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