Obviously I haven’t forgotten it. But nearly everyone else has.
Around the late 80s the Japanese car industry had a thing about technology. An arms race between Honda, Toyota and Nissan had the firms vying to outdo one another in the levels of fiendish ingenuity they could tempt customers with. An economic boom drove this boom in engineering silliness. Whereas in Europe and the US the late 80s economic expansion meant more cubic capacity, the Japanese tended to focus on all the other areas of the car. It led to some wonderful creations, hopeful monsters like this all-wheel drive Mitsubishi saloon.
Mitsubishi took two technologies and crammed them into the handsome and rather formal body-shell of the Galant: four-wheel drive and four wheel steering. It also had a 2.0 litre, twin-cam engine with four valves per cylinder (Ford’s Sierra packed a V6 and cost less). The four wheel steering was active and not a passive steering as was fitted to cars like the Citroen ZX. That meant it turned in active response to what the front wheels were doing, and that required complex linking systems from front to back.
Both Autocar and Performance Car came to the same conclusions, that the dual punch of four driven wheels and four wheel steering was disappointing. If I had read that at the time I’d have taken that for gospel. These days I view this analysis with a pinch of salty scepticism. And I expect that these days a 4wd, 4ws car with a proper power-assisted mechanical rack would feel like a revelation.
What did Autocar say was the problem? The Galant cost most compared to its peers, a shade under £17,000. Audi only wanted £16,043 for their 80 Quattro and Vauxhall asked only £12,000 for the Vectra 2.0 L 4×4. Autocar declared that all that wonderful technology in the Galant gave it a “marginal” advantage over the substantially cheaper Vauxhall. Of that car Autocar said: “smooth design, crisp performance and effective 4wd system makes Vauxhall’s newcomer great value. Ride can feel underdamped and space is only average but ergonomics are excellent. A quattro for the common man.”
Looking back, I find it hard to believe the Vectra was remotely as well made as the Mitsubishi. But at the time this difference might not have been so clear. In any case, the Galant cost a lot. Problem two is that in particular, the car didn’t feel substantially different from its 2 wheel drive, two wheel-steer sister. “We expected more of the driving performance….” but then they say “Tight corners that would have the front-drive car scrabbling for grip reveal only a slight understeer, the driver simply turns in and powers around”.
As an armchair road tester I can only guess what happened here. This is my guess: the Galant’s technology reduced all the effects of a sodding great mass of metal wanting to carry on going its own way to the point where that tendency was hard to notice. And the fun of driving is balancing the impetus the car has to go the wrong way with the means to keep it going the right way.
In a 4wd 4ws car that tension doesn’t exist. It’s often said the most fun car is the one with the least grip and worst handling. The corollary of that is that a car loaded with advanced tech feels as if nothing is ever going to happen.
Looking back I think we can call the late 80s and early 90s the full and final flowering of analogue engineering. The Galant’s peer group is a roll call of cars without equivalent today: Audi 80 Quattro, Ford Sierra 4×4, Mazda 626 2.0 GT 4WS (for goodness’ sake), Toyota Camry GLi 4WD and the Opel Cavalier 2.0 4×4. Not to mention Citroen’s 4wd BX. Today that mechanical variety is gone and those cars that remain are loaded with electronic and digitial systems instead.