Car Reviews Cover Story January 12, 2016 By Inigo S. Roces
First Drive: 2016 Mitsubishi Montero Sport
Ready for the war
As we speak, the “truck wars”, so named by Nissan Philippines’ president Antonio “Toti” Zara, are still raging on. New entries in the pickup segment, like the Ranger, Strada, Navara, and HiLux have made for a competitive field.
Yet in just a few months, in a different but still related segment, the “SUV wars” will soon begin. These are the pick-up based passenger vehicles (PPV), composed of SUVs like the Everest that are based on their stablemate pickup platforms. Ford has already hit the ground running with its Everest. Toyota will unveil their highly-anticipated Fortuner soon. And another, eagerly awaited contender is the Montero Sport.
From niche to topseller
First launched in 1996, the Montero Sport was initially conceived as a walkthrough conversion of the Strada pickup, inspired by Ford’s Bronco and Toyota’s Hilux Surf. It has radically evolved over three generations from its diminutive and simple origins to the mid-size, 7-seater it is known as today. From a niche model that was imported via the grey market and later by Mitsubishi itself, it is now one of Mitsubishi’s top-selling models. As such, the upcoming model will have to meet a wide range of expectations and uses, from serving as a family vehicle to a rugged off-roader.
Mitsubishi’s answer to that duality of roles is its “dynamic shield” design language, to be debuted by the Montero Sport. It is intended to communicate ruggedness and strength, while at the same time coddling the passengers inside. The design is both sophisticated and intimidating.
Four shields (top, bottom, and sides) converge at the facade, resulting in a subtle outline of an anvil, made by the headlights, grille, and lower valence. Daytime running light LEDs underline HID projector headlamps. Much of the side’s design is aimed to communicate speed, from the wheel flares inspired by sports cars, tapered window graphic, to the side skirts that integrate step boards. Behind, tail lights are practically shaped like vertical fins, stretching down toward the bumper with tall reflectors. The tail gate itself is wide and convex for easier loading.
Inside, hints of that “dynamic shield” styling can be gleamed as well. It’s seen in the four-spoke steering wheel, the brushed aluminum accents of the center console and the boomerang door handles. For the Philippines, Mitsubishi will bring in the all-black interior setup, which includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel and quilted door panels for top trim models. Piano black inlays make for appropriate contrast and add a more luxurious finish.
Gauges are an easy-to-read white on black, with very few frills. The center LCD features the familiar temp and fuel gauges with multi-info display. In-car entertainment will be provided by a touchscreen LCD system with navigation. Higher trim models will also benefit from dual zone climate control.
Lower on the center divider sits a more plush, leather-wrapped gear selector, inspired by those on luxury sedans. Below it is the Super Select 4WD II selector, just like in the Strada. It’s flanked by the Hill Descent button and the off-road mode selector that toggles through various preset terrain types.
Behind, passengers can expect a wide second row bench with a fold-down armrest and 60/40 split folding. Shoulder room has been greatly improved here. There’s also a new handle on the door pillar for passengers to grab on to when entering. Cooling will come from air condition vents positioned on the ceiling, by the folding handles. The seats tumble forward to grant easier access to the third row.
The third row itself now folds truly flat. It stows via a two-stage process where the seat cushions are first flipped forward before the seat backs fold down to make a flat cargo area. These seats have their own air con vents too, just above the wheel well, which benefit from an exceptionally strong blower. And while it’s far from the comfort of the second row, the deep footwell makes it far more tolerable.
With these seats folded, the Montero Sport can aslo easily accommodate bulky cargo with hooks concealed in the floor. There are also provisions for an optional cargo tonneau cover. Finally, just by the door, is a built-in trunk organizer on the floor for smaller items.
Yet another element Mitsubishi has changed is the powertrain. The Montero Sport will be propelled by the new 4N15 2.5-liter MIVEC turbo diesel engine. The combination of MIVEC and a variable geometry turbo allow it to produce 180 Hp at 3,500 rpm and an impressive 430 Nm at 2,200 rpm. This is paired with a new 8-speed Aisin automatic transmission (with paddle shifters) and Super Select 4WD II system. This delivers power to the rear wheels by default.
Ready for the worst
The real treat lies in the vehicle’s off-road ability. When the roads make a turn for the worse, the Montero Sport only shines more brightly. Even with a 4×2, dirt trails are easily tackled with strong, reassuring brakes and a bevy of traction and stability controls systems keeping wheelspin in check.
The 4x4s make off-roading a truly effortless affair. The vehicle has been designed to take on inclines as steep as 45 degrees. The rear axle has seriously impressive articulation, rivaling that of more rugged SUVs like a Land Rover Defender.
Unlike most SUVs in its class, the Super Select system has four drive modes: 2H, 4H, 4L, and 4LLc (locked center differential). The rear differential can also be locked via a button on the lower console. Besides these, there are also preset off-road programs with modes like sand, gravel, and mud called to fore by just a toggle.
In spite of all this customizability, just navigating an off-road course with 4H and the program set to gravel proved more than capable of handling most obstacles.
Finally, the vehicle also comes with a novel Hill Descent Control system that allows the driver to speed it up or slow it down just by pressing a tad more on the throttle or brake. The Hill Descent will then regulate itself to that speed, individually braking each wheel.
In spite of the impressive specifications and equipment list, the Montero Sport still manages to return an effortless and relaxing drive. The throttle pedal is soft and just a little pressure calls forth a lot of that torque. Thankfully, the new 8-speed automatic shifts early to keep revs and consumption low. Mitsubishi has also been listening to customer feedback, improving the steering to return a quicker and tighter ratio and turning circle, as well as fitting drum in disc brakes in the rear wheels. These all add up to produce a large car that is still easy to navigate around urban areas, accelerating, turning, and stopping with the same relative ease you’d expect from a smaller sedan.
There are also comfort features, like the push-button start, ‘guide-me-home’ lights (they stay on for 30 seconds even after you’ve locked the car), emergency stop signals (repeatedly flash the brake lights under hard braking), and auto folding mirrors among others.
In addition to the usual ABS and airbags, the Montero Sport also comes with a new active stability and traction control system, capable of individually braking each well to control the vehicle’s yaw or forward traction. Top trim variants will also boast of collision mitigation systems like Blind Spot Warning, and Forward Collision Mitigation (a sensor-driven Auto Stop system) that automatically brakes the vehicle if there is no response from the driver.
Indeed, buyers have waited a long time for the Montero Sport, and judging by this drive, it will be well worth it. The improvements are truly in leaps and bounds, particularly in the off-road and safety technology.
The vehicle has been designed to take on the very worst conditions, making it overqualified as a daily driver. Not that it should be a problem for the thousands of buyers already keenly waiting in line.