TACH SPECIAL: Mitsubishi Montero: Consumer Reports vs. Reality

By Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President & Co-Publisher, THE AUTO CHANNEL

June 24, 2001

When I turned on my TV this morning, I watched and listen to what many of you undoubtedly also saw and heard; that Consumer Reports has judged the Mitsubishi Montero, “Not Acceptable”.

The Consumer Reports test video being used on both national and local newscasts showed a Montero careening and screeching around pylons and nearly tipping over (Consumer Reports used 150 pound outriggers on either side of the vehicle to help prevent it from actually falling - they claim that without the outriggers the vehicle would have definitely gone over).

Well, from my own personal experience with the Mitsubishi Montero, I rate the Consumer Reports’ story Not Acceptable, and Dangerous. I say Not Acceptable because I think that the test is a flawed assessment of the vehicle’s capabilities, and I say dangerous because of the way and manner that the story is then used, not to mention the manner in which Consumer Reports uses such stories for their own exploitation.

Let me address my “danger” point first. Broadcast news, being the quick-cut, “sound-bite” beast that it is, presented the story in a matter of seconds and devoid of sufficient background information or development. I’m a television producer and journalist, with an IQ over 75 (maybe just barely). I know what to expect from our most powerful news outlets, and yet, after watching the story several times I came away with the feeling that just standing next to the Montero could be hazardous. It wasn’t until I did much more research and read a few reports, including the actual Consumer Reports story; that I learned that the Consumer Reports rating concerned the Montero’s performance during a “short-course double-lane-change emergency-avoidance maneuver” test. So it wasn’t because the vehicle was judged unsafe during routine usage, or normal on/off-road conditions. In fact, the Consumer Reports story actually states, “Since buying a new model (the Montero Limited) in August 2000, we'd put almost 7,000 miles on the vehicle and our evaluations had been mostly positive. In a brief description in our annual auto issue (April 2001), prior to track testing, we said, ‘Routine handling is sound if unexceptional, and the ride is compliant and well controlled.’”

But the television coverage, and subsequent radio news items that I heard, didn’t say that the Montero provides expected performance handling except when executing hair-brained, stunt-driver like maneuvers. The reports made it sound like the Montero is unsafe in any condition. To me this is dangerous. It is fear mongering. It is irresponsible journalism/exploitation, on the part of Consumer Reports as well as the news outlets. In addition, the test results could be out-right wrong, if not just superfluous.

Mitsubishi Motors, who have conducted their own tests under similar short-course double-lane-change emergency-avoidance maneuvers, states that their results are completely different. Among the reasons given by Mitsubishi for having dramatically different results, is that Mitsubishi didn’t use 150 pound outriggers on the side of their test vehicles, which could and do dramatically alter the characteristics of the vehicles.

However, my view of the truth and accuracy of such testing is much more pragmatic and based on personal driving experience. Consumer Reports claims that their testing tenet is to take a product to it furthest limit to see how it performs. I say that if you take anything to it’s furthest limit, or test it in unsafe conditions, that everything is faulty and unacceptable. If, in order to save time in the morning, I take my coffee maker and toaster into the shower with me, I have a really good chance of getting killed even though I’m using the coffee maker and toaster for their intended purposes. Likewise, if I’m leading the Highway Patrol on a reckless high-speed chase that involves short-course double-lane-change emergency-avoidance maneuvers in order to steer clear of other motorists or tire-deflating devices, then I run the risk of flipping my vehicle. Therefore, two of the things I try to not do every day is to make coffee and toast while showering, and to not create a situation in which the police have to chase me (although it gets harder everyday to avoid this). At worst, maybe the bottom line is that if you feel you just have to have the police chase you, that you should steal a steers-like-it-was-on-rails sportscar instead of a Montero.

But much more to the point is my own personal driving experience with the Montero. Over the last year I’ve had several occasions to drive, test, and observe others driving it under a very wide set of conditions. These conditions include an aggressive off-road course at Willow Springs; California’s freeways; the road-race track at Laguna Seca; and the streets and highways of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Specifically, let me describe my experience in and around New York this past March. You may recall that in early March, the Northeast was threatened by the “Snow Storm of the Century”. I happened to be in the tri-state area during those days and I was driving a 2001 Mitsubishi Montero. Although the storm never lived up to its hype in the NYC area, there was considerable snowfall and severe driving conditions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

As it happened, I was in Allentown visiting relatives the Saturday/Sunday just prior to the storm. On the Monday that the storm did hit, I was due to be in Lower Manhattan for a meeting. When I awoke there was eight or nine inches of snow on the ground. I left Allentown at about 10:30am; my appointment was at 1pm. I made it to the city in less than two hours. Needless to say, I drove quickly. There was snow, rain, and/or slush the entire way. There were plenty of accidents and snow-bound vehicles, around which I had to swerve to avoid. At no time did my vehicle overturn. In fact, I’m quite sure that I never had two wheels off the road at any point in the drive. I’d rate this journey as an excellent test of the vehicle’s capabilities. Moreover, as I commented at the time to those I met with, I felt that it was due to the Montero that I was able to get out of and through the snow, and make it into Manhattan so quickly.

By comparison, my experiences with a Montero on the freeways and tracks in California were much more tame. However, the results were the same: I never flipped a Montero, I never witnessed any other journalist flip one, and, with the exception of the Willow Springs Off-road course, I never saw or experienced a Montero wheel(s) leaving the ground.

While discussing the Consumer Reports story this morning with some of the people in an associated business, a multi-question was asked, “Why would Consumer Reports create this kind of story? What axe do they have to grind? Isn’t Consumer Reports a non-profit agency?” Yes, Consumer Reports is a non-profit company. But non-profit doesn’t mean that people don’t get paid salaries. They’re also just as reliant on revenue as any other company, and they have the same need for promotional exposure and brand awareness as any commercial enterprise. Consumer Reports sells subscriptions to its magazine and charges a large fee to access information on their website. My guess is that if a brand-awareness study for Consumer Reports was conducted last night and then again today, there would be a 1000% difference. I’d also guess that the traffic to Consumer Reports website today is dramatically different then it was yesterday. If the story headline was that the Montero performs as expected, and that it passed all normal tests, there’d be no story: awareness of Consumer Reports wouldn’t have increased, website traffic would not have gone up, and website fee revenue would have stayed static. By the way, on the point of website fees, The Auto Channel website provides much, much more information and its all FREE to all users.

Unfortunately, the damage done to the Montero is done, and no amount of Mitsubishi effort will mitigate the story. Yes, I am assuming that Consumer Reports evaluation is incorrect, superfluous, or incomplete. In addition, as I stated above, I take the position that if you use something stupidly you will get hurt. Consequently, you should not use things stupidly. You should try really hard to not get involved in doing short-course double-lane-change emergency-avoidance maneuvers. For my money, and from my experience, there’s no greater risk in driving a Montero than any other SUV. If the Montero fits your requirements and you like its look, you should buy it. And if you want the most complete and comprehensive information about new and used cars, you should use The Auto Channel and save the fees charged by Consumer Reports. If it makes you feel any better, The Auto Channel is also sort of a non-profit organization.

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