Paradoxically, the more aggressive-looking new Montero is not designed to be an off-road demon. Gone is the basic-but-tough body-on-frame construction in favor of a more sophisticated monocoque design supported by a new four-wheel-independent suspension. Coil-over-shocks have replaced the torsion bars up front, and the rear is a decidedly upscale double-wishbone/coil-spring arrangement. On Mitsubishi's proving grounds, we found the ride to be pleasingly supple, with negligible (for an SUV) body roll in the turns. Off-road, the Montero soaks up smaller obstacles more pleasantly than before, yet can still maneuver over the big moguls with surprising efficiency.

In Japan, the Pajero is powered by either a 3.2-liter diesel or a 3.5-liter gas-direct-injection (GDI) six-cylinder engine. Neither will be available to U.S. buyers, since the diesel market isn't profitable and the sulfur content in our gasoline is too high for direct-injection technology. Instead, the 200-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 will carry over from current Montero line, putting the new-generation vehicle at a performance disadvantage to such V-8-powered SUVs as the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Inside, the 2001 Montero is more spacious, and comfort and convenience items have been approved, including a hideaway/removable third seat. The dashboard has also been redesigned to include a large multifunctional display monitor.

Mitsubishi is still finalizing the American version, which won't have exactly the same content as the home edition. Besides the GDI engine, we won't see the cute two-door model or some of the vibrant colors that highlight the Japanese model's styling. Still, with the new Montero's edgy styling, and promised good value (similar to the current model's $32,000-$36,000 range), it should appeal to a wider variety of SUV buyers.