Tow Test: Mitsubishi Montero

The Mitsubishi Montero has the ability to tow your boat while providing a plush ride.

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.

A special Sportronic mode for the five-speed automatic transmission lets you control gear selection with a light tap. You can start quickly on slippery terrain or hold each gear in hill country. Ratio splits are notably closer than with ordinary four-speed automatics so the engine never runs out of breath.

Any complaints? Trailer motion has a tendency to jiggle the tow vehicle. The soft suspension settings that are so pleasurable when not trailering can't provide that Rock-of-Gibraltar feel you'd like to have when your mirrors are filled with a heavy boat and trailer.

MODEL Mitsubishi Montero
Engine 3.5-liter SOHC V-6
Net hp/rpm 200/5000
Net torque (ft-lb/rpm) 235/3000
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Front suspension control arms, coil springs
Rear suspension independent multilink, coil springs
Wheelbase (in.) 109.5
Length (in.) 188.9
Width (in.) 73.9
Height (in.) 73.1
Brakes (front/rear) vented disc/ vented disc; standard four-wheel ABS
Tires Yokohama Geolander, P265/70SR-16 M+S
Curb weight (lbs.) 4,675
Towing capacity (lbs.) 5,000
Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.) 96.4
Fuel capacity (gal.) 23.8
Estimated city/highway towing fuel economy (avg. mpg) 10
Price (as tested) $36,392

LAST WORD. Expensive, but bold styling, advanced features, and thoughtful refinement justify the new Mitsubishi Montero's price.