At a time when most manufacturers are going the luxury soft-roader way with their SUVs, Mitsubishi has stayed true to its off-road credentials and given us a rugged-looking and very capable SUV. It may not have all the frills and fancies that the premium SUVs of today offer, but when the going gets tough, the Montero likes to get going. It's got that old-school charm of the go-anywhere, survive anything SUVs of yesteryear; from the looks to the feel, be prepared to fondly remember the mighty Pajeros of the past. The Montero was discontinued in 2012 due to low sales figures. However, Mitsubishi has reintroduced the SUV in the Indian market, albeit at a very high price.
As far as looks go, the 2016 Montero has retained those classic SUV rugged lines, but it’s been slightly toned down from those seen on the boxy-looking Pajero it descends from. Bear in mind, this base design has been around for almost fifteen years now, save for some updates to the front and rear styling. The good thing here is that even though it does look imposing, it doesn't look like it’s trying too hard. It still has the horizontal chrome-lined front grille with minor changes, and what’s interesting is that it contains small directed vents that channel air to cool all engine pistons equally – a technology developed from Mitsubishi's active participation and success in gruelling rally events.
The Montero comes equipped with these swanky new headlamps that have a high discharge output, headlight washers, and an automatic high beam that is controlled by a camera. The air dam and front bumper have been revised, and it also gets DRLs integrated into the bumper, near the fog lamps. From the side, it looks similar to the older model, except for the chromed-out ORVMs. The rear also gets a fog lamp on the spare wheel for night driving duties, as well as slight changes in the contours of the hatch. It has a locking mechanism to keep the door ajar; something that would be helpful in camping scenarios.
As far as creature comforts go, the Montero now gets a panoramic sunroof and is fitted with a Rockford Acoustic Design sound system, and an infotainment system that offers Bluetooth. There is also a central information display to relay information from a compass, as well as altitude and fuel consumption. The dash has a nice, soft feel to it but still looks rugged and functional. The automatic climate control works quite well, but uses the rather dated, rotary dials for controls; they do have a solid feel nonetheless. At the front, the seats get heating functions; quite unnecessary when driving in India. The Montero, however, does miss out on features like a USB port, a keyless stop-start option and a navigation system.
The SUV has a very spacious cabin, and it’s quite easy to slip into it, thanks to the low seat height. There's ample headspace for taller drivers and passengers owing to the high-raked roofline. The seats do feel a bit flat, but are quite comfortable with the front seats being electronically adjustable. In the second row, there's a lot of legroom and enough space on the bench to seat three passengers comfortably; the seats can be reclined as well. But, the central armrest might make things a bit uncomfortable for the passenger in the middle on longer drives. The mechanism to fold the second row and access the third is fairly easy to use. However, the space in the third rows is pretty tight, and could probably only fit two children. One feature that hasn't changed from the older model is that the third row folds neatly into the floor to create 1,000 litres of boot space, while the second row folds to add approximately another 700 litres; here's where the Montero’s utilitarian nature really shows.
Powering the Montero is the same 3.2-litre, direct-injection diesel engine that has been tweaked for more refined performance and smoother torque delivery. This engine churns out a peak power of 192hp at 3,800rpm, and has a peak torque output of 441Nm at 2,000rpm. It gets a five-speed automatic gearbox and true to its off-road credentials, gets four driveline modes – 2WD High (2-H), 4WD High (4-H), 4WD High with locked center differential (4-HLc), and 4WD low with locked center differential (4-LLc) for the really gnarly stuff. All modes can be changed when on the go up to 90kph, except for the 4-LLc mode. However, operating the lever can be a bit daunting while driving and may take a few tries before you get it right. There's even a button located on the central dashboard to lock the front differential as well. One neat off-road function is the sonar which helps in detecting large submerged rocks while crossing through water.
Of course, out on the dry roads is where most owners would keep the Montero. Driving on the highway, the SUV feels calm and composed and is relatively stable at high speeds. It does, however, get a bit bouncy at low speeds and there is a bit of body roll which is characteristic of the robust, body-on-ladder frame chassis setup. But, despite its large size, the Mitsubishi doesn't feel very intimidating to drive; which is definitely a bonus for city driving. But on the other hand, the large steering wheel feels quite heavy to operate. It is also a bit vague with initial inputs from the center. The double-wishbone suspension setup at the front and a multi-link setup at the rear, soak up bumps pretty well. Safety features include AWC (All Wheel Control) and switchable ATSC (Active Stability and Traction Control), as well as a multi-mode ABS and EBD. While the 17-inch ventilated discs do a stellar job in bringing you to a halt, keeping untowardly incidents at bay.
Civil behaviour aside, the car's real talent lies at the point where the tarmac ends. It is immensely fun to drive off-road, making gravel and dirt roads seem like child’s play. With 4WD engaged, the Montero absolutely gobbles up difficult terrain; it's no wonder then that Mitsubishi has dubbed it 'King of Terrains'. The levels of traction and stability give you the confidence to push it hard and still be in control of what's going on, within sane limits, of course. And for when the stuff gets really difficult, there's that 4LLc mode grinning at you, waiting to lug you out of whatever conundrum you've gotten yourself into. We didn't get the chance to test its capability in deep sand, but Mitsubishi's success at the Dakar Rally does say a thing or two.
But, there is a catch. Because it is a CBU, the Montero comes with an exorbitant price tag of Rs 71.06 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai), thanks to all the import taxes. This puts it in the crosshairs of premium SUVs like the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90, the Jaguar F-Pace and the BMW X5. Even though it is tough as ever, it just doesn't compare to its rivals in terms of luxury or features. It retains that old-school SUV charm that most seasoned drivers will really appreciate, but in a brand-conscious market like India that demands more luxury than off-road capabilities from SUVs, the Montero isn’t likely to find many takers.