New Car Review


PHOTO

1998 Mitsubishi Montero

by Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide


Mitsubishi's premium sport-utility has a new look for 1998. It's not a radical departure for the familiar, boxy brute, but is will give onlookers a bit of a shock. The 1998 Montero puts "sport" in sport- utility with fender flares that look like they came right off a GT racer. This is not the expected SUV look in this country, but there is method in Mitsubishi's apparent madness. Specially-prepared versions of the Montero (or Pajero, as it is known in most of the rest of the world) have done very well in the Dakar Rally over the years, sweeping the first three places in the 1997 event. Mitsubishi is celebrating, as well it might. The Dakar Rally is a serious, two-week off-road event in which the vast majority of entrants never even finish.

So, add sports-car looks to the Montero's luxury car interior and all-weather truck utility and character. There are other changes in the Montero lineup for 1998. Only one well-equipped trim level is offered this year, instead of last year's two, but nothing has been lost. Standard equipment adjustments and interior enhancements improve value, and the '98 Montero is very competitive with other upper- middle class SUVs. It still has the Active Trac 4-wheel drive system, and antilock brakes and rear jump seats are now standard equipment.

I always seem to get the Montero when the weather starts to turn bad. Must be good timing.

APPEARANCE: A relatively minor change in sheet metal makes a major difference in style. Previous Monteros were tall, narrow, boxy, and utilitarian. The 1998 edition has the same dimensions and the same passenger cabin as before, but blister-type fender flares more commonly associated with high-performance cars successfully annihilate the earlier slab-sidedness. The new Montero looks lower, wider, and sleeker even if the numbers say otherwise. It stands out from other sport-utilities with ease. Although the side cladding carrys over, the bumper cladding is new and has integrated projector-beam driving lights. This, and an obvious skid plate, helps give the front a purposeful, aggressive look. The somewhat anachronistic chromed rain gutters continue, more than making up in function what they may possibly lack in contemporary style. Getting out into a waterfall on a rainy day is no fun, and rain gutters really do work to prevent that.

COMFORT: With the help of running boards and grab handles for all doors, access to the Montero's interior is easy for even the shortest people. Inside, there is headroom for even tall folks. It is outfitted to the same luxury standard as any comparably-priced car. A variety of option packages can give any desired degree of comfort and convenience features. Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, a first-rate climate control system, an AM/FM/cassette sound system, and privacy tinted glass on the rear windows. A large new double- compartment console is most useful. Additional soundproofing this year makes the Montero restfully quiet. My test vehicle was equipped to press fleet specifications: fully loaded. Leather seating surfaces and heated front seats, wood trim, sun/moonroof, upgraded stereo with CD changer, and much more gave the full luxury experience. Seating is comfortable, but the Montero is basically a mid-sized SUV. It will hold four people in good comfort, five okay, and seven if the two in the rear jump seats are small and adventurous. A side-hinged tailgate gives easy access to the rear cargo area, and includes a tool kit.

SAFETY: The 1998 Mitsubishi Montero has standard dual front air bags, 3-point shoulder straps for all outboard passengers, side-impact resistant door beams, and 4-wheel antilock disc brakes.

ROADABILITY: The Montero is unabashedly a truck, but a truck that shows just how far trucks have come in civility and refinement. It combines ease of handling and good ride comfort with character. A tall stance allows for good visibility. The heavy duty suspension and large tires do a great job on rough surfaces. The power steering is not too light and telegraphs surface conditions well. A high center of gravity, narrow track, and two-ton weight do mean that sports car-type cornering is not on the Montero's agenda, but it is a sport-utility, after all. A 3000GT won't tow 5000 lbs and doesn't like going off pavement. The relative narrowness and tight turning circle make maneuvering in tight spots easy, be they off-road trails or city parking places. Skid plates protect essential mechanical parts from road or trail hazards. The sophisticated, electronically-controlled, multimode "Active Trac" 4-wheel drive system is easy to use and provides traction under all conditions.

PERFORMANCE: The Montero's 3.5-liter single overhead cam V6 has 200 horsepower and 228 lb-ft of torque. It is smooth and quiet, and matched to an electronically-controlled automatic transmission that changes shift mode depending on the way the vehicle is driven. A first- gear lockout winter mode makes driving in really slick conditions easier. The Montero has plenty of power for all uses.

CONCLUSIONS: The Mitsubishi Montero is ageing very gracefully with an interesting facelift for 1998.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 33,530
Price As Tested          $ 38,736
Engine Type              single overhead cam 24 valve V6
Engine Size              3.5 liters / 213 cu. in.
Horsepower               200 @ 5000
Torque (lb-ft)           228 @ 3500
Transmission             4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length       107.3 in. / 186.6 in.
Ground Clearance         7.5 in.
Curb Weight              4431 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    22.2
Fuel Capacity            24.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium or regular
Tires                    P265/70R15 Yokohama Super Digger m+s
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent double wishbone /
                         solid axle
Drivetrain               front engine, on-demand 4-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      16 / 19 / 17
0 to 60 mph                        10.0 sec
Towing Capacity                    5,000 lbs.
Coefficient of Drag (cd)           0.47

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Luxury Package
  Includes: premium audio upgrade,
  leather seat trim, power sunroof,
  power driver's seat              $ 2,787
Cold Weather Package
  Includes: heated front seats and
  exterior mirrors, locking rear
  differential, headlamp washers   $   774
Value Package
  Includes: floor mats; cargo mat, net,
  and cover; roof rack; 10-disc CD
  changer; wood grain trim; remote
  keyless entry; tire cover and
  wheel locks                      $ 2,439
Option package savings            ($ 1,239)
Destination & Handling             $   445

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