I certainly don't envy the auto marketers at this particular point in time. And what a time it is, what with the books just closed on the second year in a row of record vehicle sales. That's right, we bought 17.4 million new cars and trucks in 2000, almost half a million more than in the record year before. Even wishful thinkers are willing to concede that it may be some time before we scale these heights again. So what to do in the meantime?
Right off the bat, Mitsubishi-men have an answer: mix 'n' match. Take their popular Montero Sport sport-utility vehicle, for example. If an SUV inventory glut were staring you in the face, you too would be expected to make the most out of what you've already got.
So for 2001, Mitsubishi is offering a curious blend of "affordability" and "pizzazz" in the form of its new Montero Sport 3.5XS. In translation, that means the mid-level LS-version Montero Sport stuffed with Mitsu's higher-displacement, bigger-horsepower V-6 engine previously reserved for the top-of-the-line Limited model. At $27,157 as tested, the two-wheel-drive version of the 3.5XS is meant to offer maximum punch at a minimized price—an admirable goal in these challenging times, but the result is hardly a knockout.
As SUVs go, I suppose 27 grand is in the lower-middle price range—but that leaves aside the issue of whether simple body-on-ladder-frame trucks can actually justify such prices for very much longer. What's perplexing about the 3.5XS's "affordability" is the logic behind its mix of amenities.
Sure, the standard CD stereo, keyless entry, and fog lamps are nice and sporty. But should these come at the expense of safety gear like anti-lock brakes, side or head airbags, and traction control, which are unavailable even as options? It's one thing to mix and match, but it's another matter altogether to get one's priorities mixed up.