Words by Andrew Middleton. Pictures by Andrew Middleton and Daniel Zoeller
Facing a suspension-flexing, axle-snapping, near-vertical conglomerate of white rock and sand, I pondered: “Will the little Paj rise to the challenge, or flee the scene like a scolded pup?” But then, the decision wasn’t up to the Pajero – I was in control, and keen on a challenge…
Which, of course, led to my getting stuck and backing up for a second attempt. This time, however, I engaged the Pajero SWB’s newly-fitted rear difflock and took a more thoughtful approach. And so, we began to climb, with the right front wheel pawing at the clouds and the rear tyres churning at the rocks. The tenacious Pajero refused to stop, shrugging the under-belly bangs aside and casting a spell of silence on my doubt. What a little trooper. What a legend.
The Pajero’s interior is an overly complex place. There’s a massive array of unintuitive buttons that pepper the old-fashioned dash. Also, the Pajero has a voice command function, which, in my opinion, is not just useless; it’s outright annoying, too. It seems we’ve reached the zenith of automotive technology, and as a result, manufacturers now add useless gimmicks in an attempt to impress us.
On the positive front, the Pajero Legend comes equipped with terrific canvas seat covers that are thick, tough and washable, so you won’t feel guilty about dog hair, or a chin-drip of pie sauce. Other nice-to-have features include heated front seats, a multifunction steering wheel and a driver’s seat that’s power adjusted.
While I initially thought that the Pajero’s tiny camera monitor – built into the rear-view mirror – was a laughable extra, it’s actually a useful feature that effectively allows you to park within millimetres of the obstacle behind you.
In terms of space and comfort, the rear seats are large enough for adults, but the boot’s no bigger than a chipmunk’s chubby cheeks. What’s more, because the driver’s seat is electrically operated, it’s painfully slow to fold forward; and, as a result, you’re likely to access the rear seat from the passenger side only – where the seat can be flipped forward manually.
To make up for its cheeky boot space, the Pajero Legend comes fitted with a Front Runner roofrack, offering an additional 2.2 square metres of packing space up top. The Legend also includes an aftermarket nudge-bar, rock sliders and serious underbody protection. The latter was put to good use when we bashed and crawled over the Honingklip 4×4’s nasties.
The Pajero’s exterior has remained largely unchanged since ’06: it still has that Dakar- Botox-injected-Suzuki-Vitara look about it. Personally, I like the way the Legend melds the hard-core character of something like a Defender-shorty with the sensation of a more road-biased vehicle. The Legend’s massive Vision-X spotlights are also a tasteful touch – intense enough to X-ray everything in your path.
Though Dakar vehicles bear few similarities to their showroom siblings, twelve wins at the race must say something about the Pajero name. Despite ditching its ladder frame chassis in ‘99, the Pajero hasn’t followed the path of its many pink-dressed brethren; it’s a true 4×4 that regularly embarrasses some solid-axle rivals.