The disparate needs of the world's full-size sport-utility market have posed a headache for car companies based outside of the United States for decades. In America, large suvs have seen their traditional image as off-road masters fade as a greater emphasis has been placed on hauling, towing and passenger transport. This has been a frustrating state of affairs for Japanese SUV makers, who long sold their full-size wares around the world as reliable and tough forms of transportation where infrastructure bordered on non-existent. While Asian automobile companies faced serious resistance in the North American truck market of the 1980s due to perceptions of inferior build quality and a lack of horsepower, once they achieved full penetration of the SUV segment in the 1990s they realized that consumer tastes had shifted towards the idea of trucks as daily drivers instead of capable rock crawlers. This sent many car companies back to the drawing board in order to design fresh vehicles capable of capturing the attention of this new breed of driver.
Mitsubishi found itself in a fortunate position with the Montero. Known elsewhere as the Pajero, the vehicle enjoyed impressive sales thanks to its reputation as an all-terrain pro, an SUV capable of making short work of any of the off-road obstacles it might find in its path. The Pajero / Montero was also quite reliable, a very important consideration for those taking their vehicles far off the beaten path where mechanics could conceivably take days to reach them with spare parts. Mitsubishi's image was further enhanced by the Pajero's strong showing in the Paris to Dakar rally, a grueling yearly endurance test for desert racers.
Having been sold in North America since 1982, Mitsubishi decided that its best bet was to focus on enhancing the passenger comfort and luxury level of the Montero while at the same time preserving its overall toughness. The gradual transformation of the full-size SUV from trail boss to city slicker began in the mid-90s, and by the end of the decade the Montero was easily the match for some of the more refined truck-based sport-utilities on the market.
The 2001 - 2006 Mitsubishi Montero represents the culmination of the company's investment in the design, making it an excellent used full-size SUV option. With great features, good road manners and a go-anywhere reputation, the Montero is well positioned on the secondhand market.
2001 - 2006 Mitsubishi Montero
The 2001 - 2006 Mitsubishi Montero immediately stands out when compared to the previous generations of the vehicle. Visually, the re-design has given the SUV a much less aggressive appearance, as the Montero edges along the same styling slope as the Toyota Land Cruiser - more body cladding, softer edges and a friendlier front end. Of course, the Montero is still an imposing truck in terms of size, but it has definitely been made more palatable to a wider audience.
Power-wise, the Montero has also been upgraded, and it now sports a larger V-6 engine to help improve the truck's acceleration. Until 2003, the Montero can be found with a 3.5-liter motor that makes 200 horsepower. For the 2003 model year, the engine's displacement was punched out to 3.8-liters in order to increase output to 215 horsepower, matched with 248 lb-ft of torque. A 4-speed automatic and 5-speed automatic transmission handle the shifting duties, depending upon which trim level has been selected. With a wider chassis and a longer wheelbase the Montero is more stable than ever before, and either engine provides smooth, adequate power delivery that is well matched to the vehicle's mass. Rugged four-wheel drive is optional, although later vehicles were available with full-time all-wheel drive.
The Montero's passenger compartment is a study in comfort, surrounding occupants with high quality materials and a well-executed layout. The SUV is spacious, with all five seating positions offering better than average leg and shoulder room. With the rear row folded down, cargo capacity is an impressive 96 cubic feet, and a little less than half that when the vehicle is fully loaded with passengers. A sunroof, automatic climate control, and heated leather seats top the list of goodies which come with the vehicle's top of the line Limited trim level.
The 2001 - 2006 Mitsubishi Montero is a solid candidate for best used imported full-size SUV, and it provides much of the same utility and luxury as the class-leading offering from Toyota.