There are certain clichés a motoring journalist can't ignore. The Mitsubishi Pajero is a cliché gone too far. After all, its kith and kin have been the winningest vehicles at the famed Paris Dakar rally.
But times have changed and so has the Pajero's fortunes. Rivals have come up with options that are as adept at dune bashing, mud plugging, caravan towing or even pampering fat cats and their cigar cases as the Mitsu.
Now, in a move akin to rappelling without safety gear, HM India has re-launched the new generation Pajero as the Montero, dropped the price tag, increased the kit and bumped up the power. And it gave me the opportunity to see if running away from clichés has been Mitsubishi's brightest idea since the Evo X.
Drop the pressure
Auto enthusiasts will be aware of the frantic '90s Mitsubishi underwent. Then followed the recall fracas and the forgettable saga with DaimlerChrysler.
Now, after a decade of twists, turns and a near death knell, Mitsubishi is out to prove a point. Whether it's the iCar or the Evo X concept, Mitsubishi is attempting to revitalise its business and correct its past mistakes. The new Montero is an attempt at putting the house in order.
It isn't much of a jump over the previous generation, especially visually. Or is it? Lowering the ground clearance by 10 mm and increasing the width by 40 mm, Mitsubishi aim to make it a more driver-oriented vehicle.
But the impact on the retina isn't exactly pleasing. Like a badly administered Botox job, the Montero is a victim of "over enthusiastic" designers. The crowded nose and the bumper remind me of kids who have a habit of biting their lower lips, while the flared wheel arches seem like a Mohammed Ali knock-out punch result.
The plastic cladding is just a tad over the top while the rear and the front seem to have been designed by two designers sitting in two different parts of the world, unaware of each other's existence.
Yet, in a very quirky way, it manages to grab attention. Despite the ivory finish, the Montero did get a second glance from a few people who still drool at the sight of any SUV with the three-diamond logo on the grille. As someone once said, sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
SUVs are supposed to be no-nonsense, rugged beasts whose interiors are more functional than aesthetic. And the Montero does justice to that cliché as well. Forget the fact that the switches and dials look like they have been borrowed from an 80s sedan.
Forget also that the centre console is gargantuan. Just sit behind the wheel and feel everything fall to place. Er, maybe the headlamp beam adjuster should have been placed somewhere in sight and not where your right hand and knee play a "squash" match. The build quality is top notch, though. The dashboard isn't curvy, but the mock wood finish feels rich and the controls seem that they will resist a lot of abuse.
What also caught my attention were the power controls, not just for the driver but the passenger seat as well, something we don't see in quite a few D-segment cars.
The front seats have good support and I thought someone healthier than me would find it spot on. I particularly liked the Kenwood 6-speaker system as well, which has a provision for a USB slot.
Get to the middle row and things get even better. The seats have a nice recline angle while the legroom, in a cliched sort of way, is generous. There is even a third row that lies concealed below the floorboard.
Once adjusted, its best left to someone under ten years of age. But when stowed back, there's enough boot space to carry a baby elephant. All occupants get AC vents and bottle holders. Very nice.
Up the ante
I remember the last Mitsubishi I drove was the 1.8 Invex Lancer. And given all its shortcomings, it was a great handler. The Montero is a great handler too. But this is not cliched.
Like I mentioned earlier, the lowering of the ground clearance and increasing of the width seem to have done wonders to the SUV, especially as far as corner carving goes.
Gone are the days when SUVs would get all crossed up at the sight of a turn. Or a kerb. Blame the BMW X5 and the Porsche Cayenne for heralding the change. But it's one change I'm not complaining about, especially since as an auto journo I love cars that salivate at the idea of going down a gear, depressing the brakes, turning in cleanly (with minimal or no body roll) and powering out of the corner.
The Montero fits that cliche perfectly. Using double wishbone suspension at the front and multi-link coil springs at the rear, combined with a monocoque body, it has all the ingredients for a perfect driving recipe. And if the suspension is the garnish, the engine and gearbox - a five-speed manual - is the meat.
The 3200cc direct injection diesel produces 167 bhp around 10 horsepower more than the previous version, while torque, at 41.3 kgm, is up too by around three kgm. But those are just plain numbers.
Crank it up and it has a distinct direct injection clatter. The body too is subject to a slightly violent shake, but nothing disconcerting. Floor the throttle and admonish all thoughts of being a nice, kind driver. The way it moves incites hooligan behaviour.
Slot the gear through the gate and it falls right in place at every shove. The gearbox fits the typically cliched "hot knife through butter" term to a perfect T.
Move through the gears and the 4700 rpm redline is achieved easily. First takes you to 40, second to around 80 and third to 115 kph.
Not that you need to work through the gears to overtake, in fact the 41.3 kgm of torque is enough, enough to potter around town in third gear and call the services of your right foot only when needed.
There is hardly any turbo lag and even when it does kick in at around 2000 rpm, it gently kicks in without any Apollo 11 blast-off effect.
No, I haven't forgotten the handling bit because it is as intoxicating as the engine-tranny combination itself. Through the corners, it sits flat with nary a hint of body roll. Even with traction control off and in 2H, the Montero exhibits similar levels of body control with no tyre squeal.
An upgrade to 17-inch wheels on tubeless tyres may be responsible for the levels of grip. Ride quality too is up there, even if it is slightly stiff.
Brakes have good modulation, and though they feel a little soft at first. Though I wasn't lucky enough to take her off-roading and utilise the SS4-II four-wheel drive system, I'm sure it is as good as its predecessor if not better.
Call the shots
So is the Montero a worthy buy? You see, when the Pajero started to gain respect among Bollywood's superstars, everyone who had fuel coursing through their veins wanted one. That was a decade back. Today the Pajero is just another luxury SUV in a market trembling under two-tonne plus leviathans.
Sure, the new name distinguishes it from the second generation Pajero HM assembles here in India. At Rs 32 lakh (ex-showroom Mumbai), a price drop (to the tune of five big ones) means they mean business. It's good, no doubt about that too.And it does live up to the Pajero credentials of bringing a smile to your face, a clich it has lived up to since 1982. The Pajero tag is dead. Long live the Montero!