Jude Morte / Jude Morte | April 21, 2009 10:31
The new midsize SUV master mold
The midsize SUV segment has been a dominantly Toyota Fortuner segment for sometime, with the occasional Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Everest and Isuzu Alterra showing up on the country's roads. But when the Mitsubishi Montero Sport arrived last year, its superbly positive reviews from the motoring media and those who purchased units claim that the lofty perch currently occupied by the Fortuner will have to make room for one more - or get knocked off its pedestal by the triple diamond wonder.
However, the unit that was first introduced in the country was the 4x4 iteration. So when a recent offer arrived from Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Inc. to test drive a 4x2 a/t version of its midsize SUV, curiosity got the best of this writer and he gladly accepted. After all, more people are inclined to get a 4x2 variant than a 4x4 when it comes to midsize SUVs.
The exterior is a big upgrade from the previous model, veering away from the box-on-wheels look of its predecessor and borrowing a sleek angled silhouette approach from its smaller Outlander brethren. Toss in dimensions that can accommodate seven average-sized folk in comfort (4,695 mm length, 1,815 mm width, 1,840 mm height), meaty Bridgestone Dueler H/T 684II 265/65R17 rubber and 17 x 7.5J alloy rims, side step boards, an imposing mug with a mesh lower front grille (plus a silver front underguard), and a overall concept that conveys superb adaptation to slick urban roads and/or hard earth/pebbly path trails and you have a midsize SUV that can rival the Hyundai Santa Fe and Isuzu Alterra in terms of design.
Inside, the cabin is full of features that will placate restless, thirsty, hungry and sleepy occupants. The colorway may be a businesslike black/gray/silver, but it does its darndest best to make any trip fun - and does it well. Seating at the second row offers up to a fistful of legroom and kneeroom left, even with two six footers in front. The third row has limited kneeroom, but can comfortably fit two adults five-foot-three-inches and below. The front cupholders can handle up to a one-liter bottle of water and you can fit even a hardbound copy of Twilight within the door cubbyholes.
Access and usage of both rear rows are easy, and arguably better than the competition's. The second row can fold flat or tumble forward via levers on the outer upper ends of the second row seats' areas (read: nearest the doors). The third row, on the other hand, folds flat and flush with the floor for the occasional long and tall cargo. You can fold/tumble the third row thigh cushions via levers underneath the thigh cushions, or a fabric pull handle behind the third row backrests. One can even use the entire rear area as sleeping quarters be folding forward and tumbling the second row seats, unfolding the third row thigh cushions and folding the third row backrests forward - by using large plastic pull tabs on the outer upper ends of the third row seats' areas (specifically near the windows) - until they're both flush with the cabin floor. In contrast the Ford Everest's entire second and third rows merely fold and tumble forward, and the Toyota Fortuner's third row folds forward and folds laterally, latching up to bars located atop the rearmost side glass via hooks under the said seats.
Every storage bin, dial, knob, lever and switch is logically placed for easy read and reach, save for the aircon controls and the head unit. With regard to the former, the central knob (which controls the blower speed) is quite small, and the temperature knob is closer to the front passenger. Given that in tropical countries people like to fiddle more with the blower and temperature than air direction, to this writer the fan speed knob should be at the leftmost side (closer to the driver), the temperature knob in the middle and the air direction knob close to the shotgun side. With regard to the head unit, it's placed right below the aircon controls, closer to the cubbyhole in short proximity to the a/t stick. Perhaps it would be nicer if the storage bin above the aircon controls and the head unit change places. There's no visible door unlock indicator, either, as the black Mazda 3-style power-assisted locks (you pull backwards on the tab above the interior door latch to unlock, push forward to lock) blend in with the silver/black upper colorway. The good news is that even at the blower one setting the aircon blasts are Arctic cold (including the one above the right rear wheelwell, where the rightmost third row occupant sits), audio entertainment sound is decent (with audio controls on the steering wheel), and the bright interior lighting is a great aid in looking for small items on the chassis floor when there's an absence of light. In addition the center console's lid has padding where the driver can place his/her right arm on it for relaxation - and the occasional meditation/daydream - especially during rush hour traffic.
The driving experience is close to Fortuner-level, as it takes sometime to get into the powerband (1,900 rpm) and wake up the turbo (2,500 rpm, with full boost at a notch past 3,000 rpm). The 0-100 kph acceleration is a decent 13.43 seconds, a 178 kph top speed, and gets 8.14 km/l (on two days mixed driving) despite the 2.5L having to pull 1,945 kg of curb weight and the turbo tuned more for midrange delivery.
Despite platform sharing with its Strada pickup sibling, the Montero Sport has a very comfortable ride, even at the rearmost section. You don't have the nasty tailbone jarring that occurs so often in the Ford Everest, nor the floaty ride feeling of the Hyundai Santa Fe. It's firm, but not too bumpy (like the aforementioned Fortuner) that makes one feel like his/her backside is assaulted by multiple fists wrapped in boxing gloves. It feels like you're traveling on a newly purchased bed; mix that with comfortable fabric seats and your lower body is very relaxed, even after an hour or two of travel.
The handling and safety aspects can be considered as at par - or even better - than the other players in the midsize SUV segment. There's slight body roll, but that's a given since it's an SUV. Steering is heavy, especially at low speeds. You practically wrestle with the wheel just doing long backing or parallel parking moves, but the feedback is a notch or two better than the Fortuner and the Isuzu Alterra and has less wheel play than that of the Santa Fe and Ford Everest. The brakes bite at the slightest prod, the ABS wakes up early, the foglights can take over for the headlights anytime, and the parking sensors are sensitive at 0.8 feet onwards (which is a big help when shoehorning the unit in cramped urban lots).
Oh, and this Montero Sport variant's price of admission (Php 1.33 million) is a steal. It's significantly lower than the 4x2 diesel variants of the Toyota Fortuner (Php 1.448 million), Isuzu Alterra (Php 1.585 million), and Hyundai Santa Fe (Php 1.528 million). Given its features, it has way more to offer than the 4x2 diesel Ford Everest (Php 1.320 million), and has two more seats - or can carry a lot more cargo - than the Kia Sportage 4x2 (Php 1.215 million) and the Honda CR-V 4x2 a/t (Php 1.275 million).
Isuzu, Hyundai and even Ford have had their own takes on the midsize 4x2 diesel SUV segment, but never shared top billing with the formidable Fortuner. Mitsubishi observed what the aforementioned competition had to offer, noted everything in detail, and released a Montero Sport that is more than a match for Toyota's midsize SUV. It may be open to debate, but the new Montero Sport makes a excellent case for being the new midsize SUV master mold.