MOTORING / Class needs no gimmicks: Roger Bell finds the new Mitsubishi Galant conformist in design but extremely refined

REFINEMENT in a car has less to do with gadgets and trim than with classy bodywork and a classy engine. The Mitsubishi Galant has both, its hushed six-cylinder engine sounding particularly smooth.

Most expensive luxury cars are 'sixes', if not 'eights' or 'twelves'; the more pistons, the sweeter the delivery. Although low-rank sixes are not new (remember the Triumph Vitesse?), their recent proliferation establishes a welcome sub-species of which the Vauxhall Cavalier V6 is price leader at pounds 16,085. This is the class in which the Galant V6 must compete.

The new Galants are longer, wider and roomier than the cars they supplant. They are more stylish, too, if not especially distinctive or inspiring inside. Take away their menacing Sigma-like front and they could be mistaken for rivals from Toyota, Mazda, Honda and Ford. Likewise the cabin decor and design, which are grey and conformist, though the facia is none the worse for being conventional. Prices range from a keen pounds 12,750 for the four-cylinder 1.8 GLSi four-door to pounds 20,299 for the complex 2.5V6 4WD/4WS (meaning four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering), which is for rich gadget freaks.

Star of the range is the cheaper, technically simpler, front-drive 2.0V6 auto, tested here as a five-door hatchback, daftly called a coupe. At pounds 18,639, it costs pounds 1,650 more than the comparable 2.0-litre four-cylinder Galant, underlining that top-class refinement does not come cheap.

Although less powerful than the flagship 2.5, the 2.0 is also much lighter, so there is no great loss in performance and considerable gains in economy. It is not so much the engine's power that impresses as its smoothness. There is no harsh vibration and little noise other than a discreetly muted exhaust snarl.

The smooth, willing engine is complemented by an automatic gearbox which not only slurs its shifts imperceptibly but has the ability to 'think'. When hill-climbing, for instance, it will not make an unwanted upward change if you back off for a corner. Similarly, on steep descents, the transmission's computer, connected to various sensors, will select a lower ratio to check the car's speed without driver assistance.

In unison, the Galant's smooth, flexible V6 engine and intelligent gearbox are an accomplished star turn. They are the best features of a car that is more exclusive than adventurous: Mitsubishi expects to sell only around 3,000 Galants in Britain annually.

Despite new suspension that 'points' the rear wheels on corners to improve stability, the 2.0V6 is not especially agile or alert. It is very easy and undemanding to drive - the steering is as light as it is benign, the brakes are strongly assisted.

Subdued inside to the point of blandness, the grey Galant does not come across as a particularly opulent car, even though it is comfortable, roomy and quiet. The seats and steering wheel are height-adjustable and the big, low-lipped boot can be extended by folding the back seats.

Comprehensive standard equipment includes ABS anti-lock brakes, side-impact bars (but no driver's airbag) and powered doors, windows, mirrors and sunroof. Just as important are the car's finish and rattle-free integrity. It looks and feels impeccably made: witness the quality of the paintwork, the consistency of the panel gaps, the solid thunk of the doors. Mitsubishi expresses its own confidence in the car by backing it with a three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty.

SPECIFICATIONS

Mitsubishi Galant 2.0V6 five-door auto, pounds 18,639. Engine: 1,999cc, V6, two camshafts, 24 valves, 147bhp at 6,750 rpm. 0-60mph in 11.2 seconds, top speed 128mph, fuel consumption 25-30mpg.

COMPARISONS

Alfa Romeo 155 2.5V6, pounds 18,910. Thinks it's a front-drive BMW 325i, but doesn't quite make the grade. Lacks class, inside and out, but goes well and sounds glorious. V6 engine better than chassis it drives. Much better than flawed 75 it replaces, but not as much fun as a fast Alfa should be.

BMW 320i, from pounds 18,995. Benchmark compact 'six' with strong image and lots of snob appeal. Balanced and precise rear-drive handling and good performance - though 325i is much stronger. Add pounds 1,000 for auto transmission, lots more for equipment to Galant's specification.

Vauxhall Cavalier V6, from pounds 16,085. Solid, well-made hatch or saloon that disguises its age well. Performance stronger than Galant's, refinement less impressive. Eager but rather unruly when extended. Not particularly refined but good long-distance driver's car. Excellent value as the cheapest five-seater 'six' on the market.

VW Golf VR6, from pounds 18,740. The hot-hatch extended. Smooth and muscular 2.8-litre engine gives potent, effortless performance. Great to drive, even though power can corrupt handling. VR6 engine also available in big-booted, Golf-based Vento saloon costing more.

(Photograph omitted)

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