The Evolution of the Mitsubishi SUV
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Author: Phil Hansford, February 2000


Mitsubishi sport utility vehicles are world-renowned for their durability, endurance, and innovation. This reputation has been cemented by Mitsubishi's continual dominance at such grueling events as the Paris-Dakar Rally.  But how did a vehicle with such humble beginnings develop into the current luxury SUV which sits near the top of the luxury market?

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1982 4 door model

The Montero (referred to as the "Pajero" in many world markets) had its birth in 1982 as a basic workhorse utility vehicle, which placed function over form. Its shape was boxy, tall and narrow.  It gained popularity as a no-nonsense, go-anywhere vehicle, which was very capable in stock form.

In its very first year, the Pajero forged its reputation with a first-place finish in the "production" class  and first and second in the "marathon" class of the famous Paris-Dakar Rally.

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1984 2 door Montero 1985 2 door Montero


From 1982 to 1986, Mitsubishi offered the Montero/Pajero in 2 and 4 door configurations with a part-time 4 wheel-drive system. During this time there were few changes in the vehicle, aside from some adjustments in the motor/ carburetor setup and further changes in exterior trim items.


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1987 Mitsubishi Montero (body color door pillar) 1988 Dodge Raider (black door pillar)

In 1987, Mitsubishi's partner automaker, Dodge, which owned shares in Mitsubishi, found itself with a hole in the lineup, and began to offer the badge-engineered "Raider" as an alternative to the Suzuki Samurai, and soon-to-be- released Sidetrack/Tracker. This vehicle was offered in 2 door only, and differed from the Montero in one aspect only: the Dodge's door pillar was painted matte black, whereas the Mitsu's was body color.

Dodge and Mitsubishi continued to roll the Montero and Raider off the same line through 1988, offering Mitsubishi owners the choice of 2 doors or 4, and Dodge owners a compact alternative in 2 doors only. Finally in 1989 Mitsubishi responded to the requests for more power and reliability by offering a multi-port fuel-injected 6 cylinder engine, displacing 3.0 litres, and generating 146 horsepower, up from 109 hp in the 4 cylinder which continued to be offered as the base engine. In addition to the engine upgrade, the suspension was upgraded for the 6 cylinder as well: the rear end received coil springs, instead of the leaf springs found in the previous models. It also received a larger gas tank, heavier u-joints, etc.

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1992 4 door Montero
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1990 4 door Montero

The last year for the Raider was 1989, but Mitsubishi continued to manufacture the 2 door for one more year, before concentrating their North American market on larger 4 door only SUVs. Other parts of the world continued to get the 2 door variant. The original styling remained intact until 1992, when the Montero got its first major redesign since its inception, showing a more aerodynamic look with a more steeply raked windshield, flush headlights and more rounded corners.The 1993 model was further tweaked, but still offered the 3.0l V6.  1995 saw the introduction of the 3.5 liter V6, which gave the heavy vehicle a horsepower boost, through a complex but powerful new engine.

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1995 Mitsubishi Montero

Newer Monteros received an advanced "Active-Trac" system to replace the part-time system, but the Montero's bodystyle remained virtually unchanged until 1999, when it again received a facelift in the form of a new rounder look, and even more luxury features, encapsulated in the "Endeavour" series.

In 1997, Mitsubishi released a more streamlined sport utility vehicle to do battle with the Isuzu Rodeo, Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer. In a strange marketing decision, this vehicle was branded the "Montero Sport" (it was known as the Challenger in other parts of the world).  It offered a lower roofline, was built on the same chassis as its larger sibling, but offered leaf springs in the rear, and the same independent front suspension.

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2000 Montero Sport

The Montero Sport came with the 3.0l V6, aggressive styling, and the heritage of its larger stablemate.  In 2000 the Montero Sport received a freshened look, and in "Limited" trim offered the larger 3.5l V6 previously available only in the Montero.  This option also offered rear coils, larger wheels, and a luxury package.

The Montero/ Pajero has been completely redesigned for 2001, with fully independent suspension at all four corners, a curvy new body, which is lower and wider, and a unibody construction, which does away with the ladder frame.  Time will tell whether this latest incarnation of the old standard is as trailworthy as previous generations.


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