New Car/Review

1997 Mitsubishi Montero Sport LS 4WD

by Nick Hromiak

Mitsubishi

SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            3.0L SOHV, 24 valve V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 177-hp and 188 ft/lbs of torque at 4500 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:      18 city, 21 highway mpg
WHEELBASE:         107.3 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    178.3 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     69.9 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    68.1 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3990 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY:     19.5 gals.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  43.4/79.3 cu.ft. seat up/down
TIRES:             265/70R15 Yokohama Superdigger All-Season
INSTRUMENTATION:   Large easy to read but pod 
                   atop dash is annoying.
EQUIPMENT:         Standard - Skid plate, 
                   4-wheel disc brakes, 
                   stainless steel exhaust,
                   tinted glass, full-size spare, 
                   front/rear mudguards, 
                   rear wiper/washer/defroster, 
                   power antenna, deluxe cargo storage boxes, 
                   concierge service; 
Optional:          ABS, air conditioning, 15-inch alloy wheels, 
                   chrome grille accent, fender flares, leather 
                   wrap steering wheel, Infinity audio upgrade, 
                   power sunroof, cargo net, power windows/door locks,
                   power mirrors, cruise control, single compact 
                   disc player, floor mats, rear deflector, 
                   roof rack, wheel locks.
STICKER PRICE:     $30,370 ($23,970 base)

At roughly $10,000 less than its upscale sibling, Mitsubishi's 4WD Montero Sport shares little with the Montero. Unlike the stoic, almost archaic design and interior of the Montero, the Sport is stylish and snazzy. It's exterior appearance is svelte and the massive front end has a robust look. The tail end, with its wrap-around taillamps and sheet metal, appears minivan-like. It's attractiveness grabbed a few eyes during the week I tested it.

Although it shares the same wheelbase as the big, seven-passenger Montero, the Sport's roofline and overall length is about six inches shorter. It's also about 500 pounds lighter and considerably more nimble than the Montero.

The Sport, according to Mitsubishi, is suppose to augment rather than replace the Montero. But unless you require seating for seven, the Sport has it all over its big brother.

Offered in ES, LS and XLS, I tested the mid-level LS and found it to be an exceptionally capable SUV with a towing capacity of 5000 lbs. Powered by a 3.0-liter sohc 24-valve V-6, the 177-hp engine with 5-speed manual transmission has lots of spunk and torque. But when compared to the powertrains offered by the primary competition (Blazer, Cherokee, Explorer), the 3.0-liter is small for the amount of heft it has to lug around. But it was responsive with a torque curve following almost up to its redline of 6000 rpm.

Around town and on the highway, the Sport is quiet and exhibits good road manners. During the week I tested it, we experienced two days of high winds, which when driving along at 60 mph, created a sound similar to someone blowing a one note flute. I think the large side view mirror in concert with the driver's side window trim created the noise. But on non-windy days, the cabin was quiet.

Compared to the top selling Explorer, Montero 's turning radius (38.7 ft.) is not as tight as that of the Ford's. But that doesn't deter from its parking ability in tight quarters. And with a semi-aggressive tire tread design (205/70R15 Yokohama Super Diggers), traction should be good with minimal road noise.

Montero's interior is modern with HVAC controls centered on a vertical stack. But after designing a sleek and low-profile dash, Mitsubishi retrofited what appears to be the gauge cluster from the Montero onto the middle of this neat car-like dash. Perhaps they were attempting to maintain an effect, but in so doing, the gauges detract from the stylish cabin.

Seating is on the firm side with cloth front buckets offering good lateral support. The split (60/40) folding rear seat is even firmer. Before the seats can be lowered to their max however, the headrests must be removed as they will not slide down behind the upturned seat bottoms.

Cargo space is ample with a 32-3/4-inch load height. With the spare tucked under the cargo floor (wherein a nifty mini-winch lowers the spare when needed), storage space is unobstructed and measures 46"x 40"x 31" high. Beneath four carpeted panels in the cargo floor are convenient storage trays plus recessed tie-down hooks for securing packages or bulky items.

A swing-up tailgate does not have a separate opening window as the Big Three provide on their comparable SUVs. On the other hand, Mitsubishi's wraparound gate design strikes a snazzy pose.

The drivetrain on the test truck consisted of a five-speed manual trans (a four-speed automatic is optional). My only criticism of it is a notchy shift gate which found reverse too often during fitth to fourth gear downshifts.

As for the 4WD system, it offers conventional 2H, 4H and 4L operated by a floor-mounted shifter. For the price of the vehicle, an electronic shift system should be offered, again, as the competition provides.

As for price, the base begins at $23,970 but escalates with a host of popular options to $30,815 including a destination charge of $445. A bit pricey considering what's offered by its major competitors.

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