SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide
Mitsubishi has chosen 2001 to introduce its third generation almost full size sport ute. In doing so, this new Montero brings a whole set of innovations to the table with this entirely new vehicle.
It is bigger, but not too big. It is wider, but not too wide. It has more forward gear ratios, five with a standard Sportronic sequential shift mode. It is more luxurious, but not ostentatious. And the new body design may be a little outrageous.
Looking like nothing else, the Montero has a love it or leave look. The body has a massive, defined look starting with the squared off, chiseled hood created by a line that begins in the rear "D" pillar that continues down the beltline of the SUV across the front of the hood to create the squared look and then continuing down the other side to the opposite "D" pillar.
Designers chose to create more mass by humped, rounded and defined fenders and bulging front and rear wheel wells with an additional line emanating from the rear well flares that ends in the tail light chrome molding. When looking in the side view mirror, the rear fender/wheel wells are obvious. It almost has a coke bottle feel. I like the design, it's the best looking Montero by a long ways and its uniqueness and rugged combat like appearance separates it from all other SUVs. There is no question, the Montero will standout from the crowd. Like a Hummer, it wouldn't surprise anyone if the people exiting the vehicle wore battle fatigues.
Sizewise, the new Montero adds new dimensions to the word spacious. It is actually shorter than an Explorer by about two inches at 188.9 inches (an increase of 2.3 inches over generation 2) but internally it feels much larger (than an Explorer) and it is by about 14 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the seats folded. Wheelbase is up by 2.2 inches to 109.5 inches and width is up by 4 inches to 73.9 inches. This has allowed Mitsubishi to add a small third row of seats (a two place bench for the vertically challenged or children) that ingeniously folds flat in to the floor increasing the passenger capacity to seven.
Track is up by 3.8 inches in front and 3.2 inches in the rear, with both dimensions now at 61.5 inches. Notwithstanding all the new size is a reduction in turning circle by nearly a foot and a half to exactly 40 feet. Body/chassis stiffness has been increased and is now three times more resistent to bending and twisting forces. All this new size means more weight. It has gone up only 111 pounds, a remarkable achievement. About the only carry over from the prior generation is the 3.5L SOHC V-6 engine, maybe a mistake.
But this beauty is more than skin deep. The Montero is the only mid or full size SUV that uses four wheel fully independent suspension (not counting the Hummer). Up front is a double wishbone set up with coil springs and in the rear is a heavy duty multilink again with coils. This replaces a 3-link solid axle with coils. With the new suspension is more wheel travel, an increase of 1.6 inch in front and an added .6 inch in the rear. This new set up has been tested and proven in the 1999 and 2000 Paris Dakar Rally.
More changes include a variable ratio power rack and pinion steering replacing the previous generation's recirculating-ball system and twin piston calipers on the ventilated front discs. Even the rear discs are ventilated and four channel ABS is standard.
Mitsubishi offers one of the most sophisticated four wheel drive systems with "ActiveTrac", Mitsu's brand of selectable two wheel rear drive, all wheel drive with a 33/67 split between the front and rear axles, a four wheel high mode that locks the center differential (with the Limited, the rear axle is standard limited slip), and a four wheel low mode (with a ratio of 1.90) for low-speed crawling, super steep hills, deep snow or mud. The lesser equipped XLS model comes with the more mundane part time shift on the fly 4X4 system.
If there is any weakness in this package, it is the engine. With a Limited tipping the scales at 4,675 pounds, 3.5L V-6 just doesn't have enough moxie to motivate this otherwise stellar in nearly every other respect SUV. Putting out 200 hp is plenty of poop to make a Chevy Impala run as if were being chased by a very hungary cheetah, but in an almost full size SUV, most of the competition offers a lot more cubes and horsepower. Both Ford and Jeep offer V-8's and 4.0L sixes. The new Pathfinder has 40 to 50 more horsepower in a smaller package (I test that unit next week). The Durango has a 4.7L and 5.9L V-8 packages./p>
The Mitsu SOHC V-6 pumps out that 200 hp at 5,000 rpm and 235 pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm. It is perfect for the Montero Sport, but even with the wonderful five speed, 0-60 times are a telling look at its not so swift performance. Times averaged 11.14 seconds with a best run of 10.57 seconds. Passing performance is just that, passable. Times averaged 6.64 seconds for a level 50-70 mph run. But up hill times can really test your patience and courage. Give yourself lots of room and hope the guy your passing doesn't step on the gas. Up hill times averaged 14.14 seconds. These times are adequate on the level and marginal on a grade, but are not up to the level of the competition in this price class of $35,000.
It could be easily cured with 4.0L V-6 with 240 hp or maybe even a small V-8. The tranny does an admirable job of keeping the engine in the power band which starts at about 3,000 rpm and its shifts are imperceptible. The Sportronic mode adds a dash of sport and the convenience of shifting without mashing the throttle, which happens quite often.
To the credit of the trannys responsiveness, the Montero actually feels spritely in low speed operation (under 50 mph) with strong tip in and a powerful second gear. But when wind resistance increases and gear ratios are reduced, so does performance. As a result, mileage suffers somewhat. EPA rates the Montero at 13/18 mpg city/highway. I averaged about 16.5 mpg during my test period, but that didn't include any acceleration testing. In comparison, the Explorer SOHC V-6, Jeep V-8, Durango V-8, Tahoe and Yukon all return marginally better fuel economy by a mile per gallon or so. A more powerful engine, with a lower rear axle ratio might just improve performance and economy at the same time. At least with the 23.8 gallon fuel tank, fill ups won't be daily and the highway range is well over 400 miles.
In the speed retardation department, the big four wheel ventilated discs with ABS are superb. In wet, rainy conditions, the Montero can be hauled down from 40 mph in just 45 feet. At 50 mph it will take about 75 feet. This was on very wet asphalt. The stops were arrow straight with no wheel slippage. Big, meaty 265/70X16 mud and snow rated tires mounted on good looking alloys surely helped.
Ponderosa Road showed the benefits of fully independent suspension. The ride on the washboard was smooth enough, but there was droning or resonance set up by the body also noticeable on the highway on anything but the smoothest asphalt. In the two 90 degree corners, the Montero was rock solid. There was some body or interior working making some noise from the area of the biggest moonroof I've ever seen.
On roads such as Green Valley and Latrobe, the Mitsu was excellent with predictable understeer and remarkable cornering grip. Doing the twisties at speed was a pleasure and fun. Quite sporty.
The new rack and pinion variable ratio power steering has good on center and off center feel with just the right amount of power assist. On the highway, the Montero tracks straight and true with little or no correction ever required.
Some road noise is let through on the highway as mentioned before. It comes through as a continuous drone that isn't loud and sometimes could only be sensed. The ride is smooth and most minor irregs and annoyances are absorbed by the compliant suspension. Wind noise is keep to a minimum and only under strong throttle application could the engine be heard. It doesn't have the sweet sound of the Eclipse V-6, but it's not bad.
Inside, is one of the widest and most spacious cabins around. The front buckets (the driver's is power with power lumbar) are done in leather with firm, comfortable supporting cushions. It's surprising to find the chairs in the Montero so much better than those of the Montero Sport. The dash is typical Mitsu, a little glitzy. There are two big holes split by four smaller holes, the big ones consist of a speedo and 8,000 rpm tach (redline is 6,000 rpm) left and right with the upper small holes giving fuel and temp info and the lower two informing the driver of the 4X4 status and warning system for open doors.
The steering wheel needs special mention. It is a super thick, wood and leather set up and very comfortable to drive with.
The center pod contains the sound system and AC system which provides for rear air with separate controls in the rear of the center console. Above the radio is a color screen which doubles as a compass, outside temp, graphics relating to the operation of the AC, time, date and distance to empty. More glitz than necessary. To the right are two glove boxes, an upper and a lower. There are airbags for the driver and passenger and side air bags as well.
The second row of rear seats (60/40 split) offer room for three adults with gobs of leg and hip room. The seat backs have a side lever for individual recline positions.
But the big news is the "in the floor" third row of seats giving the Mitsu minivan people capacity. Simply lift up the floor, reach down and pull up the seats which lock into two heavy duty looking fittings inset into the floor of the cargo area. My kids thought they were cool, but they care little about comfort, even when they are tired. They could perform the operation of setting the seats, it's that easy. I climbed back there for a short period with an adult limit of maybe one hour at best. Then passengers in the second row get a new address called "Row B". The spare tire is mounted on the back.
Pricing is well placed, with the Limited stickering at $34,997 with only one option, a $900 preferred equipment packaged giving automatic climate control and rear air. With destination of $495 (all the way from Minokamo, Japan) the price of admission is $36,392.
An XLS model bases for $30,997. It is a non leather, 3.5L unit with a four speed auto and part time four wheel drive with other differences being in the trim level of velour fabric seats without power adjustment. If you opt for the XLS buy the only option for $1,150 which gives you the gigantic moonroof and the more important limited slip differential.
Niello Mitsubishi has a great selection of this 2001 SUV which offers utility in large doses with plenty of sport thrown in. Now where was that catalogue of superchargers?
Specifications Price $31,492 to $36,392 Engine 3.5L SOHC, 24 valve V-6 200 hp @ 5,000 rpm 235 lbs-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm Transmission Limited: Five Speed Automatic with Sportronic XLS: Four Speed Automatic Transfer Case Limited: Two speed ActiveTrac with full time 4WD XLS: Two speed, part time 4WD Configuration Longitudinal front engine, rear wheel drive, four wheel drive Dimensions Wheelbase 109.5 inches Length 188.9 inches Width 73.9 inches Height 73.1 inches Weight 4,675 pounds GVWR 5,840 pounds Ground clearance 9.3 inches Turning Circle 40.0 feet Track (f/r) 61.5/61.5 inches Fuel Capacity 23.8 gallons Tow Capacity 5,000 pounds Tires 265/70X16 Wheels 16X7 inches Coefficient of Drag 0.42 Performance 0-60 11.14 seconds 50-70 6.64 seconds 50-70 uphill 14.14 seconds Top Speed Faster than any sane person would want to go on a public highway Fuel Economy EPA 13/18 mpg city/highway, expect about 16-17 in El Dorado County, 18- 19 mpg on the highway.