An Elegantly Tough Mountain Goat
The Mitsubishi Montero earned its place among the world’s true off-road trucks
by Casey Williams
The Mitsubishi Montero It is a vehicle that has endured 17 years worth of the very trying Paris-to-Dakar rallies. Sold in 170 countries, it is often mentioned in the same breath as the Land Cruiser, Land Rover, and Jeep. While every bit as capable as its ancestors, our recent 2003 Montero Limited is much less likely to tackle rugged wilderness than to be tackled by a valet. For both, it is prepared.
A few years ago, Mitsubishi stylists ditched the truck’s boring two-box design and sculpted on arching fenders, a rounded front end, added trendy spoked alloy wheels, and made sure the truck looked elegantly tough. For 2003, a restyled grille, new headlights, revised emblems, and smoother side cladding better mask the Montero for restaurant duty. Illuminated integrated side steps insure passengers can easily climb inside. New adventurous paint colors include Amazon Green and Sudan Beige.
The Limited trim’s interior is definitely up to the SUV’s luxury class price. Of course, leather trimmed seats, power windows, power mirrors, keyless entry, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, and a stowable third-row seat are standard. Nice touches include a thick wood and leather steering wheel, heated seats, woodgrain interior trim, a 315-watt Mitsubishi/Infinity premium CD sound system, and a 60/40 split fold middle-row seat. I also liked the LCD screen in the center console for the compass, clock, and outside temperature gauge. Absent were steering wheel controls for the audio system and cruise control. In this price league, drivers shouldn’t have to take their hands off the wheel for much of anything.
Another improvement to the Montero for 2003 is a larger displacement 3.8-litre 24-valve SOHC (single overhead cam) V6 engine, which produces 215 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 248 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3,250 rpm. A five-speed automatic is the only available transmission. The new electronic throttle system better connects the driver’s foot to the engine than old mechanical systems. I felt the truck had enough power around town and on the highway, but there is still a lot of steel for 215 horses to haul around. Most competitors are pushing 300 horsepower. Noise and vibrations are better filtered out through liquid-filled engine mounts. Fuel economy is rated at 15/19 mpg city/highway. With only slight modifications, our test vehicle would be ready to tackle the same Paris-to-Dakar rally that Monteros have dominated for decades. I guess that counts for something even if 99% of Monteros will never see anything more challenging than a gravel driveway. Sawing at the wheel can wear you out as the truck is calibrated to handle true off-roading. The rack-and-pinion steering system seemingly takes twice as many turns to get the same response as most vehicles, but it is mechanically geared for on-road feedback and is hydraulically valved for less kick-back while driving over rocks and rough trails. Constantly reminding drivers and passengers of its all-terrain abilities are a somewhat rough ride, uneasy top-heaviness on curvy roads, and a fuel-sucking four-wheel-drive system. Reassuringly, when all of the differentials are locked, the Montero transforms into a mountain goat.
To provide final reassurance to prospective customers, Mitsubishi offers a very competitive warranty package. All Monteros are backed by a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a 7-year/100,000-mile corrosion limited warranty. 24-hour roadside assistance is available for the first three years or 36,000 miles. With a price as tested of $38,412, competition includes the GMC Yukon, Ford Expedition, and Chevrolet Tahoe.