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1997 Mitsubishi Montero SR -- Faces the stiffest competition ever.

by Mary Iacoponi


SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide

Every morning on my walk to the local java-house, I admire a jet-black Mitsubishi Montero Sport perched in my neighbor's driveway -- looking ever so sporty and aggressive. Its black magic paint glistens in the morning sun. I was in high gear; eager to test drive Mitsubishi's hottest, new sport-utility vehicle, but a scheduling change tossed me a Montero SR instead. Too bad.

The sport utility phenomenon continues at a red-hot pace, and the auto companies keep pumping them out at record numbers. Mercedes is the latest to hit with its new M-Class. BMW, Porsche, Volkswagen and Audi all have plans to join the fray. The field is awesome, perhaps even overwhelming. But, some are hot and some are not. This Montero SR has been around for quite awhile and it's got its hands full with some extraordinary competition out there.

The Montero SR was good looking enough despite its tall, skinny body design. Its Prescott gray paint, highlighted with Seattle silver rocker panels and jazzy chrome mag wheels was a pretty sharp looking package. But once I got behind the wheel to blast down the coast, I was not overly impressed.

I'm a driver. Some years I have been known to clock off 70,000-plus miles. So what I love best about cars and trucks is the way they feel when you drive them. It's the numero uno quality I look for.

The Montero SR is not quite a driver's car. Its exterior design is boxy, tall and outdated. When you view it from the rear, it resembles the silhouette of a passenger van more than a sport utility vehicle. Its high center of gravity doesn't help it hug the road very well. In fact, the suspension feels wobbly -- it sways and rock-n-rolls when cornering. My "test dummy" passenger who accompanies me on my weekly coastal jaunts was a bit unnerved. She said, "It feels like you're on a roller coaster, especially on the curves. Some of the other cars feel "planted", but this one is unsteady. It doesn't feel connected to the road."

However, there are some very redeeming features to this go-anywhere Montero SR. A new high-torque V-6 engine produces 200 horsepower (197 hp with California Emissions). That's some pretty nice power for a sport utility vehicle. And its Active-Trac four-wheel-drive offers plenty of traction for all road and off-road conditions.

This Montero SR has a huge interior -- one of the largest in its class. It you love lots of light and a feeling of spaciousness, this Montero SR is a good fit. You will appreciate the large sunroof, big windows and the slider windows in the third row. The sunroof is placed in the center of the roof rather than toward the front. It's a lot easier on those of us with sensitive eyes. This is a 7-passenger truck, but the 2 rear seats are best suited for kids. The two rear seats in the third row are stored upright when not in use to allow extra cargo space. The second-row seats fold flat to combine with the front seats to make a large fold-down area.

The woodgrain trim and all-leather seats and door panels give a classy look to this vehicle. But some of the instruments and gauges are a bit clumsy looking. It's almost as if they were an afterthought rather than an integrated part of the design.

My favorite little feature on this Montero SR is its compass. It's a circular design with an outside temperature gauge in the center, and rotates around as you change direction. It's very cool.

The Montero SR has many fine features, but my overall view is that it is boxy and clumsy and the handling leaves a lot to be desired. The hefty price of $41, 339 puts this sport-ute in a class with the best of the rest. That's not an easy spot to be in with the flood of great products pouring into this market.


TYPE:             Luxo sports utility vehicle 
SPECIFICATIONS:   front-engine, four-wheel-dive, five-door,  
                  seven passenger sport utility vehicle
ENGINE:           SOHC 3.5 liter V6,  200 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, 228 
                  foot pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm
CURB WEIGHT:      4,440 pounds
TOW CAPACITY:     5,000 pounds (with trailer brakes)
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 14.9 miles per gallon (observed)  
                  (EPA fuel economy 16 city - 19 highway)
PRICE AS TESTED:  $ 41,339
FOR:              Super-size sunroof and large windows 
                  gives lots of light and great view for all 
AGAINST:          Too high-priced for fierce competition out there 

We rate this vehicle against similar luxury sport utility vehicles in four categories important to customers - plus a fifth category for relative dollar value. The maximum category score of 20 points has been adjusted for 4X4 vehicles because a sixth category had to be added for off-road capability.

                                            Test Points     Max.Points
   Leans and dives when cornering - leaves 
   you with uneasy feeling		      14		20
   Spacious interior and high quality materials 
   give good creature comfort	              19		20
   Plenty of power in the V6 - 200 horsepower 
   engine				      19		20
   Interior design does not look integrated 
   but rather like add-ons 		      15		20
5. THE 1997 BUYER / FACE VALUE 				
   Way too expensive with so many luxury
   utes to pick from			       6		10
   Ample ground clearance (7.1 inches), 
   but very high center of gravity 	       7		10
                  Total Scorecard Points      80 points	       100 points