Mitsubishi has been building vehicles for a number of years and is among the 10 largest automobile manufacturers in the world. However, it only began offering models under its own name in this country in the early 1980s.

Before that, Mitsubishis were (and are) being sold by Chrysler Corp., whichoffers these models under Dodge, Plymouth, Eagle and Chrysler nameplates.

But now Mitsubishi is getting more serious about selling its own vehicles and is offering a nice variety, including a sports car, economy cars, upscale compacts, pickup trucks, a van and four-wheel-drive utility vehicles. The company has also expanded its dealership network, which had been quite small.

In fact, the first Mitsubishi dealership in the area recently opened its doors: Kelly Mitsubishi on State Street, Emmaus, across from Kelly's Buick andJeep/Eagle dealerships. This new dealership supplied the test car, a four-doorMontero four-wheel drive sport utility vehicle.

This is, of course, the time of the year when four-wheel-drive vehicles getthe most attention. After all, traction is the big selling point of four- wheel-drive and wintertime is when traction is needed the most. So, away we goin the Montero.

In an age when aerodynamics has even made some impact on truck and utility vehicle styling, the Montero appears to be from a different era. If there everwas a vehicle that adhered to the principle of form following function, this is it. The design is a variation of the old two-box rule; in this case, a large box (housing the passenger/cargo compartment) with a smaller box (enginecompartment) up front.

Perhaps the one point that makes the Montero somewhat different-looking from many other utility vehicles is its ultra high greenhouse, which makes it look a little awkward at first but can soon be appreciated by anyone entering the vehicle. Head room is almost unlimited. Not only could a tall person wear a hat in this vehicle, he/ she could wear a top hat.

Basic dimensions for the four-door Montero (it is also available in a two- door version which is quite a bit shorter in wheelbase and length) include a wheelbase of 106.1 inches, length of 181.3 inches, width of 66.6 inches, height of 74.4 inches and curb weight of 3,979 pounds. As one can see, it is very tall and very narrow; not an unusual shape for a compact utility vehicle but one that gives it a tipsy look.

The tipsy look is further reinforced by the standard disclaimer posted on the driver's visor that warns ''This is a multipurpose passenger vehicle whichwill handle and maneuver differently from an ordinary passenger car, in driving conditions which may occur on streets and highways and off road. As with other vehicles of this type, if you make sharp turns or abrupt maneuvers,the vehicle may roll over or may go out of control and crash.''

This warning is not exclusive with the Montero. It is posted on all utilityvehicles and it is a wonder peo ple aren't running out of showrooms when they read it. What it means, obviously, is that some common sense should be used when driving.

Despite the Montero's high narrow look and warning, the test vehicle did not turn turtle the first time it came to a curve. In fact, it handled very well for a utility vehicle. It also had a comfortable ride, or, let's say, a much better ride than one would expect.

But, then, it does have a rather sophisticated suspension system for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The independent front suspension features unequal length A-arms, torsion bars, telescopic shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. The rear live axle has a three-link set-up with coil springs, bias mounted telescopic shocks and drop-link stabilizer bar. Not too many years ago this would have been a good suspension for a sports car.

An interesting feature is the dash-mounted inclinometer, a weighted sphere encased in fluid-filled glass and marked to serve as a level reference. Th e inclinometer acts as a safety device to help judge the tilt of the vehicle; and even though it is only accurate when the vehicle is completely stopped, the movement of the instrument when rounding curves on the highway should helpkeep a driver alert.

Other instruments are large, easy to read and located in plain view. Controls for the most part are well located. The big exception is the radio, which is located almost on the floor in the center of the dash. To change stations safely a driver either has to have a co-pilot or pull off the road. Many rocker switches and fussy little buttons require a driver to avert his eyes from the road for several seconds just to get oriented. Perhaps Mitsubishi should borrow from its Starion sports car and mount auxiliary radiocontrols in the center of the steering wheel.

The test car had a four-speed automatic transmission (standard on the LS model) and, combined with excellent all-around visibility and tall-in-the- saddle seating, was easy to drive. Montero's part-time four-wheel-drive systemfeatures automatic locking hubs and a high and low range transfer case. What this means is that you don't have to leave the vehicle to lock the hubs but you must stop to change modes.

In addition to the driver having plenty of room, so does everyone else. This may be a utility vehicle but you certainly couldn't tell it from the inside. It is appointed more like an upscale passenger car. The rear door is just that and swings out to the side to allow easy storage of cargo. With the rear seat in place, storage area measures about 40 cubic feet. With the rear seat folded, cargo room is increased to 95 cubic feet.

Powering the test car was Mitsubishi's impressive 3-liter/181-cubic-inch V-6 (an engine used in several Chrysler products). The engine features single overhead camshafts, multi-point fuel-injection and is rated at 143 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 168 foot pounds torque at 2,500 rpm. Despite the vehicle weighing close to two tons, performance was quite good in all Lehigh Valley driving situations.

Fuel mileage was, well, what should be expected. The test vehicle averaged 13 miles per gallon for city driving and 18 mpg over the highway. Unleaded regular can be used.

As with all utility vehicles, the Montero is not cheap. Base price for the LS with V-6 and four-speed automatic is $18,389. Fortunately, there is a long list of standard equipment, including power steering and brakes, limited slip differential, 235/75R15 all-season tires, fold-down rear seat, tachometer and gauges, inclinometer, power door locks and windows, ETR AM/FM stereo/cassette,and stainless steel exhaust system.

With a delivery charge of $265, full price on the test vehicle came to $20,249. The three options were air conditioning, $810; cast alloy wheels, $464, and upgraded radio, $321.

The Montero is protected by a 3-year/36,000-mile basic new vehicle warranty; 3-year/50,000-mile pow ertrain warranty, and 5-year/unlimited anti- corrosion perforation warranty.