Twelve years ago, and about a month before the imminent arrival of my firstborn, I thought it would be a splendid idea to do some soul-searching with a trek to Mount Pulag. With a borrowed Mitsubishi Montero Sport, I set off amid a gathering storm for the 900km round trip.
The actual hike wasn’t particularly strenuous, but the solo drive to and from the ranger station was more stressful than I thought it would be. I encountered slick, narrow roads, steep drop-offs, and low visibility. I remember thinking if I messed up and rolled the vehicle down a cliff, nobody might find me for a few days (if at all).
Obviously, I made it through that journey without a scratch, and it gave me a deep respect for the Montero Sport. It can take on challenging terrain in stock form, and it’s good to know that Mitsubishi hasn’t diluted the formula one bit. It has, however, seen to making the vehicle even safer to drive with a battery of electronic systems to keep you from hitting anything on purpose. To test it out, I borrowed the latest generation model in its GT 4WD trim for a week.
As before, the seating configuration is excellent with a fold-flat third-row and a fold-and-tumble second-row. It took some Tetris-like loading to get all our bags and crates inside, but I was able to fit my wife, kids, and dogs for a trip to the family farm.
Cockpit ergonomics is generally faultless, and while the seats are swathed in leather, the material is still a not-particularly-pliant type that looks more durable than luxurious. One oddity with the electronic parking brake is that unlike most systems that automatically disengage once you step on the accelerator while in Drive, this one stays locked until you press the toggle switch.
Maybe this is a precautionary step to further dispel rumors of “sudden unintended acceleration,” but you’d now have to be a complete idiot to accidentally set off from a stop.
Anyway, out on the road, the Montero has a nice and firm ride. It doesn’t wallow in the corners, feels very stable at cruising speeds, and it gets better the harder you press it. The 2.4-liter turbo diesel engine has loads of torque for all-day cruising, and though it takes a while to spin up and get all 179 horses working, you have no less than eight gears to work with.
On the long stretches of NLEX and SCTEX, where I was sternly told by the wife to behave since we had the kids onboard, I got to play with the advanced cruise control. The steering-wheel buttons and dashboard indicator lights are confusing at first, but once it’s set, it’s remarkable. Aside from sticking to your desired speed, it uses Forward Collision Mitigation (i.e., radar) to slow down and even forcefully brake if it detects a vehicle in front of you. On the highway, for example, I could set the cruise control and not have to work the accelerator or brake while passing other vehicles since the Montero did all the work (and quite smoothly, too).
It did take me a while to trust the system, so I still had my foot lightly resting on the accelerator just in case I needed to intervene. On the strictly enforced 60km/h speed limit of Skyway Stage 3, on the other hand, the system actively braked when a moron suddenly swerved into my lane a few meters away.
If I remember correctly, a four-wheel-drive Montero Sport in the late 2000s retailed for around P1.7 million. These days, that amount only gets you a GLS 2WD owing to inflation and forex rates. You’ll need P2,298,000 now to park a GT 4WD in your garage. That’s the kind of money these days to buy a range-topping Toyota Fortuner, Isuzu Mu-X, or Nissan Terra.
In its defense, today’s latest generation has a lot of features we could only dream of in this class of vehicle many years ago. The power liftgate has a hands-free function, there’s a moonroof, the LCD instrument panel can be configured several ways, and there’s even a smartphone app that reminds you if you left the doors unlocked and finds your vehicle in a crowded parking lot.
The hardware that really counts, of course, is the 4WD system. No more clunky levers of yesteryear; today, it’s just a rotary dial to select between 2WD and three 4WD modes. Coupled with a sturdy chassis and underpinnings, the Montero Sport is just as capable off road as it ever was; only a lot more relaxing to drive. With 4H engaged on gravel roads, the vehicle is sure-footed at speed, and the stock Toyo Open Country tires have decent grip in the rough. Engaging low range and locking the center differential allows you to tackle gnarlier terrain where your only limiter is grip.
All in all, it’s a lot of truck for the buck, although I’ve always wondered why manufacturers don’t offer a stripped-down 4×4 variant. Keep the off-road hardware, but leave out most of the luxury items in order to bring down the price. As it is, today’s current Montero Sport makes no excuses for capability or the latest in safety tech, but you’ll have to pay to play.
MITSUBISHI MONTERO SPORT GT 4WD
|Engine||2.4-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power||179hp @ 3,500rpm|
|Torque||430Nm @ 2,500rpm|
|Dimensions||4,825mm x 1,815mm x 1,835mm|
|Upside||The car feels modern, is idiot-proof, has lots of safety tech, and has a robust four-wheel-drive system.|
|Downside||The leather upholstery could be more pliant, and the infotainment system kept on freezing.|