They're as hot as hotcakes. Sport-utility vehicles are a sizzling commodity in America today. There are more than 40 versions made by 17 manufactures on the market for 1997, and it's expected that there will be some two dozen new or significantly revised models by 2000.
Brand new for '97 is Mitsubishi's Montero Sport (above, dressed up for a national child safety campaign). This smaller sibling of the well-known Mitsubishi Montero, a luxury SUV designed to accommodate up to seven passengers, packs a truckload of appealing features. Considered a five-passenger, mid-sized alternative to the longer, wider and taller Montero, the Montero Sport is more versatile and comes in a more agile size for everyday needs. What you get is a layout that includes many full-sized SUV features in a smaller footprint. In fact, there are more options and more models, and you even get more cargo-carrying capacity in this diminutive version.
While built on same 107-inch wheelbase as the larger Montero, the Sport has a noticeably lower roofline and ride height. Its sculpted exterior dimensions measure 2 inches shorter in length, 4 inches less in width and nearly 7 inches less in height, yet cargo-carrying capacity increases from 38.8 cu. ft. to 43.4 cu. ft. with the second seat up; the numbers grow from 67.1 to 79.3 with the rear seat folded. This is because of the space-eating jump seats in the rear of the larger Montero, which, not surprisingly, has more head, hip and shoulder room. For comparison, the Sport has a longer wheelbase than the Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Pathfinder, two of its chief competitors, even though the overall exterior dimensions of this trio are similar.
From the outside in
The Sport has attractive, aerodynamic styling that is distinctive from the more square and boxy Montero. The rounded, aggressive front end wraps around to the lower body cladding. Fender flares accentuate the wheels and side panels and are integrated into the rear bumper. The exterior is made with single-piece stampings or one piece of sheet metal for a snug fit. Benefits include a cleaner appearance, lack of gaps, improved structural integrity and reduced wind noise. A full-sized spare tire is mounted under the vehicle with the option of a rear external spare tire carrier. Tires are 225 x 75R15s on all but the XLS model, which has larger, more aggressive 265 x 75R15s.
1997 Mitsubishi Montero Sport
Getting in and out of the Sport is greatly improved over the Montero. Once in, sculpted front bucket seats provide good lateral and lumbar support. Controls and gauges are easy to see and operate and are arranged to approximate a sedan while adding the high seating and viewing position. Standard features on the base ES model include a folding rear seat, concealed storage compartments, adjustable steering column, rear window defroster, cupholders, locking glove box, vanity mirrors and AM/FM cassette stereo. Our upscale XLS came with standard leather upholstery; power locks, windows and mirrors; air conditioning, and two-tone paint. An optional moonroof slide up and over the roof to preserve headroom. There is more front and rear legroom and a greater cargo capacity than in the Pathfinder and more front hip room and overall shoulder room than in the 4Runner.
The rear bench seat splits 60/40 and folds flat to augment cargo carrying. It features a fold-down center armrest with two cupholders for use when there is no third passenger. Rear seats have adjustable headrests. There are a number of standard safety features on all Sport models: dual front airbags; height-adjustable front shoulder belts, three-point safety belts for all outboard passengers; three-channel antilock brakes (ABS); side-impact door guard beams; and a high-mounted rear stop light. The 4WD LS and XLS come with four-wheel disc brakes standard and with ABS as an option.
The amount of stowage in the Sport's interior is impressive. In addition to the center console storage bin and extra-large glove box, there are large storage bins in each of the doors and seat pockets on the backs of the front seats. The cargo area floor has two large concealed storage compartments with dividers to hold personal items. Mitsubishi has also added a nifty feature that turns the underside of the lid bins into a makeshift picnic table with built-in cupholders.
1997 Mitsubishi Montero Sport
Power and ride
The Montero Sport comes in a number of versions. ES, the base model designation, has a 2.4-liter I-4, SOHC, 16-valve engine producing 134 horsepower. The two-wheel-drive model has a five-speed manual transmission and a towing capacity of 2,300 pounds. The mid-level LS and upscale XLS are equipped with the larger 3.0-liter SOHC V-6, which produces 176 hp and bumps towing capacity to 5,000 pounds. The LS with 2WD has a standard four-speed automatic powertrain, while the LS with 4WD has a standard five-speed manual transmission.
The Sport's ride is comfortable, and its handling is very good. It had ample power for everyday driving and passing, with crisp, power-assisted steering and brakes. Two-wheel-drive models get front disc and rear drum brakes, and 4WD versions get four-wheel disc brakes. For those who travel the backcountry and the land of unpaved roads, the Montero has standard drivetrain and fuel tank skid plates for underbelly protection and tow hooks at each end for 4WD models, available as an option on LS 2WD versions. The Sport's ground clearance of 8.5 inches is greater than the larger Montero, as well as many of its competitors.
The Sport's four-speed automatic transmission with automatic overdrive comes with a manually selected winter safety mode. This starts up in second gear and prevents unwanted downshifts, which gives increased stability and traction on slippery or icy roads.
Mitsubishi currently sells some 10,000 of the larger, luxury Montero and hopes to sell 25,000 Sports a year. With a starting price for the 2WD entry level of $17,700 and a range of $21,000 to $33,000 for 4WD models, pricing is competitive in the heart of the SUV market against the Honda Passport, the Isuzu Rodeo, the Chevy Blazer and the Jeep Cherokee.
Convenience: power windows, locks, mirrors and cruise control. Standard in XLS, optional in LS 2WD/4WD.
All weather: limited-slip differential, multi-meter LCD (temperature, compass, volts, oil pressure, rear heater).
Offroad: includes all-weather and rear-mounted spare tire with cover.
Appearance: 265 x 75R15 tires, 15 x 7 alloy wheels, chrome grille accent, fender flares, leather-wrapped steering wheel, side steps. Optional only on the LS 2WD and 4WD.
Premium: appearance package with power glass sunroof, premium audio AM/FM/cassette, amplifier, eight speakers and high-tech antenna.
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