LOS ANGELES - Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. is taking the carlike feel of modern sport-utilities seriously.
In redesigning its flagship Montero, Mitsubishi changed the platform structure from body-on-frame to unibody. Although a unibody structure sacrifices some off-road control, it greatly improves on-pavement smoothness.
Meanwhile, Mitsubishi also is fielding a redesigned Eclipse convertible in March.
To try to compensate for the softer off-road attitude of the new Montero, Mitsubishi used a safety cage, frame rails and anti-roll bars to stiffen the unibody structure. Mitsubishi claims the new model is three times more resistant to bending and twisting than its predecessor.
'We're looking at it like a lobster or suit of armor,' said Janis Little, Mitsubishi manager of product strategy.
But changing the vehicle architecture was just the start of a laundry list of changes for the fourth generation of this vehicle.
The wheelbase and overall length gain more than 2 inches over its predecessor, while the Montero is 4 inches wider and 1.7 inches shorter in height. Although step-in height was reduced, it also has better ground clearance. Those dimensional changes give the tall-feeling Montero a much more squat and planted feeling on the road.
As far as ride and comfort go, a new four-wheel independent suspension now uses double wishbones and coil springs in front, replacing torsion bars while a multilink arrangement in the rear replaces a solid axle. There are independent front and rear subframes to isolate noise, vibration and harshness.
The steering system has changed to rack-and-pinion from recirculating ball. All four wheels use vented-disc antilock brakes.
The bulky and awkward third-row seats now disappear into the floor, similar to the Honda Odyssey.
But with all of these changes comes a price reduction. Getting into a Montero now can be done for $31,492, including destination charges, a $333 reduction from the old entry price.
The base XLS does mean some compromises: a four-speed automatic and a manually shifted transfer case. But moving up to the Montero Limited also means more than just leather seats. The Limited gets a five-speed automatic transmission, the ActiveTrac four-wheel-drive system with electronic engagement and limited-slip differential. ActiveTrac provides modes in two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive with a viscous coupling center differential and conventional four-wheel drive with high and low ranges and locking center differential.
All Monteros come standard with air conditioning, AM/FM/CD 100-watt stereo, security system with engine immobilizer, dual glove boxes, cruise control, 16-inch wheels, removable tool kit, door-mounted puddle lamps, power windows, locks and mirrors, and front and side airbags for front-seat occupants.
The Montero goes on sale in mid-March. Mitsubishi expects to sell about 15,000 units annually.
At the same time, Mitsubishi is bringing out a redesigned version of its Eclipse convertible.
The Eclipse Spyder shares most of its sheet metal, driveline and interior components with the Eclipse coupe but has its chop-top work performed by a special ASC Inc. assembly line seven miles from Mitsubishi's Illinois plant. The entire cut, sew and bond process takes place at the ASC site, rather than being brought in from several subcontractors.
The convertible top itself is made from natural rubber, rather than butyl, making it easier to close in cold conditions and being less prone to ballooning at freeway speeds. An acrylic outer layer has been added to prevent discoloration in sunny climates. The Spyder continues to have a glass rear window. The power top can be raised and lowered in 15 seconds, using a new latching system similar to those found in ski boots.
But there are also substantial changes to the vehicle itself. Engineers designed the Spyder from the ground up as a separate model rather than as a convertible version of the Eclipse.
Stronger side structures, extensive lateral reinforcements and front and rear stabilizer bars contribute to a 60 percent increase in bending rigidity and 10 percent increase in torsional rigidity over the old model. The wheelbase has grown by 2 inches, providing more room for the rear seat and trunk.
All Eclipses come standard with air conditioning, power locks and mirrors, cruise control, rear spoiler, fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote alarm system with engine immobilizer, AM/FM/CD 210-watt stereo and auto-off headlamps.
Mitsubishi expects to sell about 12,000 Spyders annually. Pricing of the base four-cylinder has increased by $1,645. But with the turbo-four engine replaced by a V-6, the price of the GT model has dropped by $1,633.