Mitsubishi has set its target scope this time on the Toyota Fortuner with its new Montero Sport (Pajero Sport in other markets) SUV, based on the Strada/Triton pickup. The new Montero Sport is the second iteration of Mitsubishi's pickup based SUV which first appeared as the G-Wagon, based on the previous Strada was initially sold only in the Thai and select RHD ASEAN markets. Building on the success and good feedback of this model, Mitsubishi engineers went to the drawing board for an improved version based on the new Triton pickup.

Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation (MMPC) recently flew a select group of motoring journalists and dealer principals to Thailand for an exclusive preview of the new Montero Sport SUV. Part of the preview was a hands-on experience of the new SUV, which involved driving it around the Bira Circuit in Pattaya and a series of specially designed tests to demonstrate the off-road capabilities of the new Montero Sport. The first set of these tests was the steel rollers to simulate the four-wheel drive system's capabilities in slippery conditions. The second set was the alternating canals demonstrating the suspension travel. The last set was the lateral ramp, which showed off its traction angle.

Initial impressions of the Montero Sport would be the ride comfort after jumping some of the burms around the circuit just to simulate the potholes on our roads. Handling was quite impressive as it handles very well for a high center of gravity mid-size SUV almost comparable with its stablemate, the Outlander. The engine is the same 4M41 fitted to the 3.2-liter Strada, which is very capable, producing a maximum output of 163ps at 3500rpm and 35kg-m peak torque at 2000rpm. The powertrain is mated to a smooth shifting 4-speed automatic tranny with INVECS II.

On the outside, the Montero Sport inherits the sharp front end of the Strada. The designers however decided to add clean flowing lines to form a rather sleek passenger cabin and rear end. Inside, it shares the same dashboard with the Strada with the addition of a few creature comforts for the top-end model. The third row seats provide ample legroom for the normal sized Filipino. The suspension setup up front is a set of double-wishbones, while the rear features Mitsubishi's multi-link suspension setup with coil springs.

Also at the special preview was back-to-back Paris Dakar Rally Champion (2002-2003) Hiroshi Masuoka, works driver for Mitsubishi. It is also interesting to note that Masuoka won the 2003 Baja Italy and the 2004 UAE Desert Challenge. This writer was fortunate to ride shotgun with Masuoka in the Montero Sport for a lap around the Bira circuit which really showed off the car-like handling of the SUV, especially now that is was being driven by a professional race driver.

The Philippine delegation was also given a special tour of Mitsubishi Motors Thailand's Laemchambang plant, where the Montero Sport SUV is being made along with the Triton pickup truck.

The Montero Sport will initially be available in two variants, GLS and GLS SE. Being more recently known for packing tons of premium features in their vehicles, this SUV will not be an exception. The top-end SE variant will feature climate control, electric driver's seat, power folding mirrors, in-key immobilizer, leather seats, a premium JVC radio with USB and Auxiliary inputs for portable media players, Bluetooth and six speakers.

Introductory price for the Montero Sport GLS is Php1.43-million, while the GLS SE will fetch a pricetag of 1.598-million. The attractive pricing will indeed leave a dent on the competition consisting of the Ford Everest, Isuzu Alterra and Toyota Fortuner. Mitsubishi has finally found its way back with its recent lineup of vehicles. If Mitsubishi keeps this going, it won't be long before they end up in the top spot of the sales charts once again.