The Montero Sport is middle-of-the-road in most areas. It’s neither the most futuristic nor the most rugged-looking of SUVs. It doesn’t have the most interior space or the best off-road credentials. And until last year, it didn’t even have class-competitive performance. Yet the Montero has always been better than the sum of its parts.
It starts with the way it drives. The big Mitsubishi is a dependable and sure-footed companion on the road. It’s stable on the highway and rapid changes in direction don’t have your heart stuck in your throat. There are no secondary jiggles or twitches over mid-corner bumps, and the level of understeer is mild and predictable. On the other hand, there’s a numbness at the helm that discourages athletic antics that are second nature to the Fortuner or Everest. Indeed, with a steering rack that takes four-and-a-half turns to go from lock-to-lock, it takes a lot of arm-twirling to do anything approaching dynamic driving. Which is a good thing. Passengers won’t get thrown out of their seats by wild maneuvers. Mild body roll means that they won’t even be discomfited by highway sweepers or off-ramps. This is a far more suitable chase car than Asiong Salonga’s rattletrap kalesa.
The Montero’s ride is, bar none, the best in the segment. While it’s still choppy in the third row compared to a unibody crossover, it’s much better than other ladder-frame vehicles in this price range. While rough roads and potholes cause quite a racket, all that drama goes to your ears, not to your comfortably-cosseted butt. The Montero’s only dynamic shortcoming is a tendency to float at high speeds.
The Montero’s big shortcoming, on the other hand, is cabin space. Unfortunately for the competition, it isn’t that bad. The main issue is the massive wheel arches flanking the narrow third row. They’re so big that they poke into the second row seatbacks when they’re reclined, too. But the pay-off for stretching the cabin over the wheels is good legroom, even in the third row, despite the compromises in elbow room.
Despite being narrowest in class, the Montero still tips the scales at a whopping 1,940 kilograms. To motivate this massive lump of metal, Mitsubishi employs a new direct-injection version of the venerable 2.5 liter 4D56. While the previous 4D56 and 3.2 liter 4M41 were smooth, neither were class-leaders in any respects. The new 4D56 ups the ante with higher injection pressures and a variable geometry turbine, producing a class-leading 178 horsepower. This gives a 0-100 km/h time of around 11 seconds with both five speed manual and five speed automatic transmissions. That’s quickest in the class.
Economy-minded buyers will value the MT’s frugality, which at 9-12 km/l in mixed driving, is some 2km/l better than the AT variant. But a notchy gearshift and that sudden lurch in torque as you let off the clutch make the manual variant a bit too... uncivil. The smoother five-speed automatic is just as quick and is a more practical choice, though the turbocharged surge and some shift-shock can still catch inattentive drivers unaware.
Up the Ladder
The advantages of going upmarket to the automatic variant aren’t just limited to a sweeter shifter. This GLX-V “Limited” (P 1.330 million) is aptly named. It’s pretty limited in terms of toys compared to other Montero Sport variants, with a generic-sounding off-the-shelf single-DIN head unit and step-boards being the only kit worth mentioning. The GLS-V 4x2 AT (P 1.448 million), on the other hand, has all the major bells and whistles of the GT-V 4x4 (P 1.708 million), including a touchscreen nav-system, a back-up camera, and extra bits of leather and chrome trim, for a whole lot less. If you’re buying, this one’s a better bargain than the full Monty.
Whatever trim you get it in, the Montero Sport is still as much a revolution in its class as when it first came out, a blockbuster without the big budget. Considering the Montero’s humble underpinnings, it’s the easiest truck in this class to live with, at a price that’s difficult to beat. Not often is the critic’s choice the people’s choice, but like historical dramas starring Cesar Montano, the Montero Sport hits that happy medium time and time again.