The Mitsubishi Pajero has been an evolution of longevity with tweaks and upgrades almost an annual occurrence in between major styling revisions – the latest version of the Pajero Sport coming less than a year after the major revise of 2017.
However, it was not all that long ago while standing with a Mitsubishi engineer in the sand dunes on the West Coast he emphatically dismissed my question about the Pajero getting electronic switching between two and four-wheel drive, stating “… our customers are dedicated off-road enthusiasts and demand the manual method…”
Oh yes Mr Bob Dylan, how the times have changed.
Now sporting that electronic switching and driving through an 8-speed automatic gearbox, the Pajero has shifted massively left-field to join the ranks of the luxury SUV class, often a phantom zone filled with very expensive and highly capable vehicles living out their lives never having served the purpose for which they were designed.
As an off-roader, the Pajero has a formidable history with 12 Paris-Dakar wins under its belt including seven consecutive titles – this going back to its first victory in 1985. However, the story starts long before then when Mitsubishi introduced the world’s first passenger vehicle with full-time four-wheel drive, the PX33, in 1933.
The immensely capable off-roader – that has appeared in short, standard and long-wheelbase formats – is often grossly underestimated but I am not truly convinced by this latest 7-seat format.
Not that the seating configuration interferes with its ability, but purely a personal dislike for the format – the two rearmost seats are just for tiny tots and take up valuable luggage space, with those removable regularly gathering dust in a garage.
Obviously, there are intrepid travellers who really need that seating space at the back and, naturally, the provision is there for them, but it reduces luggage space to 193 litres. With the rear seats folded flat this increases to 813 litres.
With this latest iteration – and a contender in the Auto Trader SA Guild of Motoring Journalists Car of the Year competition – the designers improved the Pajero Sport’s safety by adding ISO-FIX child seat anchors and added a seventh air bag for the protection of the driver’s knees.
The Pajero Sport’s styling is described as ‘distinctive’, ‘energetic’ and ‘striking’. Vehicle design and styling follows trend patterns across all brands whether or not the actual designers like – or care to admit – it and completely in spite of what the marketing brochure says.
Viewed from the side, the shark nose of the Pajero may be great in terms of its improved departure angle but it loses something, I believe, the older and squarer vehicles had going for them – namely the fact the driver could see both front corners, knowing there was nothing ahead of them to worry about.
The current design ticks all the necessary boxes in terms of improved aerodynamics and the saving in fuel that comes with more slippery shape, around 8,1 l/100 km compared to the figures from earlier versions that hovered around the 9,0 l/100 km mark.
LED driving lamps with auto levelling and DRLs, including a headlamp washer for the 4WD version, are standard features, while a LED high-mounted rear stop lamp on the tailgate provides additional safety.
In line with its Pajero heritage, it boasts double wishbone coil springs with a stabiliser bar in the front and multi-link suspension with stabiliser bar in the back. The quiet drive, thanks to its strong ladder-frame design, which absorbs all levels of NVH, gives the new Pajero Sport a big sedan car-like ride and handling.
Another massive advantage is its turning circle of just 11,2 m (as opposed to between 11,6 m and 12,2 m for some other premium SUVs).
Soft-feel leather seats make the long haul a pleasure and provide ample support when going donga-diving and the driver seat is electrically adjustable. The second row of seats offers a 60:40 split with tumble, reclining and sliding function with a centre armrest and cup holders.
The third row of seats folds flat into the floor to minimise intrusion into the cargo space when not in use.
Passenger comfort is improved with a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with paddle shifts, rear park distance control with a rear-view camera, dual automatic air-conditioning with rear passenger temperature controls and an electric parking brake.
Other standard features include a keyless operating system with electronic start function, multi-function leather steering wheel with audio and cruise control, Bluetooth with hands-free voice control and foldaway electric door mirrors incorporating turn indicators.
Standard built-in safety features include Active Stability and Traction Control (ASTC), anti-lock braking, EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution), BAS (Brake Assist System), Brake Override System and seven air bags (Driver, Driver’s Knee, Passenger, Seat and Side Curtains). Hill Descent Control and the new electronic Off-Road Mode Control add additional safety benefits.
The latest version is still powered by the 2,4-litre MIVEC turbo-diesel engine producing 133 kW at 3 500 r/min and 430 Nm of torque at 2 500 r/min, driving the wheels through its 8-speed automatic transmission with Intelligent Shift Control.
As an example of good things that keep getting better, the latest version of the Pajero Sport is just that bit more refined without losing its core abilities – and taking this vehicle off the beaten path is worth every minute as it tackles just about any obstacle in its path with aplomb.
On the road, it drives and handles like a sedan with the advantage of the extra view from the raised seating position. It has less body roll in tight corners than one might expect and the steering is both true and provides excellent feedback to the driver.
I am not entirely convinced an 8-speed gearbox is absolutely necessary, although this spread of ratios does help with both fuel consumption and overall noise reduction.
It is the kind of car that deserves a lot more time than we had while it was in the test fleet.