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HomeClassic Car1997 Mitsubishi Montero Sport LS: Meet Montero Jr.

1997 Mitsubishi Montero Sport LS: Meet Montero Jr.

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From the April 1997 issue of Car and Driver.

If you’re not a Tibetan Bud­dhist or a Chinese Taoist, this may sound foreign: Mi­tsubishi’s latest sport-utility vehicle adheres to feng shui (pronounced fung shway). Literally, that means “wind and water,” but its popular meaning has to do with the “Chinese art of placement,” the act of enhancing one’s environment by putting things in their most advantageous places. It is not merely the newest buzz­word to appear in metro-news­paper lifestyle sections, although it is applied most often to interior design.

The new Mitsubishi Montero Sport’s attributes follow the prin­ciples of automotive feng shui:
(1) The pedals are close together, and the control action of the brakes, clutch, and throttle is smooth on the road. Big feet can easily tap-dance on these controls to keep the wagon poised on slick surfaces. (2) The steering wheel is angled up to leave room for long legs, yet you need not have long gorilla arms to reach it. The wheel also isn’t as buslike horizontal as the larger Montero’s. (3) The front seats are firm, but they work a good compro­mise between holding you in place on bumps and in corners and allowing easy entry and exit—even while wearing an expedition-grade parka. (4) The Montero Sport, although shorter than its big brother, still sits tall enough to provide excellent visibility over traffic. (5) The floor height is above the road surface enough to provide a tall 8.5 inches of ground clearance, although the climb could impair Grandma’s entering and exiting.

HIGHS: Macho body will get double takes on whistles of admiration, but inside, it feels surprisingly like a sports car.

Finally, you don’t have to be a Bud­dhist to figure this one out: The Mitsubishi Montero Sport just plain looks good.

Why a Montero Sport? Big Monteros are priced from $30,000 to $42,000 plus, and they’re selling well—12,083 last year. Mitsubishi says that’s all it can build, too. U.S. dealers, however, want more SUVs to sell, especially in the under-$30K market. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi has been building a smaller wagon (seven inches lower and shorter) called the L-200 for Asia and South America. The L-200 is now the Montero Sport in the United States.

The Montero Sport shares the front bodywork of the latest Mighty Max pickup truck (no longer sold in the U.S.), but its full-length ladder-type frame has more in common with that of the bigger Montero wagon, including a 107.3-inch wheelbase. Both also share front unequal­-length control arms and torsion bars. In Japan, you can get an L-200 wagon with coil springs in the rear, but to save assembly costs, the Montero Sport gets a leaf-sprung rear axle.

The base Montero Sport ES starts at $18,065 as a rear-driver with a 134-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a manual transmis­sion only. Mitsubishi expects that most buyers will opt for LS models, priced in the mid-twenties with popular equipment. LS models get a 173-hp 3.0-liter V-6 (the base engine in last year’s big Montero) and can be had with a choice of rear-drive or part-time four-wheel drive and a manual or automatic transmission.

Top-of-the-line Montero Sport XLS models come equipped with the V-6, four­-wheel drive, a four-speed automatic trans­mission, big tires, leather seats, air condi­tioning, and power windows, locks, and mirrors—all standard for $31,555.

LOWS: Macho or not, it’s a heavy wagon, and your neighbor’s V-8 Explorer will outrun it.

Our five-speed, four-wheel-drive Mon­tero Sport LS started out at $23,575, to which we added a $3070 Premium package that includes 265/70SR-15 mud­-and-snow tires (up from standard 225/75R-15 tires) riding on shiny alloy wheels, a chrome grille, fender flares, a leather­-wrapped steering wheel, a sunroof, and an eight-speaker stereo. Air, power conveniences, and a CD player added another $2143. For $1037 more, we got a limited-slip rear differential, a compass, a ther­mometer, and a rear heater. That package also includes an exterior spare-tire mount to which a couple of mountain bikes can be affixed with an accessory rack that attaches to the spare.

We’d be a bit more thrifty if it were our checkbook. For example, a V-6 four-wheel-drive LS model with air and a five-speed manual is $24,490.

The Montero Sport looks tough, but it’s as convenient as a Camry wagon inside, with two covered bins under the rear floor. Its 43 cubic feet of cargo volume equals that of the spacious Ford Explorer. The long wheelbase means it rides well, just a bit more jiggly on pavement than an Explorer. We think the bigger tires add unwanted bounce on suburban side streets. Off-road, they stick to mud paths with confidence.

The Montero Sport has a manual transfer-case lever that hard-core off­-roaders prefer to the electro-four-wheel-drive switches popu­larized by the ubiquitous Explorer. The Montero Sport’s lever-actuated part-time four-wheel-drive system can be shifted from rear-drive to four-wheel drive at speed. “Shift on the fly,” as it’s called, means you become your own center dif­ferential by disengaging the four-wheel drive on dry pavement and engaging it to limit wheelspin on starts and in corners.

A rear-drive Montero Sport ES weighs just 3450 pounds, light for a mid-size SUV. But our fancied-up LS model sagged the scale at 4153 pounds, which is heavier than a unibody Jeep Grand Cherokee, but much lighter than the Explorer. Still, the manual shifter—a relatively rare item on the SUV market these days—keeps it ahead of Jeeps and Fords equipped with pushrod sixes and automatics: The Jeep runs to 60 mph in 10.3 seconds, the Explorer in 10.7. The Sport hits 60 in 10 flat.

The Montero Sport’s four-­wheel discs mean braking is good for such a deceptively light-feeling-but heavy­ sport-utility, which comes to a stop from 70 mph in just 190 feet. That’s better than an Explorer, and as good as a Toyota 4Runner.

VERDICT: The smaller brother of the brawny Montero inherits its strength, with state-of-the-art packaging for all of its pricey hardware.

We like the Montero Sport for its bal­ance of features and abilities, more than for any single attribute. Putting one in your garage would likely enhance your envi­ronment. That’s good feng shui.

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Specifications

Specifications

1997 Mitsubishi Montero Sport LS
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon

PRICE

Base/As Tested: $23,575/$29,825
Options: Premium package (aluminum wheels, power glass sunroof, upgraded cassette stereo with 8 speakers, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 265/70SR-15 tires, fender flares, chrome grille accent, running boards), $3070; Off-Road package (rear limited-slip differential, extra gauges, rear heater controls, exterior spare-tire carrier), $1037; air conditioning, $915; Convenience package (power windows, locks, and side mirrors, cruise control), $829; CD player, $399

ENGINE
SOHC 24-valve V-6, iron block and aluminum heads, port fuel injection

Displacement: 181 in3, 2966 cm3

Power: 173 hp @ 5250 rpm

Torque: 188 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm 

TRANSMISSION
5-speed manual

CHASSIS

Suspension, F/R: control arms/rigid axle

Brakes, F/R: 10.9-in vented disc/10.7-in disc

Tires: Yokohama Super Digger
265/70SR-15

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 107.3 in

Length: 189.8 in

Width: 66.7 in
Height: 67.3 in

Passenger Volume, F/R: 53/40 ft3
Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: 79/43 ft3
Curb Weight: 4153 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS

60 mph: 10.0 sec

1/4-Mile: 17.4 sec @ 77 mph
100 mph: 38.8 sec

Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 10.9 sec

Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 11.5 sec

Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 13.4 sec

Top Speed (drag ltd): 106 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 190 ft 

C/D FUEL ECONOMY

Observed: 15 mpg

EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/Highway: 17/21 mpg 

C/D TESTING EXPLAINED

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