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SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide

1996 Mitsubishi Montero SR

by John Heilig


ENGINE: 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE 215@,5000 rpm/228@3000 rpm 
TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic 
FUEL ECONOMY: 14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway, mpg test 
WHEELBASE: 107.3 in. 
OVERALL LENGTH: 186.6 in. 
OVERALL WIDTH: 70.3 in. 
CURB WEIGHT 4465 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY: 24.3 gal. 
LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 38.8 cu. ft. 
TIRES: P265/70R15 
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, 
    battery voltage, compass, outside temperature readout, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, power sunroof, power 
    driver's seat, cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette and CD, roof 
    rack, leather seats, anti-lock braking, dual air bags. 

Today's sport utility market is a bit like Alice in Wonderland. If you stand still you fall behind, and you have to run just to stay even with all the others. The Mitsubishi Montero is one of the vehicles that appears to be standing still. Unfortunately.

The Montero was a great buy six years ago and it's a nice vehicle now, but it's not keeping up with the competition.

Let me explain that if I can. The biggest detriment to the Montero is its styling. It still looks like a early 1990s sport utility. If you recall in that era the SUVs were very truck-like. The competition has gone to more aerodynamic styling with more car-like ride and performance. But that's not the difference.

Montero is a little bit bigger than the Blazer class, but it's smaller than the Tahoe class. It's in that middle ground that includes the old Explorer and the present Isuzu Trooper/Acura SLX.

Montero is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that is rated at a healthy 215 hp. This engine drives the rear wheels (in two-wheel drive mode) through a four-speed automatic transmission. If the transfer case is shifted to 4WD, then, naturally, all four wheels are powered, with the power going to the wheels with the most traction. The Mitsubishi transfer case shifter is a lever mounted on the floor in the console.

Power is enough to make the Montero a peppy vehicle. Combine that with a substantial ride height, and the Montero is a good vehicle for seeing over the traffic ahead and moving into that look-ahead area rather quickly.

Montero also has all the safety features of the modern era, such as dual air bags, multi-mode ABS braking and side impact door beams. It has other luxury goodies like power steering, power windows and door locks, and leather-faced seats.

Behind the rear seat is a large carrying area that is rated at over 38 cubic feet. If you're using the Montero as a people carrier, there is a pair of jump seats. These seats fold up against the side of the vehicle when they're not being used. Sure, visibility is reduced somewhat, but we never noticed them there during our test, so the loss in visibility isn't that serious.

The instrumentation is complete, with the elimination of one annoying Montero standard. In the place of the "attitude gauge" that told you if the Montero was leaning in one direction or another (one would assume that the driver should have a pretty good handle on that without having to look at a gauge, and if the driver is so busy looking at the gauge to find he's almost lying on his side, WHY ISN'T HE DRIVING?), is a combination outside temperature readout/compass. This is a useful gauge. You have to know the outside temp to be prepared for ice, and it's good to know what direction you're traveling.

All these instruments are encased in a tasteful amount of wood trim that makes the Montero more luxurious.

Mitsubishi has to do what it can to make the Montero look more luxurious, because it carries a sticker price of over $41,000. In this rarefied atmosphere, the Montero is competing with the new Acura SLX, Lexus LX450 and Range Rover Discovery 4.6. Even the new Mercedes-Benz AAV will have a sticker of around $35,000 if all goes right in Tuscaloosa. These are some pretty hefty vehicles.

So here's where Montero is hurting in the market. A sticker price of that high on a vehicle with the retro styling and not a lot of features to make it stand out from the crowd. Yeah, it has goodies like an adjustable suspension and transmission, but you have to offer more to ask as much as $10,000 more than the competition. While it's a nice vehicle, it is slowed by that sticker, which is a disappointment. With a price that's more in keeping with what the vehicle offers (in the $25,000 range), this could be a killer seller, even with the boxy styling.