MITSUBISHI MONTERO SPORT
If this contest were based on looks alone, the Montero Sport would blow the competition to the weeds. No one expected the final product to look the way it does.
The Montero Sport looks like the GC-PHEV and the XR-PHEV concepts, with the front bearing the Dynamic Shield Design. The only resemblance to the previous generation is the familiar profile. The taillights, meanwhile, draw mixed reactions, but we do like them--they mask the SUV's large proportions and give it a recognizable identity as well as added safety.
Much thought has also been given to the interior. The steering wheel looks really good and feels nice to hold, with the right size and the right amount of fatness. The wide and high center console attracts attention, too.
Overall, the dashboard setup looks like it could belong in the Pajero. The info screen can display tire pressure like in Mitsubishi's upscale SUV, as well as air pressure and altitude--stuff useful for off-road excursions. The touchscreen is also more responsive than the Everest's.
The seats are supportive yet not too firm. Eight-way power adjustment likewise helps you with the ideal driving position. During a 120km media drive in Cebu, we didn't feel any strain inside this SUV. We find it to be the most comfortable in this bunch. The other seats are also comfy. The second and third rows have been moved slightly forward and back, respectively, for more leg space, but they still allow for a good recline. Even the headliner is contoured for taller occupants. Neat idea.
The all-new 4N15 2.4-liter turbo-diesel churns out 178hp and 430Nm. The engine is linear, and is tuned for better daily usability. It has more pull with less effort, thanks in part to the new eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is almost CVT-like in its smoothness.
Some of the guys on this Big Test team think the Fortuner has more grunt. We find the Toyota and the Mitsubishi to be comparable in this area, with the Montero Sport smoother and more responsive in its delivery. Ford's 3.2-liter mill, on the other hand, feels stronger at low end, given its emphasis on towing capacity. But it offers hardly anything past 3,000rpm, making it somewhat dull on the highway. The Monty peters out at about 3,800rpm. Over a week-long test, it returned 8.4-9km/L around the city.
While these SUVs will, for the most part, be chauffeur-driven, the Montero Sport is the most driver-centric and most athletic of the bunch. It's longer than its predecessor, but it doesn't feel big. Hydraulic steering is retained and has the best feel here. This car also has the tightest turning radius. Ride-wise, meanwhile, the Mitsubishi is soft but not spongy. Rebound damping and spring rates are spot-on. The on-road manners translate to a nice and soft ride off-road because the suspension damping isn't too firm. It has good articulation and the body rolls with it.
The looks are one thing, but it's when you're behind the wheel that you make sense of the effort put into the car. Mitsubishi has improved the Montero Sport in every possible aspect. But is it enough to keep rivals at bay?
SPECS: MITSUBISHI MONTERO SPORT GT 4WD AT
Engine: 2.4-liter turbodiesel I4
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 178hp @ 3,500rpm
Torque: 430Nm @ 2,500rpm
Photos by Christian Halili