Mitsubishi Montero: Gone But Not Forgotten

The third-generation Pajero, badged the Montero in India, is the rarest of all the vehicles to roll out of the HM-Mitsubishi stables
2002 Mitsubishi Montero launched in India was very closely related to the Dakar-winning Pajeros.
2002 Mitsubishi Montero launched in India was very closely related to the Dakar-winning Pajeros.

India, as you may well recall, had two generations of the Pajero selling side by-side. What you might not recall is the third-gen Pajero (Montero) was launched in India six months before the second-generation (Pajero). And that the former incorporated learnings from the Paris-Dakar rally.

Mitsubishi had a glorious heritage, all down to their massive motorsport successes. The Lancer Evo dominated all forms of rallying, and the Pajero did the same at the Dakar beginning with the very first generation Pajero. But Ralliart – the motorsport and performance arm – soon realised that taking on the Peugeot and Citroen works teams would not be possible with the live rear axle (which the made-in-India Pajero plodded along with throughout its entire lifespan). Those days the 4x4s racing across the Sahara and down to Dakar (in Senegal) were very similar to what you’d drive out of the showroom – unlike the prototype-monsters thundering up and over the sand dunes these days. Race/rally cars thus needed road-going equivalents, and that birthed homologation specials, limited-run (and highly desirable) road cars incorporating the parts and updates needed for motorsport success.

Mitsubishi’s first was the Pajero Evolution, the short-wheelbase three-door on to which Ralliart grafted independent rear suspension (and a nose that would eventually find its way on to the Pajero SFX).

Tested on the Dakar, this rear suspension was the highlight of the third-gen Pajero (Montero in India) which also got an all-new chassis with the ladder frame pressed into the monocoque to deliver dramatically improved torsional rigidity. This had the marked benefit of ride, handling, safety and stability – so good, in fact, that Mitsubishi could tackle the T2 production-spec class in the Dakar without needing any modifications. Mitsubishi, in fact, still holds the record for the most Dakar wins with 12 overall victories and 150 stage wins. And the Montero launched in India in 2002 was very closely related to the Dakar-winning Pajeros of the late 90s and early 2000s – save of course for the engine.

India was a huge diesel market and we got a monster of an oil burner. The four cylinder displaced a massive 3.2 litres – that’s 800cc for each cylinder! This engine would later get common-rail injection to meet stricter emission norms, but on the Montero it got the DI-D badging, which stood for Direct Injection Diesel. It wasn’t the last word in refinement but with 163bhp of power and 373Nm of torque it hit 100kmph in 13.48 seconds which we termed as “explosive performance”.

At launch, it only got the manual gearbox and of course 4x4 was standard – Mitsubishi’s acclaimed Super Select 4WD II that was fully electronic and could vary the torque split from 33:67 to 50:50 depending on surface conditions. Engineered for the rigours of the Sahara, it delivered off-road ability unlike anything we had ever experienced in India, lending credibility to all the Paris - Dakar heritage. And the monocoque chassis and sophisticated underpinnings meant, on the road, it handled so incredibly well that we had a new benchmark (until the BMW X5 came along).

Everything on the Montero was at a level none of us had ever experienced, and that included the price. In consequence HM-Mitsubishi concentrated their energies on the (gen 2) Pajero that was being phased out globally, the tooling thus being conveniently available for the India operations to begin assembly of what was, by then, already a 12-year-old model. And that’s how, starting in 2003 and right up until the Pajero Sport replaced the Pajero SFX in 2012, Indian buyers had two generations of the Pajero selling side-by-side.

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