• Buyers Guide

    Please note this is under construction!

    When we think of performance Mitsubishis, we almost always think of Lancer Evolutions. Well, there is another Mitsubishi that has a 280bhp turbocharged engine and which also uses a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system similar to that employed by the Evo. The Galant VR-4 is a big car in comparison to an early Evo, but the powerful V6 engine and excellent handling and traction provided by the sophisticated underpinnings mean that the VR-4 isn’t far behind. What’s more, the VR-4 not only provides near-supercar levels of performance and grip but, unlike many of the rally-inspired slingshots, it’s also capable of very civilised high-speed cruising. With the estate version, it’s also extremely capacious.
    Built by Ralliart Japan between 1996 and 2002, the Galant and Legnum (estate) VR-4 was based on the Galant V6. Additional power came from a pair of small, efficient turbos, one for each cylinder bank of the 2.5-litre engine. This brought , which made driving the VR-4 an altogether more exciting proposition. The engine itself was made more robust with an improved oil system and lowered compression ratio. The intention was to add plenty of power without losing the engine’s silky smoothness, and careful matching of the turbo characteristics to the motor largely ensured this.

    The dramatic rise in power and torque output meant that the chassis had to undergo some serious work, with strengthening of critical body shell areas and up rating of suspension and braking systems. A four-wheel-drive system based on that of the Lancer Evo was incorporated, and this allowed the effective transfer of power to the tarmac under all manner of road conditions. It could be fully exploited through either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, the latter being the INVECS-ll adaptive intelligent ‘box with a Tiptronic-style shift.

    Central to the performance of the four-wheel drive system was the Active Yaw Control feature, which used an electronically-controlled rear differential unit that could apportion torque as determined by the AYC computer and its wheel-speed sensors. This helped to control wheel spin as well as limit over steer and under steer conditions, making the handling more predictable and improving the car’s feel on the road.

    The bodywork received some attention to make it obvious that you weren’t looking at any old Galant — this one was a bit special. Restyled front and rear bumper moldings improved road presence and aerodynamics and, in estate form (named Legnum in Japan), the Galant has to be one of the best-looking and most sure-footed estate cars on the road. From the shark nose, through the sculpted sides and on to the tough rear end, the car looked pretty mean, and the turbocharged engine meant it had plenty of grunt to back that up.

    It’s a well-equipped car, too, with standard air-conditioning, multiple airbags, a sophisticated ABS system and all the usual electronic refinements. In short, with decent cars available for less than ten grand, it’s a heck of a lot of car for the money.

    The vast majority of cars available will be grey imports, available in Japan from 1996. Most of these will be Type S versions, either the four-door Galant saloon or the heavier Legnum estate. There was also a Type V, which had a less sporty spec. The Type S is the real thing, with wide alloys, a more focused specification and, originally, a price about ten per cent higher than the Type V. Both manual and auto gearbox models were available. The five-speed manual cars had 280bhp at their disposal, but the pre-98 automatic cars were limited to 260bhp.

    There are so many variations of options that the UK owner’s club (Club VR-4) hasn’t fully logged exactly what was a basic spec and what was a factory addition. All cars have the Active Yaw Control system, but whether this is always accompanied by Traction Control is not certain. Some cars have back-lit instrumentation almost like DEFI gauges but, again, why this should be on some cars and not others is a mystery at the moment. Finding technical information about these cars is a real challenge.

    Trim variations are also widespread, and leather and Recaro seating options are common. The Recaros are part of a Sports package that includes a Momo steering wheel and carbon fibre-effect dash trim. Leather seats are accompanied by walnut fascia trim to accentuate the luxury feel of the cabin.

    In 1998, there was a face-lift model which saw the auto INVECS-II equipped cars being brought up to 280PS to match their manual counterparts, while externally there were a few new parts to distinguish the latest cars from the old. New front and rear bumpers were fitted, as were new side skirts. Some cars also had wheel arch extensions, but there are also some later cars without them, so these aren’t necessarily part of the original package.
    With the Galant and Legnum VR-4s being brought into the UK on the grey market, the official UK Mitsubishi importers decided to get in on the act, too. Ralliart UK (an entirely separate concern to the Ralliart rally team) began to import cars, converted them for the UK/Euro regulations, and they were then sold through the official Mitsubishi dealer network and carried the extensive manufacturer’s warranty. These are effectively the same as any other grey imports, but have been fully converted to meet UK regulations — and these cars had additional work, such as extra anti-corrosion treatment. Galant VR-4 saloons and estates went on sale for £28,995 in March 1999, and were only available with Recaro sports trim levels and the automatic INVECS-II five-speed ‘intelligent’ transmission. Not many of these Ralliart UK-converted cars were eventually sold through the official channels; probably no more than 200 in all. It was discontinued in 2002.

    The 6A13 2.5-litre, 24-valve V6 motor pushes the Galant along with either 280PS, or 260PS in the earlier estate guise, so the car is no slouch. Twin turbos help the motor to reach these power levels, so buying used means checking for signs of abuse and poor servicing. Look for any signs of oil smoke (bluish colour) when the car is running, to give an indication of whether or not the turbos are beginning to get tired. While you’re at it, whip out the dipstick and see if the oil feels smooth or gritty between your fingertips. If it’s as black as a coal hole picnic, you might want to look at a different car

    To help ensure that the motor has been looked after, you need to get as much service history as you can and, if you’re looking at a UK-supplied car, that means a full history showing oil changes every 4500 miles, if possible, and regular garage visits around the 9000-mile mark. This is the key to getting a good car that’s going to last well without giving any expensive problems down the line.

    In common with some other Mitsubishis, the top end of the motor can get a bit noisy as the hydraulic followers wear. Apart from the annoying tapping sound, this problem isn’t going to degrade into anything that can cause catastrophic failure, but it can be expensive to cure because you have to buy a set of 24 valve lash adjusters and get them fitted. You could always just turn up the stereo a bit more, though...

    One service item that is essential to look after is the timing belt. With a scheduled swap at 54,000 miles, this needs doing if you are to stop it breaking and then causing the valves to be bent or snapped by rapid collision with the pistons. Combined with a large service, you could be looking at a bill up to a £700, but it’s a lot cheaper than major head surgery, and the interval is long enough so that you shouldn’t be doing it too often.

    As for as the rest, everything seems pretty reliable. The real problems arise when an owner hasn’t looked after the car or hasn’t had it serviced correctly, which is why the previous history is so important. If you are going to be the first owner since the car’s importation to the UK, make sure you have a solid-gold mechanical warranty to give you some back-up if there are any hiccups. Oh, and did we mention the fuel consumption?

    On a good day, when you’re cruising gently, you can get mid-20s, or about 240 miles from a full tank. Get the red mist and start booting it and mid- teens aren’t far away. On track, the VR-4 will hit single figures if you’re trying, but the thick end of 300bhp needs a fair chunk of fuel to be burned, regardless of what you’re driving, so pay up and smile. At least you’ll be having plenty of fun.

    Reports for the manual gearbox give it a clean bill of health, so all you have to do is make sure it changes gears nice and smoothly and that the previous punters haven’t ragged it to death. But the auto is a slightly different proposition.

    The self-learning INVECS II semi-automatic gearbox is a bit of a marvel. It can learn the way you drive and then mimic that when running automatically, or you can flick it into a tiptronic gate and whiz up and down the ‘box as fast as you can flick the lever. Fantastic. The problems come from sloppy changes and a vibration that shudders through the car at about 40mph on a light throttle load. Gear changes that take a long time or seem to slip in and out are also known faults, and the cost of rectification is very high.

    Xtreme Automobiles — ex-Ralliart UK —reckons that spares availability or, rather, the lack of it, is such that they hadn’t found a gearbox specialist willing to take on the job of stripping a box to find out what the problems were. They recommend fitting a recon ‘box to get rid of any nasties. Not cheap.

    Having said all this, when you’re test-driving the car, make sure you let the transmission become really warm before you go looking for faults, as it can be a little tweaky until it’s at correct operating temp. This should go without saying though as you shouldn’t be giving the car any pain until the turbo motor is nicely warmed through, anyway. If you cane engines before they’re up to temperature, you shouldn’t be driving something this special.

    Another possible problem area to listen for is the AYC unit (limited-slip diff) at the rear, which can get noisy if the oil hasn’t been changed regularly according to the service schedule. Once the oil breaks down, the clutch plates begin to degrade and fall apart, making weird noises going into and coming out of corners. Again, there is no real alternative but to fit a new unit, and this is mega money at around £2500, so listen carefully during your test drive or you could be in for a nasty cramp in the wallet.

    This is usually the shortest section in a buying guide for a Japanese vehicle because there are hardly ever any faults to relate. The only thing to look out for on some Galant/Legnum versions is the Mitsubishi Multimedia Communication System which controls the air-conditioning, satellite navigation, television system, CD player and radio.

    This touch-screen-controlled system is covered in Japanese characters and no one has yet come up with a software translation package that can be downloaded into it to make it give commands and read-outs in English. Club VR-4 has someone working on a manual to show you what each of the screens means, but until then it’s a case of playing around with the controls until you get something like the right temperature breeze blowing roughly where you want it, and with your CD playing OK.

    These seem to be the VR-4’s weak point and, bearing in mind it’s a heavy car that can travel really quickly, it’s no surprise the brakes can benefit from upgrading. They can fade alarmingly if you’re really pressing on a bit and are generally hard on brakes. If the brakes are a bit shot on your test drive, but the car is otherwise up to spec, lever a few hundred quid off the price and get them sorted as soon as possible.

    The springs and dampers appear to be up to the job of supporting the large Mitsi’s body, and no one we spoke to mentioned anything about any real weak points on the suspension, apart from a couple of cars that have needed their lower front ball-joints attending to. The multi-link rear end works well and the handling is generally praised for a big car that can really motor.

    Tyre wear and wheel damage can be an indicator of something amiss with the geometry settings, so go round all the wheels and make sure they don’t have any major kerb scars (or even dented rims) and the tyres are evenly worn across their whole tread. That said, hard driving generally promotes wear on the outside edges of the front tyres, even with perfect geometry, so don’t read too much into this. If the tyres look OK, and the car handles without drama, you should be fine. Any sign of wayward steering could indicate there’s some history you need to know about before you start counting out the used notes. If you’re then sure the suspension just needs computer aligning, set aside about £100 to get it done.

    The factory alloys are a strong enough wheel, but whether they are to your taste or not is another matter. Aftermarket rims might be more attractive but, if they are bigger than standard, they could upset the car’s handling balance because of additional weight and decreased tyre sidewall. Have a good drive and make sure you can live with the ride and handling if the wheels have been changed. And, as we’ve just mentioned, use them as an indicator to see if there might be any possible damage on the suspension by checking the rims for scratching.

    If you are going to be the first UK owner, it’s worth getting the Japanese rubber swapped for something that’s appropriately speed-rated for the vehicle. In Japan, the rating is lower as cars are electronically speed-limited to 112mph. And make sure the tyre can carry the load of this fast-but-porky vehicle. Just because it’s a high speed-rated tyre doesn’t mean it can cope with the weight of the body; it needs to have the correct load code, as well. Get something that will stand the strain of a ton-and-a-half of car trying to roll it off the wheel during heavy cornering, otherwise your tyres could let go just when you need them the most.

    For UK-spec cars rust shouldn’t be an issue; just check for evidence of previous damage or repairs. A good Japanese import should be equally clean if you find a nice one. You may want to consider adding additional under sealing on an import to keep our road salt out of any nooks and crannies. This will have been carried out by Ralliart UK on UK-spec cars. Apart from that, you just need to do the usual checks for mismatched paint, uneven shut gaps and ripply panels to give you a hint that the car might have some interesting history you really need to know about before parting with your cash.
    The Mitsubishi’s interior decor varies according to the options fitted at the factory, ranging from the standard unimpressive seats covered in fabric, through leather trim and up to a Recaro sports option. The Recaros will hold you nice and firmly through any road or track shenanigans; the other seat options aren’t as supportive. From a buying point of view, make sure everything is clean, works correctly and there is no obvious bits missing.

    Unlike other forgotten heroes, like Mitsubishi’s 30000T, the VR-4 was never sold in the USA. This might sound like an odd thing to point out in a UK Buyer’s Guide, but not being available over there means the usual tuning network hasn’t arisen around the car — and there aren’t many tuning options for the owner who wants more power. The cars are popular in New Zealand, but we haven’t heard of much being available over there that might start filtering back here for our use. Simple stuff like induction and exhaust swaps aren’t too much of a problem, with an HKS Super Power Flow filter available for around £180, and their Super Drager exhaust comes in at £640.The word round the club is that a set of new eight-groove discs and Ferodo DS2500 pads from Woodford Garage Motorsport can help a lot. Standard-sized grooved discs are available for £130 and Ferodo DS2500 pads for £90. These offer a worthwhile improvement over standard for most tastes but, if you want to get much better performance for really heavy braking, you’re looking at fitting something like an AP Racing brake kit that will set you back the best part of £2000 for the front end. If you are finding you’re always running out of brakes because you’re on track a lot, maybe you should be thinking of changing to a car that’s a bit more suited to circuit use and that doesn’t weigh quite as much.

    Suspension kits are sometimes seen on cars from Japan, and the most popular seems to be the Ralliart set-up. This is one of those things that you might get on with or it might be too harsh for your taste, so try before you buy the car. Also, check to see if the standard equipment is in the back of the car — it is sometimes put there before the car goes into the auction — before you make your choice.

    If you’d just like to lower your car and stiffen it up a little, HKS does a set of springs that would do the job for about £250 but, after that, you’re into coil-over damper sets that would probably spoil the overall car for road use more than they would help the handling.

    There aren’t many Galants and Legnums to choose from, but the prices we found fall in line with the figures that Club VR4 told us to expect. We found imports starting around the £6000 mark for 1996 cars – both saloons and estates – but the greatest variety was in the £9-10,000 region. Here were cars from 1996 to 1998 with reasonable mileages and, again, they were four and five door variants.

    The only UK-spec Ralliart cars we could find were obviously newer, on 2000 W-reg plates, and their prices started at £12,000. We found one car to which Xtreme had added a few mechanical mods to raise the power output as well as fitting AP Racing brakes front and rear and 18in BBS rims. It had a sticker of £15,000 – quite a saving on the new price, plus the work that must have made it a £35,000-plus car about three years ago.

    Originally published with assistance of CVR4:
    Japanese Performance - Issue 37 - February 2004

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