SUVs play the auto industry's hottest game of one-upmanship. Each new entry has to supersede the prevailing state of the art for any chance of success. A case in point is the all-new, 2001 model third-generation Mitsubishi Montero. It's not only larger, it's also built using more space - and weight-efficient unibody construction. It has an advanced independent rear suspension, an interior loaded with entertaining features, and a hideaway third-row seat.
The Montero's size places it somewhere between a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a Ford Explorer - at the high end of the midsize class. There's room for seven with two buckets up front and two bench seats in back. Pull a couple of levers to swing the third row under the floor and hinge the second row forward - you can carry enough marine gear for a two-week vacation. Access the cargo hold via a large side-hinged door loaded with a full-size spare.
Thanks to the integrated body and chassis assembly, the new Montero is lighter and stiffer in construction than the model it replaces. Add to that a new independent multilink rear suspension, a carryover control-arm front suspension, and coil springs, and you've got the makings of a plush ride. Engineers have calibrated the suspension so that this SUV's ride is almost like a Cadillac.
The drive-line is equally impressive. Four-wheel drive, automatic transmission, and a 200-hp, 3.5-liter SOHC 24-valve V-6 come standard. Spring for the Limited Edition and you get a four-mode transfer case and five-speed sequential-shift transmission. Extra gears and lower curb weight help make up for the lack of a V-8.
To check the validity of the new Montero's 5,000-pound maximum tow rating, we hooked up a MasterCraft ProStar 190 on a single-axle trailer and headed for a launch ramp. With that 3,320-pound load, full-throttle acceleration was a leisurely 23 seconds to 60 mph, but the engine and transmission worked together in sweet harmony. There's so much traction available as a result of a new limited-slip rear differential that engaging all-wheel drive was superfluous on the ramp. The big Yokohama M+S radials dig in and haul you out of the drink without hesitation.