A chilly morning greets us as our group goes up to the Fujigane off-road track in Japan. This course is a purpose-built 4x4 trail with steep hills and rough terrain, located in an area called Fujinomiya, around 40km away from the foot of the famous Mount Fuji in Japan.
Our itinerary involves testing the all-new Mitsubishi Montero Sport, and the organizers tell us we have the freedom to drive the SUV as many times as we want. We have all morning to do that!
Available for testing are the 2.4-liter 8AT turbodiesel 4x4 and its gasoline counterpart, as well as the 4x2 variants. As we've previously reported, the 2.4-liter diesel has figures of 178hp and 430Nm; no specs for the gasoline mill have been released as of press time.
The 4x4 is obviously the main focus of the testing in Fujinomiya, as it has a larger track compared to the one assigned to the 4x2. We drive the top-of-the-line 4x4 in Deep Bronze Metallic color, and one of the first things we notice is the cavernous cabin space of the Montero Sport--although that might also be due to our small Filipino frame.
Inside, the touches of leather on the seat, the chrome accents on the center panel of the dash, and the shiny wood that frames the touchscreen console all exude luxury. Depending on your needs, mode selection of 2H, 4H, 4HLc and 4LLc is child’s play. Of course, you know these as 4x2 High, 4x4 High, 4x4 High with locked center differential, and 4x4 Low with locked center differential. You just turn the dial to select the mode. And the parking brake is also just a push of a button--well, at least here on the top-spec variant. Right off the bat, this new model separates itself from the old version.
Seat adjustment is easy with electric operation, but still no memory settings. There is reach and rake (tilt/telescopic) adjustment for the steering wheel, electronic side mirrors, and paddle-shifters. Various buttons dot the steering wheel so you don't take your hands off the tiller.
Driving the Montero Sport builds confidence in the driver, and the stiff chassis and the vastly improved suspension swallow the bumps and drops of the terrain with ease. You can feel that Mitsubishi has improved the ride dramatically, giving the popular SUV a car-like feel. And the steering wheel is surprisingly good, especially during tight turns approaching the curvy hills of the track.
The Fujigane track has a steep-drop downward slope that makes use of the hill descent/4LLc control of the Montero Sport. We push the button and let the system do all the work. It controls the descent of the car as smoothly as possible, and you can adjust the pace of the descent just by blipping the pedal for your desired speed.
To cap off the 4x4 test drive, famous Dakar Rally driver Hiroshi Masuoka gives us a show and drives the Montero Sport as crazily as you can imagine, making huge dust clouds that cover the silhouette of Mount Fuji in the background.
The cutthroat midsize-SUV rivalry is now in full swing. And based on our test drive in Japan, the Montero Sport will be harder to conquer than Mount Fuji. Bring on Mount Everest.
Photos by Raynand Olarte using a Sony RX10 II