The Montero Sport can be considered Mitsubishi's great rebound to the SUV market, long overdue since the heyday of the second generation Pajero. Indeed, good things come to those who wait as Mitsubishi showed its competitors the uses of being late: enter a model that's a combination of existing SUVs' fine points plus a rectified version of their defects. More than a year since its launch, the Montero Sport still sells like hotcake in the Philippines' tough SUV segment amidst strong competition.

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I first experienced driving the 3.2-liter GLS SE Montero Sport in Bira Circuit, Thailand, during its pre-launch test. Recently, I had the chance to refresh the experience, on Philippine roads more recently. Having driven the 2.5-liter prior to this, the 27 PS added power was immediately perceptible with the smooth acceleration, a much welcome attribute for long trips where effortless overtaking whether on plains or uphill is a godsend. The CRDi 3.2-liter 4M41 power plant packs might, churning out a maximum of 163 PS at 3500rpm and 343Nm torque peaking at 2000rpm. The only thing is while the INVECS-II 4-speed A/T is adequate, it would have helped if there was another gear to the transmission for more efficient power distribution.

The GLS SE's performance is further boosted by the addition of the Hybrid LSD (Limited Slip Differential), a technology that combines speed differential induction and torque differential induction. The increased driving power offered by Hybrid LSD allows for graceful climbing and navigation in off-road terrain, aside from good ABS compatibility.

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There is no doubt that the Montero Sport is quite the performer in terms of handling, whether at city driving speed or on terrains with kinked uphill and downhill trails. At high speeds, some body roll can be felt due to the softer suspension setup, which is the SUV making way for ride comfort. Off-road, the Montero Sport can get out of any minor jam with its standard highway tires coupled with the Super Select II 4-wheel drive system. In occasionally potholed Metro Manila terrain, it easily absorbs road bumps, providing a comfy ride. I might as well pronounce the Montero Sport as having the most balanced suspension setup in its class, compromising well between handling and comfort.

It doesn't hurt that Mitsubishi has given the Montero Sport handsome features. The basic shape of the Montero Sport is a mix of inherited styles from its predecessor Pajero, and modern lines from the Triton/Strada pick-up range. The result is a sharp, muscular face reflecting the three-diamond Mitsubishi badge with sleek lines extending to the passenger cabin and rear.

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The interior design is less creative, being nothing different from the next SUV's minimalist-utilitarian interior. The basic controls are ergonomically placed for easy access, and there are holders for almost every moving bit and piece. All Montero Sport comes standard with grey leather seat covers and electronic seat controls. The top-of-the-line GLS SE is accented with faux wood panels, which I personally think deviates from the vehicle's rugged persona.

A center-mounted multi-information LCD meter shows detailed information on heading, altitude, barometer, fuel consumption, range, and the compulsory date and time. A JVC MP3/WMA/CD player with auxiliary and USB inputs and integrated Bluetooth for hands-free mobile phone connection takes the place of CD player. One nice bonus for the GLS SE is the digital Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), which provides information on tire pressure and temperature as you start the car and on the fly when you think of checking it.

The vehicle is spacious, with more than ample legroom for the average Asian adult passenger. The second row seats have recessed slots that hold belt fasteners for a clutter-free look, while the belts themselves have clips to hold them in place. The third row seats can accommodate two persons. When not in use, it can be folded flat for more storage room at the back. The second row can also be folded if more space is needed, especially when loading long objects. There are strategically placed hooks for nets or ropes securing loose cargo. The headrests on the third row are adjustable, preventing one's head from hitting the rear glass when trying to sit in a comfortable position.

The Montero Sport GLS SE is for those looking something other than a stiff, bouncy, utility vehicle. This good-looking machine is a combination of power, comfort, and style. The car is well equipped, it works, and it comes with an attractive price tag at Php1.68-million.