Unlike some of their Japanese competitors, Mitsubishi had actually been quite serious about off-road vehicles for a number of years before deciding to test the North American market. Their trucks were a popular option not only for border patrol agencies and other government workers in regions where road access was rare and frequently poorly maintained, but they also became the vehicles of choice for 4x4 enthusiasts in Africa, Asia and South America.
When Mitsubishi decided to widen their slice of the SUV pie in the United States, they realized that they would have to offer a more civilized vehicle in order to entice buyers into their showrooms. They also wanted to complement their current truck lineup with a smaller vehicle that could compete with the new compact SUV's that had grown in popularity during the 1990s. These vehicles squeezed a large amount of cargo space and passenger capacity into a smaller package than the standard sport-utility vehicle. In terms of off-road ability, however, not all compact SUV's were created equal. A growing number of these mini-utes were based on sedan platforms instead of truck frames in order to provide a compliant ride that would satisfy the vast majority of buyers who never intended to drive their vehicles across anything more challenging than a snowy highway.
Despite this trend, Mitsubishi were unwilling to compromise their reputation for building rugged, trail-capable SUVs, and it was decided that a smaller version of their current truck-based sport-utility would be built in order to compete with vehicles like the Honda Passport and the Nissan Pathfinder. The new vehicle was to be called the Montero Sport, a somewhat confusing moniker given that Mitsubishi's full-size SUV was called simply the Montero in North America. The Montero Sport was given less brutal styling than some of its competitors, and the vehicle featured gently curved wheel arches and rounded edges combined with a tall greenhouse that blended in well with wrap-around rear tail lights. This softened the appearance of the truck so that those who were more interested in using the Montero Sport as a minivan replacement than a stream-fording 4x4 wouldn't be intimidated.
This article examines the specifications, features and driving experience offered by the 1998 - 2004 Montero Sport, the best used compact SUV produced by Mitsubishi. The vehicle represents the last of the compact off-roaders produced by the company before the decision was made to move entirely into crossover vehicles.
1998 - 2004 Mitsubishi Montero Sport
The 1998 - 2004 Montero Sport is a well-built, comfortable and attractive effort from Mitsubishi that competes very well with the vehicles in its class. One of the most appealing things about the Montero Sport is the wide range of engine choices designed to suit the power needs of almost any buyer. The first few years of production saw the vehicle outfitted with either a 197 horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, or one of two V-6's: a 3.0-liter unit that produced 173 horsepower or a much more powerful 200 horsepower 3.5-liter motor that also kicked in 228 lb-ft of torque. The 4-cylinder engine was dropped for later model years, but in 1998 came with a 5-speed manual transmission, whereas all the V-6 units are outfitted with 4-speed automatics. The Montero Sport also offers either two-wheel or four-wheel drive.
Inside, the Montero Sport the vehicle falls a bit flat in the style department, especially considering the expectations engendered by it's attractive exterior design. This is not to say that the Montero Sport's interior is somehow inferior, merely that it chooses simplicity over flash, with a basic dashboard and gauge arrangement that wouldn't look out of place in a pickup truck. Seats are generally comfortable and cargo space is great for a vehicle of its size, with a generous 79 cubic feet of room available once the rear seats are folded down. Even when the seats are in their upright position, owners benefit from a 43 cubic foot 'trunk' that can handle the grocery needs of even the largest families. The Montero's truck roots rarely show when it comes to driving experience, and passengers are unlikely to ever complain about being jostled by the vehicle's suspension.
The 1998 - 2004 Mitsubishi Montero Sport is a great used compact SUV choice for those interested in occasional off-roading but who don't want to sacrifice highway manners or ride comfort to get it. With a roomy passenger compartment and range of powerful engines, the Montero Sport is a solid choice on the secondhand market.