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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.