When the Pajero Sport debuted in ’09 it took up a mammoth challenge: to dethrone the Fortuner. But as it turned out, the Pajero Sport had little, if any, effect on the Fortuner’s monthly sales stats. In fact, according to recent Naamsa figures the Pajero Sport sold just 33 units last month, while 996 Fortuners were sold.
But these numbers don’t reflect the full story. While the Fortuner is without doubt a great 4x4, it’s certainly not 30 times better as the sales ratio would suggest. In fact – in my humble opinion – in many ways the Pajero Sport is the better buy. So what’s the problem? Why doesn’t the Pajero Sport sell better in SA?
I think that part of the problem stemmed from its original transmission option, or the lack thereof. Until recently, the only gearbox available in the Sport was a 4-speed auto – and this unit didn’t get on very well with the 3.2 DiD engine.
But a few months ago Mitsubishi announced the release of a new 5-speed manual option, which is vastly better than the auto. Th is manual derivative doesn’t just chop a full second off the Pajero Sport’s 0 to 100 km/h time, it also slices a second from the vehicle’s 100 to 120 km/h time – an acceleration measurement that’s far more relevant to real-world driving. Fuel consumption remains much the same on the open road (8.8 l/100 km) but there’s improvement around town – 10 l/100 km versus 10.9 l/100 km for the slush box.
Unfortunately, the new manual gearbox doesn’t address the Pajero Sport’s refinement issues. Th e 3.2 DiD power plant is an old-school diesel and can’t compete with its more contemporary rivals on noise and vibration scores. As a result, the Pajero Sport feels slower and more tractor-like than it actually is. And, according to market research, most vehicle owners associate quality and refinement with a low NVH level.
While the new 5-speed gearbox has done wonders to improve the Pajero Sport’s overall driving experience, there’s nonetheless still a need for an extra ratio. An additional gear would reduce the Pajero Sport’s engine speed at cruising velocities, and thus the noise generated in highway-driving circumstances. As far as shift action goes, the manual lever feels firm and positive when run through the gates, but I found reverse gear oft en tricky to engage – a problem that may ease once the vehicle’s clocked several thousand kilometres. Our Pajero Sport test vehicle had 4 250 km on the odometer when reviewed.
As mentioned earlier, I think the Pajero Sport is a better buy than the Fortuner in many ways, especially when you compare cabins. As a 7-seater SUV the Pajero Sport offers a superior seat-folding setup. While the Fortuner’s third row simply folds to the side of the cargo area – drastically impeding boot space – the Pajero Sport’s rearmost row folds fl at into the floor for a level, easy-to-pack boot surface.
Both vehicles sport a second row seat that can be reclined and forward / aft adjusted; this allows you to increase the vehicle’s boot capacity by sliding the seat forward, or alternatively you can move the seat back for added leg room. The Pajero Sport offers a comprehensive drivetrain selection including 2WD, full-time 4WD, part-time 4WD and low-range. The Pajero Sport also boasts better approach and break-over angles (36 and 23° respectively versus the Fortuner’s 30 and 21°); and a noticeably tighter turning circle of 11.2 metres versus the Fortuner’s 12 metres.
The only areas where the Fortuner convincingly outclasses the Pajero Sport are interior build quality and value retention in the second-hand market. The latter, I suspect, is Toyota’s trump card. If it weren’t for the Fortuner’s ability to resist large-scale value depreciation, I think those Naamsa figures would better reflect how close this race really is.