TUSCON, Arizona - When DaimlerChrysler AG bought a controlling 34% interest inMotors Corp. last month, much was made about the fact that the $2.1 billion deal was giving the financially struggling Japanese automaker a new lease on life. But besides a paved road into the Asian continent, the deal also gives DC another perk: Mitsubishi's U.S. operations.
Whilestruggles to make ends meet on its home turf, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. has been doing just fine. The division just wrapped up the best March in its history and its best quarter ever with sales up 30% on-year.
So the product honchos at DC should be delighted to have an ownership stake in the new Eclipse Spyder convertible and the completely overhauled Montero full-size sport/utility vehicle (SUV).
The more significant of the two newly designed vehicles undoubtedly will prove to be the large three-bench Montero SUV. The Montero came to the U.S. market in 1983 and has remained here ever since - with little notice. The Montero's first two incarnations resembled the type of SUV one would choose for traversing the Saraha: boxy, tough, stripped down, and truly utilitarian. Though a competent truck, it did not hold appeal for a customer base with its heart set on luxury. Mitsubishi sold only 5,500 Monteros last year.
The new generation has changed with the times. Mitsubishi has engineered a vehicle with all the luxury appointments necessary to compete in the high-end segment. The truck is built on a new unibody chassis (get this: 300% better in body torsion and bending modes!), where the previous incarnations were of body-on-frame construction. This has made for a roomier vehicle, which also sits on a 2.2-in. (5.6-cm) longer wheelbase and wider track.
The updated version has a 1.9 in. (4.8 cm) lower step-in height than the previous model but 1.7 in. (4.3 cm) greater ground clearance. Other new features include rack-and-pinion steering, a new, fully independent front and rear coil-spring suspension, an electric motor-driven shift mechanism for the 4WD system and vented disc brakes.
One of the Montero's niftier features is its stowaway rear bench, which can easily be completely stored under the floor of the rear cargo area. It also can be completely removed and the resulting well can be used for additional cargo space.
The truck is powered by a by a 3.5L SOHC 24-valve V-6 that puts out 200 hp and 235 lb.-ft. (319 Nm) of torque. The torque for this engine kicks in at a lower speed than the previous incarnation, allowing the engine to pack a nice punch.
For the first time in years, Mitsubishi plans to put a little marketing oomph behind its Montero, in hopes of reaching annual sales around the 20,000 mark. It comes in two editions: the XLS, which bases at $30,497, and the Limited, which starts at $34,997. Mitsubishi expects the Limited edition, which sports a 5-speed automatic transmission and a more sophisticated 4-wheel-drive system, to comprise a full 80% of is sales.
Although the Montero will allow Mitsubishi to compete in the crucial luxury SUV segment, the Eclipse Spyder will serve an entirely different purpose. The sporty convertible acts as an image builder - essential for an automaker that had almost zero brand recognition in the U.S. not too long ago. The '01 Spyder is based on the Eclipse coupe, which was completely redesigned with a more muscular look for '00. Mitsubshi plans for the coupe to account for the bulk of sales - 60,000 units annually, as compared to a projected 10,000 for the convertible. But it's the top-down version that will get noticed.
The Eclipse Spyder drop-top drops in about 15 seconds by flipping two latches and pressing one button. The convertible top, complete with a glass rear window, is engineered and built by ASC Inc., which set up shop near Mitsubishi's Normal, IL plant.
Like the coupe, the Spyder comes in two models: the GS, which is powered by a 2.4L 16-valve I-4, and the more popular GT, with its 200-hp, 3L, 24-valve V-6. The Spyder GS bases at a pretty reasonable $23,347 and the GT starts at $25,237 and tops out at $28,887.