Mitsubishi’s big sport-ute rated "not acceptable" by consumer publication.

by Marty Padgett

Mitsubishi executives are defending the safety of their popular Montero sport-utility vehicle in the wake of a Consumer Reports assertion that the vehicle is unsafe.

The consumer magazine, best known for awarding the same black mark to the Suzuki Samurai and Isuzu Trooper/Acura SLX, says the 2001 Montero Limited is especially prone to tipping on two wheels, making it unacceptable for buyers.

The magazine says that in eight of nine runs through a specially designed course, taken at speeds greater than 36 mph, the Montero Limited tipped on two wheels eight out of nine times. The test is intended to simulate an emergency avoidance maneuver, such as an animal or other vehicle in the road.

By its own earlier judgements, Consumer Reports judged the Montero unremarkable. "Routine handling is sound if unexceptional, and the ride is compliant and well controlled," the magazine wrote of the vehicle in its April 2001 issue. However, in preparations for an SUV comparison test for an upcoming issue, the CR staff says it uncovered the problem with tipping. On the same day, CR reports that it ran the other six vehicles in the test - the Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder, and Toyota 4Runner - through the same course and could not reproduce what the Montero had done.

For its part, Mitsubishi is insisting that its vehicle is safe. "We have searched our records and found no reported incidents or complaints of rollover crashes in this vehicle - not one," said Pierre Gagnon, Mitsubishi’s chief American executive. "We have invested thousands of hours in the design and testing of the 2001 Montero, and we have validated its stability with additional testing over the past two weeks," he noted in a release. In a press release, the company also says it repeated the magazine’s tests with another Montero Limited and was unable to reproduce the results. 

Mitsubishi instead points to the Consumers Union and its tests as being unreliable. "In the real world, this vehicle's performance has been outstanding," Gagnon said.  "We are disappointed that Consumers Union chose to attack our vehicle despite overwhelming evidence that their conclusions are wrong."

The Montero Limited has been a mainstay of Mitsubishi’s American lineup for more than a decade, gradually migrating from an entry-level sport-utility vehicle to a luxury SUV with a notable heritage in world rally and endurance events such as the Paris-Dakar rally.

Mitsubishi recently partnered with DaimlerChrysler, which took a 34-percent controlling stake in Japan’s fifth-largest automaker in 2000. Also in 2000, Mitsubishi announced a broad new product initiative dubbed Project America, which would build three new vehicles - including a new sport-utility vehicle, a new coupe and a sedan - from a common platform.

This month’s Magazine X, a Japanese spy photo publication, has obtained pictures of the AirTrek, a model that Mitsubishi says will launch in Japan this year and in the U.S. soon after. The AirTrek, which will likely get a different name, is thought to be the Project America sport-ute, and is estimated to sell some 40,000 units in America beginning in 2003. However, the Montero is expected to remain in the Mitsubishi product lineup for the foreseeable future.

© 2001 The Car Connection


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