2001 Mitsubishi Montero
2001 Mitsubishi Montero Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Longer, wider, taller … and swell-er.
Mitsubishi Montero has always been one of the more serious sport-utility vehicles. By serious, we mean the Montero was one of the toughest truck-like entries in the category. It has traditionally been designed to be fully capable of trekking across the Great Outback with nothing more than a dirt path and a compass--the Montero supplying the latter.
But as the public hunger for SUVs has grown ravenous, not one in a thousand of these trucks will likely ever leave the pavement. Accordingly, the all-new third-generation 2001 Montero has been tailored to provide the kind of comfort, convenience, and even graciousness, expected by pavement-only, soccer-practice-and-mall-shopper tastes. The tough truck is still there underneath, but now it is concealed in a carefully civilized package that will ruffle feathers only when specifically asked to do so. As an all-weather highway cruiser and part-time backcountry buster, the new Montero is one of the most versatile and successful trucks in its category.
The 2001 Montero is available in two models, the XLS ($30,997) and the fully loaded Limited ($34,997). Both use the same 3.5-liter V6.
XLS is supplied with a 4-speed automatic, part-time 4WD and a 2-speed transfer case. A limited-slip rear differential and sunroof are optional ($1,150).
Limited comes with a 5-speed automatic with a Sportronic sequential shifter and ActiveTrac electronic full-time AWD coupled with a torque-sensing automatic limited-slip differential. Additionally, the Limited comes standard with the sunroof, leather interior, heated front seats, a power driver's seat, heated mirrors, fog lights, chrome exterior accents, premium audio and the LCD Information Center, which includes the aforesaid compass and readouts for outside temperature, date and time. Optional for Limited is automatic front climate control, rear air conditioning and heating and mid-cabin climate controls ($900).
The 2001 Montero has lost some of the tall, boxy appearance of earlier renderings, but its square-jawed, can-do demeanor makes clear that it still intends to be seen as a real truck. It has a nicely molded massiveness that commands respect on the road -- a big plus with SUV owners. This apparent massiveness is no illusion: the new Montero is four inches wider and two inches longer (wheelbase and overall length) than before. Yet despite being slightly taller, the new model's step-up entry is conveniently two inches lower.
This is the first Montero to use unitbody construction in place of the classic body-on-frame structure of most trucks. The advantage here is that a unitbody is both lighter and tighter, greatly reducing the likelihood of squeaks and rattles over the truck's lifetime. To further civilize the new Montero, its front and rear suspension are mounted to subframes, isolating road noise and impacts from the cabin and producing a quieter, more relaxing ride. Technical matters like these may seem dreary, but their reward is a considerable advance in comfort for Montero occupants both in the present and over the long haul.
The front suspension is by double wishbones, and the rear uses a multi-link system; it's the supplest combination, excellent on the highway and off the beaten path. The new suspension has more vertical travel than before, allowing it to soak up big jolts with ease. Montero is one of the first production vehicles in the world to use carbon-fiber driveshafts. Why? First, it's much lighter than steel, reducing the truck's overall weight. More important, crushable carbon fiber manages a crash impact far more effectively than the unbending mass of a steel driveshaft; so it's safer.
The rear gate opens out from the driver's side like a door. The spare wheel is mounted on the outside of the door, conserving interior space. This also eliminates struggling underneath the truck for the spare if you have a flat. A roof rack is standard, though this one does not feature adjustable tie-downs.
Montero offers a thoroughly sumptuous interior. Its dashboard offers a full range of instrumentation in a complex of small gauges with square bezels. Besides gauges for fuel and water temperature, there is an indicator denoting whether you are in 2WD, 4WD or the drivetrain is locked (for maximum traction). Instruments are white-on-black, businesslike, and altogether adequate.
An LCD Information Center in the middle of the dash is surrounded by handsome dark wood. Besides denoting time of day, outside temperature, the date and your present heading, it notes your fuel range based on present mileage. Our well-equipped Montero Limited also featured the excellent Mitsubishi/Infinity audio system, just the thing for making long drives seem shorter. Controls for heating and air conditioning use the usual three-knob arrangement for selecting temperature, fan level and mode. A Limited Preferred Package features an automatic climate-control system, though our truck lacked this.
Power windows feature an auto-down for the driver only. A third-row seat, bringing the Montero's capacity to seven, provides tight seating best suited to children and can be stowed or removed completely. There were four cup-holders, two in front, two in the rear. Grab-handles are provided at all four doors. Two auxiliary power outlets for running auxiliary electrical equipment were provided, one on the dash and one inside the tailgate. Also in a compartment inside the rear door is an impressively complete tool kit.
Outward visibility is excellent. The steering wheel is a very thick wood unit with leather grips -- an exceptionally handsome piece. Montero's cruise control is mounted on the steering wheel for fingertip convenience. Our power driver's seat with lumbar support was very good, and the Limited's pleated leather upholstery was positively elegant.
The business end of the new Montero is its 3.5-liter 24-valve V6 engine. Typical of Mitsubishi powerplants, this 200-horsepower unit is vibration-free and glass-smooth. And because the Montero purports to be a truck, the V6 delivers a full 235 foot-pounds of torque at 3500 rpm.
The Sportronic manual/auto transmission, which comes on the Limited model, is a five-speed that allows you to manually select which gear you want. But like most of these Sportmatic-like systems, selection is not linear and direct. In other words, it makes a decision about just how soon it will downshift after you've asked it to. Also, because it operates with a torque converter, you don't have the solid geartooth-to-geartooth control you would have with stick. But since there is no stick Montero, this is an okay compromise, especially since it doubles as a full-time automatic when you're stranded in drive-time bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Responsiveness on the highway is typical of current SUVs, neither blisteringly fast nor annoyingly slow. And while there is the inevitable sensation of great bulk driving this truck, the Montero's well-specified suspension is gently forgiving and smooth on the highway. The 2001 model is also the first Montero to use rack-and-pinion steering in place of the previous recirculating-ball system. Road feel is never very lively in SUVs, but this rack-and-pinion is a step in the right direction. Cornering response is predictably ponderous.
The new Montero features big ventilated disc brakes at both front and rear, necessary to haul this 4675-pound truck down from highway speeds, and they work well. ABS comes standard.
Mitsubishi designed this truck to be both a pavement cruiser and an off-road marauder. So just on the off chance that you are the rare one who likes dirt roads and rocks, we took the Montero into some severe backcountry terrain. First, we tested it on rippled washboard dirt surfaces so typical of back roads. Thanks to its fully independent multi-link rear suspension, the Montero exhibited no axle-tramp -- that disturbing resonance typical in solid rear axles where the back wheels bounce so busily that they begin to steer the rear end. On washboard, the Montero's rear wheels maintain full directional control. Mitsubishi's compliant springs and shocks soak up most of this motion, producing a very smooth ride.
On really steep descents and climbs, the Montero's V6 and low-range transfer case are superb, keeping it in excellent control going down and providing plenty of torque for creeping back up. Even over tall rocks on one side or the other, the Montero kept its poise, proving that it can go where many lesser four-wheel drive vehicles would be creaking and groaning and complaining bitterly.
This is a fully competent dual-purpose SUV. Granted, almost no 2001 Monteros will really see the backcountry--but if they do, they're ready. As an all-weather family vehicle, however, the Montero will see hundreds of millions of miles of service, and it will prove itself thoroughly capable in that demanding role. With dual front airbags and anti-lock brakes standard, the family will be well cared for on the way. With the possible exception of a Land Rover or Mercedes-Benz, you won't find a better-equipped, more versatile sport-utility anywhere.
XLS ($30,997); Limited ($34,997).
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