Those were the frequent words I heard whenever a customer walked into the dealership back in 2005; yes, I was a very eager fresh grad who took on a sales position at a Toyota dealer. That car was an instant hit, racking up backing up sales queus to the point that we were researching how long it took for shipments to get here from Thailand.
In 2008, however, things changed as Mitsubishi re-entered the SUV battlefield with their own 7-seat Montero Sport. Like the Toyota, the Montero Sport quickly shot up the sales rankings, boosting Mitsubishi back up to the Number 2 spot in the industry, fully capitalizing on the common complaint with the Fortuner: its relatively hard ride.
Now, after 3 years on sale, Mitsubishi has upgraded their best selling SUV and have come up with a new variant: the GTV. We've tested it on Clark Speedway's tarmac and dirt stages before, but what is it like to be with and drive everyday?
First up: the looks. Nothing has really changed with the Montero's design, except for a few minor tweaks. The rims are the same, the stepboards are the same, and the other trimmings are the same as in the GLS SE (the original top-of-the-line variant). No complaint on my end, as I've always though Montero Sport looks good, though I was never really a fan of chrome. Hence, the new blacked out honeycomb (or is it mesh?) grille is something I find to my liking.
Inside, again, its more of what made the Montero Sport a popular choice in the market. The modern interior with metal and dark wood accents give the cabin a rather premium yet subdued feel, supported by the leather that lines all the seats. One thing I've never quite figured out with the Montero Sport was the lack of thigh support for the front seats, as I always find myself sliding and fidgeting to get comfortable; something that I never need behind the wheels of the Fortuner or even the Ford Everest, the latter having my favorite driver's seat of the class.
Where Mitsubishi really went to work was in the powertrain department, as the Montero Sport GTV (as well as the GLS-V version) gets a different engine from the GLS SE variant: a 2.5 liter Di-D common rail diesel engine. If you own a Montero Sport, you may be wondering why they are putting a smaller engine in the GTV compared to the 3.2 liter unit in the GLS SE. Well, thanks to variable geometry turbo technology, the new GTV pumps out 178 metric horsepower and 350 Newton meters, meaning that the 2.5 liter engine now gives out more power and torque than the 3.2 liter engine. As an added improvement, they have also upgraded the 4-speed INVECS-II transmission to a 5-speed unit with a better spread of ratios; giving the engine an easier time accelerating off the line.
It's hard to notice the slight bump in performance, though where it has improved is in the efficiency department. In moderate traffic in the city, I was getting 8.3 kilometers to a liter, and in light traffic it was returning 9.1 km/l. On the highway the difference isn't that much, as I was getting 10.5 at a 100 km/h average speed.
Being a 4x4, the Montero Sport GTV gets the same shift-on-the-fly 4x4 system that gives it the capability of taking on rough terrain. As we have driven it on a short rallycross course a few months ago, we can attest to its abilities on the dirt. On a challenging off-road trail, it gives you the confidence you need to get through, though for the truly serious stuff, you might want to swap those road tires for all terrain rubbers at least.
In the ride department, its certainly comfortable; boasting a softer suspension that soaks up the rough stuff better than many of its fellow 7-seater, pick-up based SUVs. There's none of that jarring that have been the problem of its competitors, and that goes for both on tarmac and off-road. Having a soft suspension does have one big drawback, though: handling. Driving it around bends means you have to deal with body roll. Lots of it. And under braking, the Montero does nose dive quite a bit and can get a bit skittish when the rear unloads as much weights as it can onto the front wheels. The handling was an expected trade off, though the Montero's manners under braking needs a bit of attention.
The price of the new GTV? PhP 1,688,000. While that may seem like a hefty price tag, taking a quick look at the competitors' prices shows that it still undercuts their SRPs. It's not perfect, but it knows its priorities well. Based what you get for the money (power seats, paddle shifters, satellite navigation, DVD, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth connect, to name a few), the Montero Sport GTV seems poised to show its competitors who's boss in the 7-seat SUV segment... again.