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Off-road Test: Pajero Sport

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VIEWS

Can Mitsubishi’s Triton-with-a-twist escape the shadow of its Fortuner and Everest classmates? We put the futuristic 7-seater family SUV to the test.

Matroosberg’s Grade 3-4 trail is incredibly scenic from start to finish – and what a finish!

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: R599 995

Engine

Cylinders/Capacity: 4/2442cc

Aspiration: Turbocharged

Fuel: Diesel

Power: 133kW @ 2500rpm

Torque: 430Nm @ 2500rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Controls

Steering type: Power assisted rack & pinion

4WD type: Part-time with viscous coupling

Chassis/Suspension

Chassis type: Ladder frame

Suspension (F): Double wishbone, coil

Suspension (R): 3-link, coil

Turning circle: 11.2m

Fuel index (l/100km)

Fuel capacity: 68l

Combined: 8.1 (claimed)

Range @ average: 840km

Brakes

Front: Ventilated discs

Rear: Drum-in ventilated discs

ABS: Standard & off-road

Traction control: Standard

Warranties, maintenance & service

Warranty: 3 year/100 000km

Service Plan: 5 year/90 000km

Service Intervals: 10 000km

It’s not easy being the Pajero Sport in South Africa. The competition has the bakkie-based SUV market by the ball-bearings, and they’re not letting go anytime soon. But why? Since its launch, the revamped Pajero Sport has divided opinion with its bold, unconventional looks. It’s a clear challenger for the affections of Fortuner and Everest buyers – and, as we found out, Mitsubishi’s big boy is an exceptional package: refined and engineered to beat the best. Honestly, there’s no reason you shouldn’t pick it over the rest, and I’ll tell you exactly why.

First impressions

Let’s get straight to the oddly-shaped elephant in the room. The Pajero Sport is gorgeous in the front, but a bit dodgy in the back. The overall design has obviously taken cues from the Triton, but the back looks distinctly like something out of Blade Runner. More spaceship than mom’s taxi, it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea − but it is mine.

You see, at launch, the new Fortuner stole gasps with its sharp lines and mean face, but it’s since lost some of its clear identity because of the sheer number of them on the road. It may as well be a Quantum! Meanwhile, the Ford Everest was always going to be the more bullishly-styled contender with its cliff-face grille and chunky dimensions. So, with its crisp lines, the Pajero sets itself apart. It’s an eye-catcher, whether you like it or not.

Mitsubishi’s Super-Select II system is incredibly easy to use.

Inside, Mitsubishi have gone all-out to give the car a premium feel, with comfortable leather seats (a huge upgrade on the previous generation) and fancy trimmings all round that bring it up to the new Fortuner’s look and feel, and arguably beyond the Everest when it comes to look and feel – if not quite reaching the functional excellence of Ford’s Sync3 system.

The car’s interior is narrower than that of the competitors, but it’s surprisingly comfortable and spacious.

While workmanlike, the infotainment system is dated, although the touch-screen interface does the trick and will keep most Bluetooth devices happy. A USB port is incorporated into the spacious central console, which is nice to look at. There’s a general high-quality feel to most knobs and trimmings, and a sense of comfort that very much belies the car’s rugged roots.

The car’s rear-end is an acquired taste…

A small debit is the slightly larger-than-life central tunnel, which may cramp the style of larger drivers. That said, there is a generous supply of storage compartments, and a packed list of standard driver aids, which include reverse camera and parking sensors. The full suite of passive and active safety equipment includes what Mitsubishi calls ASTC (Active Stability and Traction control), plus brake assist and brake-force distribution, as well as six airbags – all in keeping with the car’s 5-star ANCAP safety rating.

Ride

Let’s get down to business. The Pajero Sport is propelled by a more-than-capable 2.4l 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, which churns out 130kW at its peak. Although that figure falls short of the competitors, the superb 8-speed automatic gearbox makes up for it, drifting through gear changes with surprisingly inconspicuous turbo lag. On the road, it’s a dream to drive, eating up the tarmac with refinement and effortlessness. Put your foot down, and the gearbox responds with aplomb, making overtaking a cinch.

Towing capacity does fall significantly short of its competitors, but if you’re towing something heavier than 1800kg, you’re not likely to need a 7-seater anyway.

The Pajero Sport is nimble for its size, and articulates well over rocky terrain.

Ride comfort is right up there with the rest. It is smooth and refined on tar, well-balanced and stable on corrugated gravel. It might not have the ultimate solidity that the Everest offers, but it counters with an all-round package that neatly blends on-road refinement and best-in-class fuel economy with capable off-road ability.

On the trail

Off road, the Pajero Sport handles itself like a pro. It crawled up the Grade 3/4 trail at Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve without fuss, proving that Mitsubishi’s Super-Select II 4WD system is worth the hype. 4WD is easily engaged by means of a stylish dial on the centre console. An added feature is easy programming to match the terrain you are tackling, with settings for Gravel, Mud/Snow, Sand or Rock. Once in low-range, there is also the option of a locking rear diff – always handy for getting out of tricky twisters.

OFF-ROAD DNA

Approach/departure: 30°/24°

Break over angle: 23°

Wading depth: 700mm

Ramp Travel Index (RTI): 375

Low range/diff lock: Yes/Rear

HDC: Yes

The 215mm of ground clearance, and the good approach and departure angles, proved adequate for the trail’s bigger rocks; but the side skirts, which are not an optional extra, did take a few knocks on the way down. The double-wishbone front and multi-link rear setups performed well, and the suspension calibration is spot-on, offering support and comfort. This is a family SUV, after all; so, with speeds dialed right back, we came through with the minimum of battle scars.

The automatic gearbox has a manual override function that actually holds a gear in low range, allowing you to clamber over rocks at your own pace. On steeper downhill sections, the Hill Descent Control works wonders, so you need to focus only on steering.

The bottom line is that at no point did the car feel too big or too clumsy. It’s nimble, stable and powerful enough to tackle most trails on your family holidays.

The verdict

LIKES:

  1. Eye-catching looks
  2. Class-leading fuel economy
  3. Excellent ride quality
  4. Premium interior
  5. Superb off-road ability
  6. Smooth 8-speed gearbox
  7. Proven and capable 4×4 system
  8. 12V outlet in the boot
  9. Brave rear design
  10. All-round refined feel
  11. 5-star ANCAP safety rating

DISLIKES:

  1. Finicky, dated media system
  2. Cheap media system buttons
  3. Tricky back-seat mechanism
  4. Narrower cabin than its rivals
  5. Blinding chrome inserts
  6. Invasive centre console

Despite living in the shadow of the Fortuner and the Everest, the Pajero Sport makes an excellent case for itself. It’s comfortable, stylish and extremely capable off-road. What more do you want from a family SUV?

The 4×4 model comes standard with premium driver aids and a plethora of electronics that belie the price tag, and the classy interior is a definite winner. It’s affordable, and it uses less fuel while doing what it needs to do − pretty much on par with the equivalent Fortuner or Everest. What I’m really saying is, consider the Pajero Sport. As I said before, there really isn’t any reason you shouldn’t!

By Micky Baker

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