With the sport-ute market tilting more and more towards comfort and on-road manners, manufacturers now find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Do they design their new SUVs with a traditional, truck-type, body-on-frame for ruggedness? Or, do they opt for a quieter, smoother riding car-type unibody platform, to give buyers the finess they demand? Well Mitsubishi claims that you can have your SUV both ways and boasts that its all-new, unibody 2001 Montero is as plush as it is rugged. Let’s find out.
It doesn’t take long sitting behind the wheel, or anywhere else in the roomier cabin of the new 2001 Mitsubishi Montero, to discover Mitsubishi’s boast is not an idle one. Because not only has the mid-size Montero reached new levels of refinement, it has done so without forsaking the rugged engineering and build quality that has made it an off-road leader in 170 countries worldwide.
And we say that knowing that the new Montero has forsaken its former body-on-frame construction, the type usually associated with tough, trail blazing sport-utes, and gone the unibody route. And it’s all wrapped up in a larger, stylishly edgy package that definitely sets the Montero apart from the crowd.
Wheelbase is now 109.5 inches, an increase of 2.2 inches. And the track, at 61.5 inches, has been stretched over 3 inches. But despite its wider footprint, the turning diameter has decreased by 1.3 feet. Very nice for off-road and parking lot agility.
The handful of owners that do take the Montero trail busting, will appreciate the 9.3 inches of ground clearance and the revised ActiveTrac 4X4 system that comes standard on Limited models like our tester.
With four driving modes to choose from, ActiveTrac can capably handle all manner of driving conditions. Shift from rear to all-time 4-wheel drive, and the torque is split in a 33/67 percent ratio between front and rear.
For off-road, select either high or low 4-wheel drive, and the locking center differential splits torque 50/50. Engagement is now by electric motor, so even though a shift lever is used, it might as well be a switch on the dash. The Limited package also includes a new torque-sensing limited-slip rear differential.
Both off and on-roaders will appreciate the Montero’s new 4-wheel fully independent suspension. Gone is the torsion bar and solid axle set up of yore. It’s been replaced by double wishbones and coil springs up front and a multi-link coil spring layout in the rear.
Through our low-speed slalom the Montero remained firmly planted, and body roll, while visually noticeable, was barely felt in the cabin. The only negative comment was that turn ins seem agonizingly slow.
Not agonizing, but still rather slow, is the Montero’s run to 60 in 9.1 seconds and quarter mile time of 16.9 seconds at 81 mph. Off-line performance is adequate and the Montero pulls nicely, shifting smoothly through the gears in the 5-speed Sportronic auto-or-manual gearbox, to 5,000 rpm before power drops off.
To the power mad on our staff, the main culprit is the Montero’s carryover 3.5 liter, 24- valve, SOHC, V-6. Rated at 200 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque, the Montero stacks up well against V6 competitors. But when facing V-8 challengers, it quickly falls behind.
However, once up and running it only takes 133 feet for the ABS-equipped 4-wheel discs to bring it to a stop. Not bad for a heavy weight.
And a richly appointed heavyweight at that. Our Limited came with comfortable, heated perforated leather buckets, with 8-way power for the driver and plenty of room for folks of all sizes. A power sunroof is standard, as is a well-placed 175 watt stereo with CD player. Just below are the well marked and easy to use climate controls.
The rear seating area is also roomy and comfortable with plenty of leg and head room and reclining seat backs. If you need more space, the removable jump seat, slickly integrated into the rear floor, can be pressed into service giving the Montero seating for 7. The Limited’s cargo capacity is 42.1 cubic feet with the middle seats upright, and 91.1 cubic feet with everything folded.
When it comes to pricing, the Montero is a bargain among premium SUVs. Base for our Limited is $35,492. With options, we’re out the door for $36,392. The entry level XLS starts at $31,492. That’s three grand less than the smaller, less capable Lexus RX300.
The new 2001 Mitsubishi Montero is rolling proof that you can have a serious off-road machine and a luxuriously appointed on-road cruiser in one package, without making concessions to either camp. And that’s why we think that for both Mitsubishi and the rest of the mid-size, premium SUV class, this is one monumental Montero.
Engine: 3.5 Liter Sohc 24-valve V-6
Torque: 235 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.9 Seconds @ 81 MPH
60-0 MPH: 133 Feet