2003 Mitsubishi Montero
This 2003 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
The Montero is the flagship sport-utility vehicle of the Mitsubishi line.
But it's a curious SUV, too—a midsize that's available only with a lot of features and equipment that help push the starting price to the $30,000s where consumers are more likely to shop luxury makes like Lexus, Mercedes and Acura.
For 2003, the Montero price is higher than before. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price is up some $700 from the 2002 model.
And the test 2003 Montero, the upscale Limited, topped out at more than $38,000.
Yet it didn't have a V8, navigation system or adjustable pedals, which are available in some other new, seven- or eight-passenger, midsize SUVs.
Plush feel to ride, seats
I enjoyed the plush ride of this high-riding SUV. I felt nicely cushioned over bumps on- and off-road, and the interior was quieter than I expected.
Note that despite its truckish looks, the Montero has unibody construction, not the expected body-on-frame.
While in the Montero, I looked down on cars and small pickups and had decent visibility through and around other SUVs on the road.
Leather on the Montero seats was soft to the touch, and I sunk in comfortably into the seats.
The wood- and leather-trimmed steering wheel was as attractive as in any luxury-branded SUV, even if the wood isn't real.
The Montero running boards are illuminated on the Limited, providing an easy-to-see exitway and a pretty exterior when you approach and press the unlock button on the key fob.
Watch, though, if you position only your heel on a Montero running board as you exit. A couple times, the back of one of my shoes got wedged next to and sort of under the vehicle body while my foot was on the running board.
The uplevel, 315-watt, Mitsubishi/Infinity stereo in the test vehicle produced mighty strong tunes with no distortion.
And I loved the Montero's oh-so-large power sunroof, even if it did bring lots of wind noise at highway speeds.
Off-road heritage shows
It's called ActiveTrac and lets drivers choose from rear-wheel-drive power, full-time all-wheel drive, high-range four-wheel drive with a locked differential and low-range four-wheel drive with the center differential locked.
The four-wheel-drive system is eminently capable, powering this heavy SUV in rugged terrain. Remember, Monteros have won 17 years of Paris-to-Dakar rally trophies.
But even though the Montero is a midsize SUV, its weight of more than 4,700 pounds far surpasses the Lexus RX 300 and Acura MDX, which, like the Montero, come only with six-cylinder engines.
In fact, the V6-powered Montero even weighs more than a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a V8.
Consumer magazine news
Officials at CR said its Montero Limited tester tipped up on two wheels in a sharp right turn at speeds greater than 36.7 miles an hour. This occurred in eight of nine of these so-called accident avoidance maneuvers, according to CR.
Mitsubishi has defended its Montero Limited and continues to stand by the safety of its SUV.
It also has questioned the validity of the CR test, noting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is empowered to regulate vehicle safety, has not recalled the Montero Limited for any rollover tendency.
Also new: the use of throttle-by-wire controls.
In the test vehicle, the engine responded readily when I needed to pass on the freeway. It had good around-town zip, too.
The transmission is new, too. It's a five speed, rather than last year's four speed.
Mitsubishi notes this tranny comes with a manumatic Sportronic mode, but in the tester, I preferred the capable shifting of the automatic by itself. The shifts were much smoother.
Alas, the Montero's fuel economy, as estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is just 15 miles a gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. This is nearly comparable to a Ford Explorer with four-wheel-drive and a V8.
Seating for seven
And I appreciate that all seven riders get three-point belts and adjustable and lockable head restraints.
The second row seating is quite nice, even for three adults. Windows on the side doors go down virtually all the way.
But there's not a lot of legroom for adults in the third row, which rests close to the floor. At 5 feet 4, I felt as if my knees sat up quite high, and they rested against the second-row seatbacks.
Behind the third row is a narrow cargo area, enough to accommodate just a few paper grocery bags.
The Montero's cargo door isn't a tailgate. Rather, it's a door hinged on the right-hand side so you have to walk around it when loading or unloading items from the sidewalk.
And oddly, the Montero has a horn that sounds like it belongs on a small car.