Am I to be blamed for resorting to Shakespeare when confronted by the likes of a Galant and Verona? It’s not as far-fetched as it might seem, this matter of refracting Mitsubishi’s all-new Galant and Suzuki’s innovative Verona through the prism of The Bard’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. Like protagonists Valentine and Proteus in the play, these two midsize sedans are at once remarkably similar and earnest rivals. And if Shakespeare’s two gentlemen spar for the hand of incomparable Silvia while wondering, “Who is she?”, both Mitsubishi and Suzuki know the answer to that question well enough. In the case of this automotive Galant and that automotive Verona, their object of mutual desire, fascination and rivalry is you, Dear Reader: the automotive consumer.
2004 Mitsubishi Galant LS
It is just too tempting not to assign the role of Proteus to Mitsubishi’s 2004 Galant. He is, after all, the changeable opportunist who, “with all good grace,” is nevertheless fickle in friendship. Galant has coasted along for years as something of an afterthought in a marketplace dominated by Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Appropriately, Mitsubishi is determined to change all that for 2004. The new Galant is completely redesigned, restyled, reinvigorated. Mitsubishi’s aim is not just to capture more midsize sedan sales but, in fact, to save the company with a Galant that Finbarr O’Neill, Mitsubishi’s U.S. chief, calls “the single most important thing we are going to do in the next 18 months.” (Source: The Wall Street Journal, 2/6/04)
The makeover has resulted in a hip, trendy exterior dominated by an aggressive front-end. It’s no accident, I suppose, that the slope of the hood and front fenders evokes images of Accord, while the sweep of the rear deck and backlight bring the VW Passat to mind. These are but two of the rivals Galant hopes to supplant on buyers’ wish lists.
It is less to appearance than to performance, however, that potential buyers will be drawn. Although available with a 160-horsepower inline-four, the V6-equipped Galants are bristling with powernamely 230 hp and 250 ft.-lbs. of torque from 3.8 liters’ displacement. Even with a portly 3,560-lb. curb weight, Galant springs to action upon acceleration. It’s responsive, even a bit jumpy in go-slow zones; out on the highway, it’s a robust, confident cruiser. It’s even tolerably fuel-conscious, if not exactly frugal, posting mileage estimates of 19 mpg/City, 27 mpg/Highway using premium. Four-wheel independent suspension and ABS disc brakes lay the foundation for crisp, sporty handling. Galant is a driver’s car, consistent with Mitsubishi’s reputation over the years.
This is not to slight Galant’s concessions to passengers, however. The interior is comfortably roomy for four, tolerable for five. Swank elements like the mega-pod center console lend a modernizing touch, but there persists something slightly cheap-o, indefinably cut-rate about the plastics, fabrics and surfaces in the cabin. Whereas Honda interiors are frill-less but solid, this Galant’s is showier but less substantial, if only in a psychological sense.
With only 13 cu. ft. of trunk space, it’s clear that Galant’s rear-seat roominess comes at the expense of cargo. This only serves to reinforce the car’s primary mission as an in-town commuter. The new Galant certainly contends with the likes of Camry, Passat and Accord on fairly equal terms, including a price that rises quickly with options. For so long an also-ran, however, Galant might have done better to outclass its rivals in some way rather than to settle for merely meeting the standards they have set.
2004 Suzuki Verona EX
Verona is Suzuki’s first foray into midsize sedan territory, and the company has high hopes and an interesting strategy for luring buyers. For starters, the car is loaded with “content.” Its window sticker is a festival of redundancy; every feature typically deemed an option on other vehicles is identified flamboyantly as “INCLUDED” on the Verona. There are alloy wheels, leather seats, climate control, AM/FM/CD/Cassette audio and a sunroof all standard on the top-of-the-line Verona EX that I drove. Which brings me to that other essential element of Verona’s allure: Its as-tested price remained under $20,000by a single greenback, in fact.
The car is roomier than Galant, particularly in rear-seat dimensions. It, too, cramps cargo with its 13.4-cu. ft. trunk. But in terms of initial reactions, Verona will deservedly attract a good bit of interest solely for its “a lot for a little” credentials.
It’s when potential buyers start taking a deeper look that Verona may face challenges. Take exterior styling, for instance. It’s surely one of the least Italianate efforts ever to come off the drawing boards of vaunted style-arbiter Italdesign of Turin. And while Suzuki’s innovative 2.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine has every right to kudos for its elegant smoothness, its performance trends towards anemic. Rated 155 hp and 177 ft.-lbs., Verona’s twin-cam inline-six never seems to find a powerband that its transmission can love. The result is frequent “hunting” for gear and unexpected “kickdowns” into lower ranges in search of even modest acceleration.
Verona appears elsewhere in the world as the Daewoo Magnus, and its South Korean pedigree shows. Aesthetics, for example, are still making their way up the learning curve. There’s a bit too much gaudy chrome and shiny plastic. Essential controls, such as the gear selector, are occasionally balky. Power steering is vastly over-helpful; the steering wheel swings too freely in the hands, virtually eliminating essential road feel.
As a viable alternative to the midsize best-sellers, however, Verona is a welcome addition. With pricing significantly low enough to persuade buyers away from Honda and Toyota, this gentleman of Verona may well compete measure for measure with its betters.