In the world of largish SUVs, the Montero goes its own way-confidently and independently. And for '03, the big Mitsubishi struts its stuff with more gusto, thanks to a larger, more powerful engine. Mitsubishi bored and stroked last year's 3.5-liter V-6 to 3.8-liter, slipped in a more aggressive cam profile, increased airflow into and out of the engine, and upped compression from 9.0:1 to 10.0:1. Horsepower rises 7.5 percent, from 200 to 215, and torque climbs from 235 to 248 lb-ft.
On the road, the larger V-6 feels richer at launch and has more staying power at the top end. Mid-range, part-throttle response is more satisfying too because peak torque is developed at lower engine speed. The good news is this V-8-like performance has no fuel penalty. In fact, the 3.8-liter's EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy actually increases this year from 14/19 to 15/19, although premium fuel is now recommended. A five-speed Sportronic sequential-shift automatic transmission gives the driver the option of manual control.
Active Trac 4WD, previously standard on the Limited, is now used on all Montero models. Its modes include rear drive and full-time AWD for operation in the paved world, as well as 4WD high or 4WD low with locked center diff for serious off-piste perambulation. Last year's mechanical limited-slip rear diff is replaced with an electronic nanny-M-ASTC Mitsubishi Active Skid and Traction Control. It's a traction and stability-control system that'll brake a spinning wheel to direct drive torque to the opposite-side wheel, both off- and on-road.
Also gaining new traction for '03 are the Montero's cleaner, more purposeful looks. Mitsubishi removed the ribbing from the sides and gave the headlamps, grille, and taillamps a more elegant look this year.