We've long regarded the Mitsubishi Galant as one of the true gems in the three diamond marque's range. And the 2.5-litre V6-24 version adds an extra touch or brilliance.
In fact the V6 sedans and wagons are among the finest mid-sized front-wheel drive open road tourers on the market with good, safe handling, excellent stability, brisk performance and good accommodation. Our only real gripe about them is a slight lack of chassis and handling sharpness.
Now we've driven a Galant that eclipses all others, the stupendous permanent four-wheel drive, twin turbocharged V6-powered VR4. It has the same handsome, wedgy, BMW-influenced lines, but adds a purposeful deep chin spoiler, subtle side skirts and a chunky rear wing. Styled in-house they all look as if they were meant to be there.
The car has a businesslike stance that hints at things to come when you turn on the engine and drive out on to the highway.
It looks like a performance cars, and it performs the way it looks.
The 2.5-litre motor endows the car with performance that is stunning yet never overwhelming.
Mitsubishi quotes 205kW at 5500rpm and 363Nm peak torque at 4000rpm from the 2498cc twin-turbocharged V6 and the horsepower figure might be conservative.
Certainly it's plenty of power, and it's delivered seamlessly with only the merest hint of turbo lag.
Putting it into perspective that's 5kW more than Ford's potent new T-Series 5.0-litre V8 - ah, the power of turbocharging with its simple answer to the question of extracting more power from an engine.
The turbos mean the motor is quiet, even at high revs (on which it thrives), so it lacks the evocative cammy exhaust note found in naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre Galant V6 motors.
But prod the throttle and your other senses switch so fervently into overload that you don't miss the aural stimulation.
The VR4 is about performance - performance that is raw and fierce yet at the same time well-controlled and manageable.
The car never gives you the feeling that it and not you is calling the shots.
Though acceleration forces push you back in the seat when you floor the throttle and the turbos start whistling you never get the impression that you're merely along for the ride. You always feel that you're calling the shots and the car responds precisely, rapidly and satisfyingly to your commands.
The beautifully-tuned chassis and the four-wheel drive see to that.
Turn-in to corners is crisp and decisive and the steering gives good feedback. It's also nicely-weighted and even at crawling speed never seems over-assisted.
The chassis also provides plenty of seat-of-the-pants feel and you always have a good idea of what the car is doing no matter how hard you're pressing on.
It's the most satisfying car we've driven quickly on demanding country roads since the big version of the Ford RS Cosworth.
Despite its size and weight - 4680mm long and 1520kg - the VR4 never felt unwieldy even in the tightest going.
The test car came with the optional five-speed manual (the car is also available with an automatic fitted with a sequential shift). People who have driven the auto say we had the better of the deal. The auto takes some of the edge off the car and is a little clumsy, we're told.
The manual gearbox has a chunky feel in keeping with a car with this much power and torque and offers much more feel than some Mitsubishi manual boxes.
The shift is quite light, though you're conscious you're moving metal in and out of mesh, and never gets wearisome as the manual gearboxes in high-performance Falcons and Commodores can get, especially in stop/start city running.
Throws between the gears are quite short and the lever will shift gears quickly though without the throwing-a-switch feel evident in some Mitsubishi manuals. You need to fully depress the clutch, though. Failure to do so is "rewarded" by a graunch of gear metal and a heavy jolt through your left arm.
The ratios are well-sorted and match the engine's characteristics nicely.
Clutch action is pleasingly light for a car with this much power and the VR4 launches itself from standstill rapidly and cleanly.
The brakes are efficient and haul the car down from speed effectively. Only on an ultra-twisty road with frequent second gear corners did we notice a slight softening of the pedal after a 15-minute run.
ABS anti-skid braking is standard, and other safety equipment includes dual front airbags.
The front seats are full-on, competition car-style Recaros. They have thick side bolsters, an adjustable length cushion for extra under-knee support, high backs that hold your shoulders well, and the seats are upholstered with a grippy fabric.
The driver's seat side bolsters can be adjusted to give you ribcage-clutching-snug support.
Given the car's prodigious cornering grip you find yourself glad Mitsubishi fitted the Recaros.
And they're very comfortable. After a day's driving spread over 14 hours and more than 800 kilometres we were totally ache-free, and the seat's relative softness took the edge off the firm ride provided by the sports suspension.
They got the thumbs up from the passenger too. In vigorous driving she rated their support as being as good as that provided by Saab seats, and the Swedish manufacturer's car seats are arguably among the very best on the market.
Our only complaint was a certain tenderness from the left-side ribcage the day after the marathon drive. That resulted from the snug-fitting seat side bolsters, of course, and could of course have been avoided by not cornering the car so hard. So it was our fault rather than any fault of the car.
Rear seat legroom was good and there's ample headroom front and rear. The boot has good depth and is well-shaped and will carry a good amount of luggage.
The steering wheel and gear lever knob are leather-wrapped, and the wheel has a nice chunky feel.
The car has a multi-disc Compact Disc sound system, air-conditioning and a range of electrically-controlled accessories.
The VR4's Achilles Heel is its poor lock. Even on moderately wide roads three point turns are necessary. Narrow city carparks can require two bites to get around ramps, and manoeuvring on the narrow country road can turn into a to-and-fro 15-point turns exercise: good thing it's got power steering.
Fuel economy? Let's say the shareholders of BP would be smiling if everyone drove VR4s. Plan on a re-fill of the 60-litre tank every 400 kilometres - or every 300km if you're pressing on and enjoying the car's potential.
The lighting array includes driving lights as well as powerful halogen headlights, and the Galant driver gets plenty of illumination for quick nighttime running.
The car rode on standard 16-inch diameter spoked alloy wheels shod with 225/50 R16 Bridgestone Potenza tyres.
We thought they looked great, though younger acquaintances thought the wheel and tyre set didn't fill enough of the wheelarch.
The Potenzas provided absolutely unshakeable grip and combined with the well-sorted and forgiving chassis to make the VR4 a very enjoyable conveyance for a long open-road journey.
They were also pleasingly quiet, especially on smooth-surfaced motorways.
It didn't rain to speak of during our time with the Galant but we suspect the good tyres and the four-wheel drive would provide high levels of wet road grip.
Ride is firm but never unpleasant and the chassis feels rock-solid.
Then VR4 has its faults - like the poor lock in confined spaces - but despite that and its liking for gallons of 96 octane we loved every second of our time with the Galant.
Even after 820km at the wheel we felt fresh enough to drive another several hundred kilometres; and despite the firm ride and manual gearshift it was a more than acceptable commuter car in Auckland's nightmare traffic.
And it dealt most satisfyingly with motorway tailgaters: a prod of the throttle and they dropped back several metres - instantly.
We think the Galant VR4 is one of the best cars we've ever driven and is a fine tribute to the engineers and designers at Mitsubishi.
AutoPoint road test team.