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Mitsubishi 4×4 camp

Rally racing with Hiroshi Masuoka

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  • The Mitsubishi Montero Sport GT Premium 4x4 with two-time Paris-Dakar winner, Hiroshi Masuoka.

Text by Neil Pagulayan, Photos by Neil Pagulayan and Mitsubishi Motors

Vehicles like the Mitsubishi Montero Sport and Strada pickup have been designed to tackle some serious off-road conditions. Yet few of us ever get to experience them at the absolute off-road limit. As such, Mitsubishi Motors Philippines, Corp. (MMPC) took it upon themselves to show us just what these vehicles can do.

Called the 4×4 Camp, the event was held at the 78 hectare Tarlac Recreational Park, with special guest driver: two-time Paris-Dakkar Rally champ, Hiroshi Masouka.

Masuoka-san claimed back to back wins in 2002 and 2003 at the Paris-Dakar Rally driving the Pajero. With the all-new Montero Sport being its spiritual successor, there could be no better man to show us how tough the vehicle really was.

One look at the Montero and you’d notice that it’s visually far removed from the vehicle that it shares its underpinnings with, the Strada pickup.  Looking less like its pickup brother and more like a flashy SUV would make you think twice before getting it dirty, but make no mistake about it, the Montero looks good.

Before driving off-road, we were briefed on the Montero’s specifications, and its theoretical capabilities and limitations.  Familiarizing yourself with what your vehicle can and can’t do is important especially before taking it off the beaten path.

Equipped in both the Montero and Strada is Super Select 4WD-II. It has four modes: 2H – two-wheel drive, high range; 4H – four-wheel drive, high range; 4HLc – four-wheel drive high range with a locked center differential to distribute power equally to all four wheels; and 4LLc – four-wheel drive low range for “tractor-like crawling,” which maximizes low end torque to get through tough terrain.

There are also four terrain response or Off-Road Modes — Gravel, Mud/Snow, Sand and Rock. When used with 4HLc or 4LLc, these modes control the engine, brakes and transmission, depending on the requirements of the selected terrain.  There’s also a selectable Rear Differential Lock, also used with 4HLc or 4LLc mode.  In addition, the Montero also has Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Hill Descent Control (HDC).

The first activity of the day was to hit the 4×4 trail which snaked around Tarlac Recreational Park.  There were various obstacles, making for a mix of slippery, rocky, muddy, uphill and downhill challenges.  Here, we took it easy and tried the different four-wheel drive and off-road modes, also using HSA and HDC on some of the inclines.  The Montero’s ride on uneven terrain was still pretty comfortable, the suspension having ample amounts of travel. An instructor beside us helping to read the terrain and telling us where to position the vehicles wheels was a big help in traversing certain obstacles.

The next activity was at the Tarlac Circuit: a 1.5-km track with lots of fast corners that will put the Montero’s handling to the test.  The Montero, equipped with Mitsubishi’s Active Stability and Traction Control (M-ASTC), uses sensors that monitors each wheel, engine speed, acceleration, steering and vehicle attitude to keep the vehicle on the road.

With Masouka-san behind the wheel, he took on a portion of the track with the traction and stability control (M-ASTC ) turned off. He didn’t baby the Montero around the turns, with tires squealing while managing to clip all the apexes. You can see that he had to draw on all his experience as a professional rally driver just to keep it planted on the tarmac. When he turned on the M-ASTC, we could see and hear that the Montero was taking care of things for him.

Going around a racetrack in an SUV is a scary prospect, but Mitsubishi put their faith in their system and put us behind the wheel.  It was then our turn to our lives and trust in the hands of Mitsubishi’s M-ASTC with two laps around the track.  Fear gave in to big grins as we took sweeping and tight turns with relative ease and at speed, all while hearing Mitsubishi’s M-ASTC handle the subtle braking and power distribution preventing us from losing control through understeer or oversteer.

The last part of the day was really for Mitsubishi to show us that a stock Mitsubishi Montero Sport can handle anything a two-time rally champion can throw at it. With a specially-designed track that had a mix of dirt, slippery gravel, deep mud and some mounds to negotiate,  we got to experience Masuoka-san skill, first hand, as passengers. He drove the Montero with ease, breezing through a course worthy of Dakar barely breaking a sweat.

The Mitsubishi 4×4 camp showed us that the Montero Sport has the ability to handle so much more than the average owner will probably put it through in its lifetime. Nonetheless, knowing in the back of your mind that there are systems in place that can take you through it without much trouble is very reassuring.