SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide
Mitsubishi has been making four-wheel drive vehicles for well over half a century, but until the recent introduction of the Montero Sport, the Montero had been the company's sole entry in the American sport-utility market. No longer. Although the name is practically the same, and some chassis components are shared, the Montero and Montero Sport are two very different sport-utility vehicles.
The Montero has evolved in a very upscale direction over the years, leaving a large void in Mitsubishi's lineup - the entry-level and mid-priced sport-utility niches. The Montero Sport was developed to fill that void, and features the same rugged body-on-frame construction and long wheelbase as its big brother. It is smaller and lower than the Montero, with shorter overhangs.
The Montero Sport is designed to compete against all of the popular small and mid-sized SUVs, so a comprehensive range of models is available. The entry-level SUV buyer is the target for the 4-cylinder, manual transmission, 2-wheel drive Montero Sport ES. The heart of the Montero Sport lineup is the mid-level LS. Powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine, and offering an increased level of comfort and convenience amenities, both two- and four-wheel drive models of the LS are available. A long option list for ES and LS models ensures compatibility with every sort of sport-utility use. At the top of the line is the fully-equipped V6-powered, 4-wheel drive Montero Sport XLS. It is nearly as luxurious as the big Montero.
During the week I had a 4-wheel drive Montero Sport LS, I found it to be as snug, comfortable, quiet, and civilized as a car. It had plenty of room inside and was small enough outside to be easy to park and easy to maneuver. It combined the best features of both the car and truck worlds.
APPEARANCE: Except for the Mitsubishi triple-diamond logo in the center of the grille and "Montero Sport" badges on the flanks and tail, the Montero Sport has no styling cues in common with the big Montero. It's considerably lower and shorter. It's not exactly small, but is an easy size to deal with in crowded parking lots or tight trails. A contemporary two-box "4WD station wagon" in design, the Sport LS is well-proportioned and stylish enough for the country club. Short overhangs and 8.5 inches of ground clearance make it ready for the back country. Contrasting lower trim, big wheels and tires, and optional fender flares give the sporty sport-utility look.
COMFORT: Even with its good ground clearance, the Montero Sport LS 4WD has a reasonable floor height. It is easy to get in or out without running boards. There is less headroom than in the big brother Montero, but that is not to say that it's unduly limited. Take your top hat off. Appointments, materials, and interior layout are what would be expected in a modern mid-priced station wagon - which, come to think of it, is what SUVs like the Montero Sport are these days. High-quality synthetics are used for upholstery and trim. The front seats recline fully, and the rear seat has a 60/40 split and flip-and-fold cushions for flat storage. The instrument panel is functional, with most controls well-placed. Small storage spaces and grab handles abound. A one-piece liftgate makes cargo loading easy. The Montero Sport has plenty of window area for visibility. Noise and vibration levels are well within the normal car range, making the Montero Sport LS a good family cruiser.
SAFETY: The 1997 Mitsubishi Montero Sport LS 4WD has dual front air bags, height-adjustable front shoulder straps, and standard 4-wheel disc brakes. Multimode antilock braking is optional.
ROADABILITY: The 4-wheel drive Montero Sport LS is every bit a modern truck in the ride and handling departments. Don't confuse it with a utility vehicle or pickup from a decade or so ago - the ride is a bit firmer than that of a passenger sedan, but it is not harsh or jarring. Sophisticated, high-tech bushings and mounting brackets that isolate the suspension subframes from the main ladder frame and the body from the frame see to that. The Montero Sport's low, wide stance works in its favor for stability on or off the road. The power-assisted steering is responsive and has a good feel.
PERFORMANCE: The 3.0-liter single overhead cam 24-valve V6 used in the Montero Sport LS and XLS has been proven in the larger Montero LS. It has been revised for improved fuel economy and refinement, and now puts out 173 horsepower and 188 lb-ft of torque. The Sport weighs almost 500 lbs. less than the big Montero, which helps acceleration. Although two-wheel drive models have rear drums, the four-wheel drive option brings four-wheel disc brakes for improved stopping. With the V6 engine, towing capacity is a healthy 5000 lbs.
CONCLUSIONS: The Mitsubishi Montero Sport LS is a modern, comfortable, capable sport-utility vehicle for many uses.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 23,970 Price As Tested $ 30,119 Engine Type V6, single overhead cam, 24 valves Engine Size 3.0 liters, 181 cu. in. Horsepower 173 @ 5250 Torque (lb-ft) 188 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 107.3 in. / 189.8 in. Curb Weight 3945 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 22.8 Fuel Capacity 19.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular or premium Tires 265/70 R15 Yokohama Super Digger Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc Suspension, front/rear independent unequal-length A-arms, coil springs / rigid axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs Ground Clearance 8.5 in. Drivetrain Front engine, on-demand 4-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed not available Towing Capacity 5,000 lbs. Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.51 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Anti-lock Brakes $ 610 Air Conditioning $ 915 Premium Package $ 3,070 includes: 15-inch alloy wheels and 265 tires, chrome grille accents, fender flares, side steps, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Infinity audio upgrade, power sunroof Convenience Package $ 829 includes: power windows and door locks, power mirrors, cruise control Floor Mats $ 85 Rear Deflector $ 145 Wheel Locks $ 50 Destination Charge $ 445