New cars: Mitsubishi Galant 4WD/4WS

All fours

Those keeping abreast of events in the Shells Oils British Open Rally Championship will not be unfamiliar with the Mitsubishi Galant 4WD/4WS, for although it has only just been launched in this country it has a hundred per cent winning record after three Group N outings in the hands of Pentti Airikkala.

With Japan’s 1988 Car of the Year, the two-wheel-drive 16-valve 2-litre Galant GTi, forming the basis of this new model, its credentials are good. Cosmetic differences such as the front grille with 4×4 badging, a deeper front air-dam and spoiler and other aerodynamic additions help identify the new model, but otherwise the styling is almost identical.

The interior is similar as well and is well-appointed and comfortable, its front seats adjustable to suit all heights and girths. A couple of enormous dials display the usual information, that on the right featuring a twin-trip meter, one covering distances up to 999 miles and the other up to 9999 miles. Above the dials are an array of warning lights; the usual controls for wipers, lights, indicators, windscreen and headlamp washers, as well as electronic cruise control, are on “gull-like” columns on either side of the steering wheel. Heating for the door mirrors is automatically deactivated after ten minutes, as is the rear screen element. The mirrors, windows and the glass sunroof are electrically operated and central locking is standard.

The front centre armrest opens up to become a drink tray and cassette holder, while the rear one conceals a narrow opening to the boot, useful for long thin items. For larger objects the rear seats fold down on a 40/60 split. Back seat head restraints fold down into the seat to allow a flat platform area, and can be flipped up into position at the press of a button.

Knee-space is moderate in the back behind a 6ft driver, but the back seat squab itself is quite hard and would be uncomfortable on a long journey. At 14.1-cub ft, boot space is quite reasonable, helped by the use of a space-saving spare tyre. A useful addition is an elasticated net attached to the boot floor to stop loose odds and ends sliding all over the place. The lack of a lip above the bumper helps with the loading of heavier items. Both boot lid and fuel filler cap can be released from the cockpit.

The four-cylinder, 16 valve, 1997cc engine is the only production twin-cam engine using needle roller bearings in the rocker arm assembly, the advantage being that friction power-loss is decreased to the benefit of torque, power output, fuel consumption and low-speed response. A catalytic convertor means that only unleaded fuel can be used. The engine gives 142 bhp at 6500 rpm and a maximum torque of 125 lb ft at 5000 rpm.

It may be difficult to get excited about, but the running gear is the model’s raison d’être, and there can be no doubt that four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering allied to all-independent suspension is a major advance in production car manufacture.

Four-wheel steering only comes into operation above 31 mph at which speed the rear wheels will turn in the same direction as the front pair, up to a maximum of 11/2-deg. The size of the angle depends on speed of travel and the angle of the front wheels. The advantages of 4WS are apparent from straight-line stability, cornering, braking and wet weather handling. Oversteer is practically negated and the Galant’s poise is rarely disturbed. In the event of a system failure, the car automatically reverts to two-wheel steering with the rear wheels locked into neutral position, a dashboard warning light informing the driver of the fact.

Mitsubishi’s own approach to four-wheel drive, by using a viscous coupling unit (VCU) linking the front and rear driveshafts with a centre differential, is very effective. The power is distributed evenly between front and rear wheels for maximum traction, but the torque to each wheel is adjusted individually according to the grip. Traction and acceleration are better, especially on poor road surfaces, cornering is smoother, shorter braking distances are required and stability under braking is also improved. Furthermore, the VCU stops the rear tyres from “winding-up” with the front wheels during cornering and acceleration, thus reducing stresses in the transmission and minimising tyre-wear.

Mitsubishi’s quest for good and safe handling is not at the expense of ride comfort, for the car is also fitted with four-wheel independent suspension. MacPherson struts on the front with double crossmembers and double-wishbone upper and lower arms with a trailing arm on the rear ensure rigidity and minimise camber changes, noise and vibration. Mitsubishi is also justifiably proud of the toe-control member and the movable links connecting it to the trailing arm, for there is no doubt that it helps ensure predictable handling.

On a car of this nature, anti-lock brakes are obviously standard, but the system is simplified by using the VCU mechanism as an anti-lock braking modulator instead of fitting a sophisticated electronic unit. The left front/right rear and right front/left rear wheels are linked, and when information is received about a wheel on the verge of locking up, corrective treatment is meted out. As a limited-slip link between the front and rear wheels, the VCU also prevents any one pair of wheels from locking up.

A brief spell in the car proved it to be lively yet predictable. The engine would not baulk at low revs in fifth gear and there was none of that flatness apparent at lower engine speeds in some other 16-valve cars. The Galant was most willing to reach the red line at 6000 rpm in every gear, but being on the open road I was never able to substantiate the claimed top speed of 125 mph or the 0-62 time of 9.9 seconds. A 62-litre fuel tank gives a potential 400-mile range if 30 mpg can be achieved.

My enjoyment was helped by the slick gearchange and power steering did not detract from the feel of the car, although Auto Cruise Control is rather lost on me. The handling does take a few miles to adjust to, especially at higher speeds, but as soon as you accept that the pointy feel is an asset and that the car is not losing its way around the corner, you can fully appreciate all the technological wizardry.

Although it lacks flair the Galant remains elegant, and Mitsubishi has a very worthwhile car on its hands. Priced at £16,009 (£2200 more than the two-wheel-drive Galant GTi-16V), it is competitively priced in the sports saloon bracket of the market, but the outdated “gentleman’s agreement” limits the number of cars which can be brought in from Japan, so few will be available in this country. WRK