A Gallant Stride: The Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 Story
As far as we know, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution we all know and love originated in the late 1980s as homologated versions of that particular generation’s rally-based Lancer sedans. But was the Lancer the first car to utilize a stable, AWD layout, stout, aggressive four-door body style and the famous 4G63T turbo-four engine? No.
Back in the days when rally racing was the hot topic for almost every performance car maker out there, with Lancia, Ford Cosworth and Audi being some of the gods among them, particularly in the Group A category. It was here where Mitsubishi strutted their stuff by getting their ordinary mid-size sedan and giving it all the right tools needed to slay the tricky, rough dirt roads of Group A.
This was where the almighty turbo-four 4G63T engine came to play, as it was the standard engine used on the Galant Group A that hit up to 300 HP which was satisfactory in the fast paced track of motorsports that was Group A. Eventually, the solid AWD platform, balanced midsize chassis, relatively lightweight build and a peppy yet powerful turbo four cylinder managed to score the Japanese brand at least 6 victories in Group A before times changed in 1992; Ford migrated the Sierra/Sapphire Cosworth to a smaller Escort-based bodyshell; Subaru developed the Impreza to succeed their Legacy; Toyota eventually replaced the Celica coupe with the Corolla, and soon, Mitsubishi decided to adapt and carry over their prized rally racing Galant crown over to a Lancer body, giving birth to the legendary Lancer Evolution.
As for the production version for the public, arguably the more important part to know about… As it was between 1987-1992, Mitsubishi mass produced the Galant VR-4 E39A and made it available outside of Japan in North America, New Zealand, Australia and some other Asia Pacific Rim territories.
As it was, it still retained the early version of the 2.0L 4G63T engine that soon became the basis of the Lancer Evo that would carry on its legacy for the next 13 years. Because it was the first 4G63T iteration, it wasn’t as powerful as the Lancer’s later version, producing about 237 HP (or 195 HP on some markets) rather than the Lancer’s (limited) 276 HP. This gave the car a fair top speed of 130 MPH (210 KM/H) and a 0-60 time of around 7 seconds. It also had power assisted 4WS (4-Wheel Steering), MacPherson struts on the front and multi link struts at the rear, and was the first Mitsubishi to use the highly advanced systems of (at the time) AYC, 4 wheel independent suspension, 4 wheel ABS and a thing called “Dynamic ECS”, aka Dynamic Electronic Controlled Suspension, that kept the car pliant and its foot well placed onto the ground. For a late 80s car, Mitsubishi really did go all out on the Galant using all of that advanced technology; all of those handling and suspension enhancements created an incredibly responsive, surprisingly comfortable and agile sedan with loads of grip that could really thrash the B-roads all the while being a delightfully composed daily driver.
But the Galant VR-4’s story didn’t end with the Lancer Evo. In 1996, Mitsubishi re-introduced the Galant VR-4 using the 8th generation Galant sedan as the base template.
Forgoing the 4G63T, the Galant VR-4 EC5A instead uses a new engine: the 2.5 L 6A13TT, a twin turbo V6 engine. No it is not the same one from the 3000GT. Anyway, now, it hits the sweet (limited) 276 HP mark most Japanese performance cars back in the days were inhibited to, though the true power figure may have been higher than that. Due to the more powerful engine, it could now reach top speeds of 150 MPH (240 KM/H) when de-limited and could go 0-60 in about 5 and a half seconds. The new VR-4 came in two trims, Type-V and Type-S, the difference with the two is that the Type-V could be had with either a 5-speed manual or the INVECS-II, a special 5-speed semi-auto “self learning” gearbox based on the Porsche’s Tiptronic transmission, while the Type-S had the Lancer Evo IV’s AYC rear diff layout, giving it superior balance and surprising agility for its size and weight. This generation of Galant VR-4 is obviously the more popular one compared to the older E39A, mainly because of it’s aggressive styling and a great 2.5L TT V6 which can be tuned to epic proportions if done right, as those engines were built to last.
A wagon version of this generation existed, called the Legnum VR-4. Like the Galant before it, it had to have a different name for a different body style.
Unfortunately, though the civilian Galant continued in production until 2012 due to poor sales, quotas and economic issues meant that the Galant VR-4 reached the end of its life by 2003. It’s a shame though, and perhaps an omen of sorts. As the Galant’s direct rival since its E39A days was the Subaru Legacy 2.5GT, When the Galant VR-4 pulled out in 2003, the Legacy 2.5GT lost its main rival, but the Subaru still carried on to this day. Coincidentally, the Impreza served to be the Lancer Evo’s direct rival until the Evo pulled the plug in 2015, while the Impreza WRX STi carried on. Either this is some weird coincidence or it is destiny, you decide.
In conclusion, while the Lancer Evo is great and serves to be the one thing Mitsubishi still had going on for the past 10 years, Evo devotees should try to get to know the Galant VR-4 and pay it some respect and acknowledgement, because without the Galant VR-4, there wouldn’t have been any Lancer Evolution in the first place. There is that certain historical pedigree behind the Galant VR-4, and it is perhaps this very pedigree that gives it a small but unshakable cult following, other than having an irrational love for large midsize sedans with performance potential, and the slight hipster perk of having a 4 door performance car from Mitsubishi that isn’t an Evo.
You could compare the relationship between the Evo and the VR-4 like two hot sisters. The Evo is the younger, more lively and active pretty one that dresses up in the most wild fashions or whatever is trendy that is very extroverted, makes lots of friends and is adored by virtually everybody, while the VR-4 is more like the beautiful, older, more reserved and quiet one that likes to dress and live more conservatively. While not many people seem to know about her, those who do, and get past her passive nature will find out she’s one hell of a player that you never knew you wish you had. It all boils down to taste, and I for one would do anything to get past the enigmatic nature of the older sister. ▪