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The Mitsubishi Montero Sport boasts rough and ready looks backed up by truck-tough underpinnings and a part-time four-wheel-drive system for serious off-road use. It's tough enough to tackle rugged terrain, yet stylish enough for a night out on the town.
For 2002, Mitsubishi adds a full-time four-wheel-drive mode designed to improve traction in slippery or inconsistent conditions, such as snow, ice, gravel, dirt, or rain-slick roads. This all-wheel-drive system enhances the safety of the Montero Sport when bad weather hits civilization.
The Montero Sport continues to offer more cargo space than a Nissan Pathfinder or Isuzu Rodeo. You can dress it up or dress it down, with optional leather and an available 3.5-liter V6 that delivers gutsy performance.
Mitsubishi's 3.0-liter V6 is a smooth revver, while the optional 3.5-liter V6 gives the Montero Sport more responsive acceleration performance. Accelerating from a standstill, the 3.5-liter V6 makes the Montero Sport feel almost as potent as some of the bigger, V8-powered SUVs. It certainly shows no sign of strain when asked to move its 4330 pounds.
Montero Sport handles well on freeway ramps, and on winding roads. The new all-wheel-drive system (AWD) adds to its handling stability in corners. Fewer steering corrections are needed in tight, bumpy corners than what's often required in other SUVs. It rides well on gravel roads. Really big impacts are felt, but you only feel them once and they never leave you with the feeling that you've broken something. The front suspension has adequate travel, so it will soak up uneven railroad crossings with aplomb. However, while you notice very little shake inside, there is enough side-to-side wiggling of the body to remind you that Montero Sport is not a car. Like a truck, it uses body-on-frame construction. Its frame is fully boxed, and its long front torsion bars, beefy A-arms, and hefty rear trailing arms are unmistakably heavy-duty pieces.
That said, the most comforting aspect of Montero Sport's ride is the lack of rattles, squeaks, and extraneous movements, which are endemic to most truck-chassis vehicles. (You'll notice them particularly if you are trading in a passenger sedan for your new sport-utility.) In comparison, however, the more expensive Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mercedes M-class wagons hide big bumps the best.
On the pavement, the brakes feel terrific, and provide good feedback to the driver. They are easy to modulate around town. When driving off road, you can tell if you're on slippery or sticky roads by the feel of the pedal. Antilock brakes come standard on all four-wheel-drive models, and work well going down steep hills in four-wheel drive, even when low range is selected in the transfer case.
New on all 4WD models is Mitsubishi's full-time ALL4-wheel drive or A4WD. Essentially, this is an all-wheel-drive system, which adds stability in slippery conditions because it automatically provides the appropriate traction to the front and rear tires for both on-road and light off-road conditions. Drivers do not need to activate the system. It's always on. It's in A4WD whenever it isn't shifted into regular, old-fashioned part-time 4WD.
Driving around town in 4WD will cause the front and rear wheels to fight each other in tight corners, particularly noticeable in tight parking lot situations. In the A4WD mode, however, parking and around-town maneuverability in tight spaces is easier because binding and friction in the system is reduced. A viscous coupling, similar to what's used in Mitsubishi's all-wheel-drive cars, apportions power between the front and rear wheels according to traction needs.
All-wheel drive seems to add stability to the Montero Sport when cornering, even on dry pavement. Charge into a corner, such as a freeway ramp, and the suspension is not upset by coming on and off the throttle. This may help the driver maintain control in an emergency maneuver. In other words, all-wheel drive makes for safer handling and easier driver control than two-wheel drive. EPA-estimated highway fuel economy has dropped to 18 mpg from last year's 20 mpg, however.
For more extreme conditions, drivers can shift into part-time 4WD as well as low-range 4WD. Part-time 4WD uses a locked center differential to ensure power is being distributed equally between front and rear axles. To enhance traction further, Mitsubishi offers a limited-slip rear differential; it's standard on Limited models and comes as part of the optional Touring Package ($1790) on XLS models, which also includes one-touch power sunroof, 210-watt Infinity audio system, platinum-finish interior trim, and leather-trimmed steering wheel, parking brake lever and shift knob.
Mitsubishi's Montero Sport is a stylish package with real off-road capability. Its new all-wheel-drive system gives it improved stability on the road, particularly when it is slippery. The Montero Sport is priced below the larger, more-popular Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee, while offering similar performance.