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Mitsubishi Montero: Consumer Reports vs. Reality

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

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