- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

Mitsubishi isn't known for luxury cars. It's not particularly known for luxury sport utility vehicles, either, but it has one.
Mitsubishi's Montero is the company's flagship in the States. It's a midsize SUV with a plush-feeling ride on the road, quiet interior, strong off-road performance and plenty of standard equipment, including three rows of seats. Its starting manufacturer's suggested retail price is $33,087, including destination charge.
For 2003, the Montero styling is mildly refreshed with a new, chrome-accented grille, more tasteful bodyside cladding and new taillights.
The engine is bigger and more powerful. A 3.8-liter V-6 replaces last year's 3.5-liter engine, and engine response is improved.
There's a new five-speed automatic transmission that lets drivers shift from gear to gear themselves, sans clutch pedal, if they want.
And ActiveTrac four-wheel drive is now standard on both Montero models. So is a new skid and traction control system. The current Montero is based on a redesign in the 2001 model year.
I enjoyed the plush-feeling ride of the 2003 Montero Limited tester. Riders were well-cushioned over bumps on- and off-road. The high-riding seats provided good visibility as I looked down and over many other vehicles.
Leather on the first two rows of seats was soft to the touch, and I sank nicely into the seat. Third-row seats don't get leather but have a leatherlike material so that most folks won't really notice the difference.
The Montero's wood-and-leather-trimmed steering wheel was as attractive as in any luxury-branded SUV, even if the wood isn't real.
And the two gloveboxes, stacked on top of each other, help keep maps, owner manuals, etc., organized.
I appreciated the sizable dead pedal for the driver as well as the adjustable center console armrest.
The Montero running boards are illuminated on the Limited model, providing an easy-to-see exitway and a pretty exterior as you approach and press the unlock button on the key fob.
Watch out as you get out of the Montero. A couple times, the back of my shoe got wedged between the running board and vehicle body.
The uplevel, 315-watt, Mitsubishi/Infinity stereo in the test vehicle produced strong tunes with no distortion.
And I loved the oh-so-large power sunroof, even if it did bring lots of wind noise at highway speeds.
Four-wheel-drive mechanicals come on every Montero.
But drivers can select from two-wheel drive, all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.
The four-wheel drive was eminently capable, powering this heavy SUV easily in rugged terrain. Remember, Monteros have won 17 years of Paris-to-Dakar rally trophies.
The six-cylinder Montero powerplant is updated for 2003. It now delivers 215 horsepower and 248 foot-pounds at 3,250 rpm. Unleaded regular fuel is recommended.
In the test vehicle, the engine responded readily, if not quite instantaneously, when I needed to pass on the freeway. It had good around-town zip.
The new automatic transmission has what Mitsubishi calls "manu-matic" Sportronic mode that lets drivers select gears themselves as they drive. But in the tester, I preferred the capable shifting of the automatic by itself. The shifts were much smoother.
The Montero surprises because despite its luxury positioning by Mitsubishi, this SUV doesn't offer a number of features that are available on other luxury sport utilities, such as navigation system, V-8, rear park assist and adjustable pedals.
The three rows of seats for seven passengers, however, is a notable feature in the Montero.
I like how the rearmost set of two seats folds flat into a cavity in the cargo floor so you don't have to lift them out and leave them in the garage. Just be ready for a multistep process.
And note 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 were touching 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.

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