Y’s motoring expert Alvin Thomas finds a pure-bred Dakar Rally-ready SUV, with superior road manners.
There are cars you like, and cars you hate. And Mitsubishi, with its “new” lineup of vehicles has nested itself right into the middle of the spectrum; garnering immense love from former Mitsubishi fans, and little attention from those who don’t particularly appreciate the brand.
I fall into the former category; I grew up with posters of light Mitsubishi Evolution cars in rally and hefty Pajero SUVs in the Dakar Series on my bedroom walls.
The brand cultivated my love for driving and engineering. Thus, it was extremely hard for me to accept the withdrawal of the Pajero from the Dakar Series, in 2009; and the demise of the “Evolution” nametag from the automotive scene, in 2016. But, hey, that’s the car world; you must vie hard for your existence, or (as a youngster would put it) it’s time to go home.
Following that, the brand was reduced to selling small family sedans, including the mellowed-down version of the Evolution – the Lancer, and myriad road-going SUVs. I thought of it as the end of an era.
But, boy, I could not have been more wrong.
The Mitsubishi Montero Sport has been on the market for two years now, but it is only the first time that I was given the keys to the SUV.
And you know what? It does what no other SUV in the market does: it feels like a pure-bred Dakar Rally-ready SUV, with superior road manners. In short, it does everything the Mitsubishi Pajero does, and more.
Let’s start with the looks: the Mitsubishi Montero Sport looks fabulous from upfront. The lights are menacing – with its sharp and angular headlamps, and edgy LED daytime running lights. Further complementing the aggressive “Dynamic Shield Design” fascia of the SUV is the abundant chrome that shells the bumper and fuses with the headlamps – it’s gorgeous.
Much of this character carries over to the sides, too. There’s a bold line that follows through, originating from the headlamps, and continuing all the way to the doors and the rear lights. The Montero Sport also rides high (with a ground clearance of 21.8cm and a wading depth of 70cm!), but the chunky high-profile 265/60 tyres give it the right proportions.
Ironically, things take a tumble when you move over to the rear end. The Montero Sport must have one of the most controversial tail lamps in the history of automotive design (after the Pontiac Aztek, though). The wedge-shaped lights begin from the sides – which look rather nice – but proceeds downwards, like a tear drop.
The high hind also makes it hard to load and unload heavy goods, although, that’s archetypal of SUVs in this class.
Hopping into the Montero Sport (quite literally!), I was surprised to find that the interior stacked up very close to – and in some areas, better – its competitors from Japan. Much of the cabin is covered in hard plastics, starting from the (partially soft-touch) dashboard, all the way to the bottom panels of the cabin. It’s still superior to the vehicle it replaces, though.
My top-of-the-line trim also came with decent-looking faux-wood inserts near the centre armrests and also the console, wrapping the graphically-frail touchscreen navigation infotainment unit.
In true Japanese fashion, the boffins have engineered thick and responsive hardware buttons into the dashboard, as opposed to the nonsensical light-sensitive touch buttons incorporated in American SUVs and sedans. It’s something I approve of.
The centre stack also comprises a thick-rimmed dial with faux-aluminium trim knurled on the outside. The dial controls the Mitsubishi’s drive modes: 2H (two-wheel drive) and 4H (four-wheel drive), and two low gearing options – 4HLc and 4LLc. You can also lock the differential if need be.
Space is in plentiful in the first and second row seats but third row passengers will find themselves wanting more knee room. Head room is admirable despite the high floor. The seats are wrapped in superb leatherette-material, and are moderately supportive.
But the driver and front passenger do get decent side bolstering and lumbar support.
Thankfully, the Montero Sport also comes with safety features such as blind-spot monitoring, frontal-accident collision warning and all-around parking sensors, meaning it’s easy to navigate this hefty two-ton SUV on the roads.
Speaking of which, power comes from a 3.0-litre ‘MIVEC’ V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with manual override possible through the steering-mounted paddle shifters or the gear knob itself.
The engine pumps a respectable 219hp and 281Nm of torque. The power is decent enough to propel the Montero Sport from 0-100kph in about 12-seconds although I did not ever find the need to put the engine under stress while driving under normal conditions.
Where the Montero truly shines is in city driving where the mid-range torque of the naturally-aspirated engine kicks in to thrust the SUV to pace. The only downside is that the gearbox constantly shifts up even when you have slammed the pedal to the metal, thereby hampering your acceleration but improving your fuel economy.
Of course, you can change that and rev the nuts off the engine by simply making use of the paddle shifters. Yes, it holds gears up to the redline. The SUV also settles into its speed, and cruises comfortably once it has picked pace.
Meanwhile, the ride inside the Montero Sport is refined, and engine noise is muffled at slow speeds. The only time you really feel you’re in an SUV is when you take it off-road. Otherwise, the springs do a darn good job in eradicating the general floatiness that is characteristic of vehicles in this segment. This is partly due to the precise geometry of the suspension. All of this means that the Montero acts like a civilised SUV on the road. Although, I did observe that there was longer travel in the suspension, though.
There’s a substantial amount of body roll while cornering past the 45kph mark. But things are kept within the threshold, as the electronic stability control kicks in (a tad early) to prevent you from turning turtle.
Thanks to the vehicle’s excellent ride-height, you can also navigate through even the steepest of grounds with ease (as you can see from the dramatic photos). The approach and departure angles and the ‘hill descent control’ of the Montero Sport do well to inspire confidence in the driver while off the Tarmac.
The breaks are linear and strong, and brought the car to a quick halt when I most needed it. But, the rear discs look a bit small when compared to the overall size of the car.
The brilliantly-weighted steering system is hydraulic, which makes life easy while off-roading. Each and every crevice on the road is transposed beautifully to the steering, further alleviating the lacklustre and dead-feeling electric systems found in cars of today.
It’s very clear that the Mitsubishi engineers have gone back to the drawing board for the benefit of the Montero Sport.
But with a tight market and contenders coming in hard from all sides, the SUV has quite a lot to prove. Life in the marketplace has only become harder as the Americans, the Japanese and even the Germans have at least two direct competitors to the Montero Sport, currently.
Still, there’s one very good reason why this SUV stands out from the rest of the contenders: its price tag. And that alone is good reason to justify the Montero Sport’s existence in the Mitsubishi lineup; of course, that, and a lot of gruff and will power to succeed.