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Mitsubishi Galant combines European and Japanese design

If you think Mitsubishi only builds Dodge and Plymouth Colts for Chrysler, you're mistaken. The Japanese carmaker has now extended its Mitsubishi-brand cars -- Starion, Cordia, Tredia, the Montero utility vehicle, and light trucks -- to include not only its own version of the Colt, the Mirage, but one of the nicest 4-door sedans to be found anywhere on the road today.

The front-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Galant, all 11/2 tons of it, is a good example of Japan's drive to globalize its cars by making them ``less Japanese.'' The designers did a good job of blending both European and Japanese design, without offending either.

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The Galant (Mitsubishi says it should be pronounced gah-lawn) will suit you if you're not interested in all the gimmicks and gimcracks that have found their way into the Japanese motor industry.

It is, in fact, a refreshing breeze -- especially if it's equipped with the Electronic Control Module (ECM) which houses the more important accessory controls and moves up and down with the height-adjustable steering wheel. The radio controls on the test vehicle were located right in the hub of the wheel as well -- not a bad idea for keeping your eyes on the road.

Standard equipment is extensive, however, and includes air conditioning as well as electric windows, locking, seat adjustments, and mirrors, plus cruise control.

An optional electronically controlled suspension, which adjusts the shock-absorber damping and ride height in response to car speed and the condition of the road, costs $910. A power glass sunroof is available for $490.

Mitsubishi is a highly innovative company that, like its Japanese competitors, is pushing aside the barriers to tomorrow's cars. At the same time, the company looks for functional value to the buyer -- not just another push button on the dash.

The coefficient of drag (Cd), at 0.36, is one of the lowest of any sedan in the world, the effect of the aerodynamic shape of the subcompact Galant.

Except for the pickup from a standing stop, the car is a nicely wrapped package for any time of year. The 2.35-liter engine takes more than 10 seconds to rev from 0 to 50 m.p.h. and 14 seconds from 0 to 60. Once at speed, however, the engine moves the car along smoothly and without any drag.

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A larger V-6 is on the way, but not for at least two years.

This doesn't mean that the car won't do the job for most motorists, and only the more demanding drivers may expect a bit more. If you're buzzing along at highway speed and see a long, steep hill in front of you, push the convenient overdrive-lockout button on the automatic shift lever and the car will maintain its speed.

The Galant at the moment does not offer a manual transmission. The car is rated at 21 m.p.g. in the city and 26 on the highway.

Electronic Power Steering ties the amount of hydraulic boost to the speed of the car, not the engine. Parking the Galant is easy for almost any driver on the road. Braking is straight-line and fast.

For the money, under $12,000 in its base form, the Japanese Galant offers plenty. The company has just launched a new 4-door Galant hardtop in Japan, but whether or not it will come to the United States, Mitsubishi doesn't say.

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