant over long distances, but you still can’t help and complain about its ergonomic flaws.  For one, the Galant doesn’t have a telescopic steering wheel, often resulting in a seating position where the wheel is too close to your chest for comfort.  This situation is aggravated further by the seats, where you feel like you’re floating rather than sitting on them.  Despite the ten-way power adjustment, finding the perfect setting is quite a chore.  In addition, the sloping dash design often results in banged knees for the front occupants.  However, the biggest complaint about the Galant’s interior must the center console that houses the climate controls and the audio system.  Everything has been jammed too close together for comfort: mis-pressed buttons will surely become a regular part of ownership.

The biggest and often talked about feature with the Galant though is its entertainment system.  From the puny 7-speaker set-up in the 240M, the SE gains a new 12-speaker system complete with both Dolby 5.1 Surround and DTS support.  In sheer speaker number, it beats the Isuzu Alterra by one, but like the Isuzu, the Galant’s sound system needs some tweaking.  Despite the standard subwoofer, any audio played back (FM, CD, MP3) all sound tinny.  DVD playback capability is standard issue as well, though since there were disc read errors, the test was aborted (for the safety of the disc).  Additional gripes were caused by the lack of a CD changer or even a auxiliary input jack for Apple iPods.

Incorporated into the entertainment system is a GPS-based navigation system developed and marketed by AVT.  The system comes pre-loaded with the map of the Philippines, which can be updatable either through Mitsubishi dealerships or through AVT’s website.  Fans of GPS navigation systems, especially those with homebrew Philippine maps will undoubtedly be curious as to how the AVT stacks up with the likes of BMW’s own navigation system.  With programming done by Accu-Map, the same group behind the extremely popular and useable CitiAtlas road guide, the AVT system actually fares better when it comes to recognizing the uniquely Philippine road network such as one-way streets and the “Bayani U-Turn” slots.  It also has a lot more POIs (Points of Interests) loaded.  Other the AVT system does have severe limitations such as the lack of text-to-speech, so it can’t read out street names.  And despite the large LCD screen, the Galant’s GPS can’t be navigated by pressing the screen.  Instead, you’ll have to use the bundled remote control and track pad to enter and edit your destination and other preferences.  Another negative thing about AVT’s proprietary system, you won’t be able to carry it around with you as a portable device nor will be able to find international maps—a strength of Garmin’s internationally-recognized system.

On the road, the Galant SE feels surprisingly nimble and refined despite its age and its lack of displacement.  The Galant manages to absorb everything that’s thrown at it—even taking humps at modest speeds will not jar the cabin.  There’s little excitement to talk about as the entire driving experience is numb and well isolated.  The quick ratio steering makes for a surprisingly nimble drive through tight streets though.  The 4G69 engine is already long in the tooth and down on power and torque, but it’s surprisingly responsive thanks to gearing that’s biased towards acceleration.  In fact, off the line, the Galant manages to ape a V6 with prodigious acceleration off the line.  The generous amount of sound deadening makes for a serene environment as well, even when traveling triple digit speeds.  The Galant is also down a gear, so it dampens the fuel economy a bit: 6.59 km/L.

In city traffic, the long hood and large girth are detrimental to the Galant’s overall feeling of chuckability.  Thankfully, the Galant offsets this by gaining front and rear sonar sensors as well as a rear parking camera, perfect for tight parking maneuvers.  The brakes are nicely modulated as well with a good and firm pedal feel.

Despite the Mitsubishi Galant’s age and the arrival of new rivals, it’s surprising to find that this car can still somewhat mix it up with the big boys.  Though it’s not the shining jewel it once was, Mitsubishi has done remarkably well with this stopgap model.  Undoubtedly, everyone’s waiting when the Galant will once again regain the crown of being a sporty executive sedan.  Until then though, the Galant SE is a car that’s uncompromising on comfort, if only you’ll forgive its shortcomings.

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