Clarkson on: the Mitsubishi Galant
Ever since the men from Austin went to help Datsun set up a factory after the war, the Japanese motor industry has slavishly followed where Europe and America have led the way.
I want you to think of one single Japanese motoring invention. Come on, I'm waiting. No, you're going to have to give up because everything from disc brakes to the windscreen wiper was developed in the West.
In a race to find the least inventive people on earth, Japan would line up with Australia and Burma, in first place.
The trouble is, of course, that before the British boffin had a chance to show the patents office his new invention, some Japanese chap had copied it. And while British management prevaricated over who'd fund such a thing, thousands of perfect imitations were rolling off a production line in Yokohama.
The Honda NSX was a shameless facsimile of the Ferrari 308. The Mazda MX-5 was a modern day MG. The Datsun 240Z was a Capri and the Toyota Supra, an Oriental Corvette.
But then came the Nissan Skyline, a car that didn't follow round-eyed rules. By using the sort of electronic whizz-kiddery we now expect from Japanese VCR designers, the world was treated to a car that pulled down its trousers and mooned at the laws of physics.
And this fire-breathing Datsun seems to have acted as a sort of cattle prod for the rest of Japan's car industry. Look at that Subaru Impreza 22B. There's no way that such a thing could ever have been styled in Italy, and if it were German, it would weigh eight tons.
Then there's the latest generation of Honda VTEC engine which sounds, looks and feels Japanese. And what about the spoiler on the back of an Evo VI? Was that designed in Longbridge? Yeah, and cod use breath fresheners. Now all this, I think, is a very good thing. Five years ago, there were maybe a couple of Japanese cars that I'd have actually wanted to own, but now there are several dozen. And topping that growing list is Mitsubishi's Galant VR4.
First of all, I quite like the idea of driving a Galant. I feel it would help little old ladies with their shopping.
And second, while I've never actually driven an ordinary Galant, I find myself drawn to what is simply terrific styling. It's like one of those women who, when you first meet them, don't appear attractive at all. But after a few hours, you're at her feet, slobbering.
And the VR4 is even better because it's had collagen lip implants. My five-door estate test car had a huge spoiler on the back, a deep front air dam at the front, fat wheels and sexy tyres. And if you don't believe a tyre can be sexy, you've clearly never studied the tread pattern on a Bridgestone S-02.
Basically, you look at this car and know it's Japanese. Which means you know that it won't break down.
"Five years ago, there were maybe a couple of Japanese cars that I’d have actually wanted to own, but now there are several dozen"
And then you go for a drive. Now we know that Chevrolet was first out of the blocks with a turbo and that Jensen was first with four-wheel drive. We're also aware that Audi was first to bring these technologies together in the Quattro.
So you might argue, therefore, that the Galant is simply aping its four-ringed forefather. So what about the Mitsubishi's active yaw control then? The car's rear end is fitted with a torque transfer differential system with an electronically controlled clutch that senses the condition of the road and the driver's style, then adjusts the yaw force accordingly. And to be honest, I don't remember seeing that listed in the spec of the new Rover 75.
And I haven't finished yet. The Galant's gearbox has the capability to learn what a driver is like, and then stores their shift patterns in its memory.
Without delving into the mysteries of the electronic fuel injection, we know that what we're dealing with here is a motorised Canon Ixus. It's a bunch of super high technology, designed to wage war with the motoring rule book.
And it makes the Galant VR4 an enthralling companion. They say it develops only 280bhp, but that's a bit too neat seeing as 280 is the limit under Japanese law. I mean come on chaps. It has got a 2.5-litre twin turbo V6; it does 0-60 in 5.9 seconds; it'll hit 150. Two-eighty brake horsepower my arse.
It's let down only by a wretched interior. And why is it wretched? Well, in a bid to copy the European style, they've glued wood to the centre console and half of the steering wheel to create a symphony in DFS. It's World of Leather in there too, and it's truly awful.
Mitsubishi has had the courage to make the car look and feel Japanese. And that's fine. I'll supply the passion every time I go round a bend fully 10mph faster than I could in the Jag.
They really need to think of their own interior style. Seats on the floor? Fold-out fans? I don't care - just make it Japanese, and not a Japanese interpretation of the Long Room at Lords.
When this is done, European car makers will be in trouble, because the days when you bought Japanese for reliability and European for flair will be over. The Japanese will give you both. And all for less than thirty grand.