Off-road Test: Time warp to 2000 with Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2 DiD GLS
This, of course, has made the whole team very nostalgic about past issues. As a tribute, we’ll be posting road tests and driving impressions for the good, the bad and the ugly vehicles of the past 15 years. Many of these are relics – and some are missed more than others.
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Time Warp 04
Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2 DiD GLS (diesel): A great all-rounder
It is no secret that the Mitsubishi Pajero has been a design yardstick, with the Toyota Prado amongst its opposition vehicles targeted at the same discerning customers that demand the comfort and sophistication of a luxury sedan, along with the versatility and image of an all-terrain conquering 4×4. Now the Pajero has re-invented in its third-generation guise, emphasising a Paris-Dakar winning pedigree with bold, aggressive styling reminiscent of the race vehicles, while prioritising on-road refinement, comfort and safety. Like the luxury Jeep models, it has discarded a heavy ladder-frame chassis in favour of a monocoque body shell that provides superior cabin insulation and better crash performance, while permitting a lower floor height for entry and egress. Expect to see many other luxury 4×4’s following this route, with all but the focussed off-roaders like the Toyota Land Cruiser or Land Rover Defender retaining a separate chassis.
FEATURES AND EQUIPMENT √√√√√
Expectations in this class are sky-high, and so they should be with customers forking out the kind of money that buys a sophisticated BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi. So it is no surprise that Mitsubishi’s strategists have decided to load the newcomers with technically advanced features in an attempt to capture the high ground when it comes to showroom cred.
Effortlessness is the name of the game, and the latest Pajero provides a Tiptronic-style five-speed automatic that adapts to individual driving styles, or can be shifted into manual with fore and aft flicks of the wrist. The Super Select 4WD system- which is now dubbed SS4-II- also simplifies decisions about whether the centre differential should be locked, with engagement of low range automatically selecting the traction aid. That same commitment to comfort and ease of driving is reflected in the choice of an all-independent suspension system and more precise powered rack and pinion steering.
But for many owners, who rarely venture off the beaten track, it will be the feature like the ingenious third-row of seats that fire the imagination. These fold out of sight into a compartment in the luggage floor, or can be removed in seconds to extend the load-carrying ability. Obviously when you invest close to R 400 000 you expect all the usual luxury features, and the Pajero dishes up all you could reasonably hope for. That means twin airbags, ABS brakes, leather upholstery an electrically adjusted driver’s seat , heated seats and mirrors , climate control with separate controls for the rear , power windows with one-touch operation all round and enough cup-holders to keep everyone happy. What you don’t get is traction control that is favoured by rivals including the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Land Rover Discovery, although some might argue that this is no bad thing. There is a school that prefers a more conventional diff lock to a system that depends on extra throttle and a measure of deliberate wheel spin.
The long-wheelbase Pajero has always been a substantial vehicle, the newcomer offering even more cabin volume, with space for front and middle row passengers to stretch out in while enjoying abundant leg and headroom. Like others in this class, the provision of third row seating is aimed primarily at little people, with confines that are too cramped to suit adults on journeys of any length. The Pajero is intended to seat up to seven, one less than the rival Prado, although there is precious little in it in the end.
Climbing into the Mitsubishi from the Toyota does create a sense of occasion. While the Prado is tasteful, there’s more of a sophisticated cockpit ambience in the Pajero, with some classy finishes to the facia and controls that we particularly enjoyed. The plush leather furniture also looks the part, although there was some debate whether the driver’s seat was enduringly comfy as that in some of the opposition models. Plus points included the generous stash space for oddments, with door pockets, a glove box and large lidded centre console box with two compartments.
Luggage space is more than generous, especially if you tumble the centre seats forward, and remove the rearmost seats from their under floor stowage bin. But we were disappointed that does not have a roller blind to hide valuables from sight. In crime crazy South Africa it’s a must that is still overlooked, with the Discovery showing how it can be done even with a third-row of seating.
The performance standards in the turbo diesel class are nothing short of exalted, with both the 2.5 litre Land Rover Td5 and 3.0 litre Prado engines winning high praise for their potency, refinement and economy. But the stakes have been upped again by the sheer might of the 3.2 litre, twin-cam 16- valve direct injection unit. It packs 121 kW punch at 3 800 r/min, while torque plateaus at a formidable 373 Nm at 2000 r/min. That means the kind of giant shove you get from Toyota’s Land Cruiser VX, which costs R200 000 more.
Direct injection diesels have a history of high noise levels, and at idle there is no hiding the fact that this is a diesel, even with all the windows up. But once you are rolling it is easy to forget this isn’t petrol-powered, with the under bonnet endeavours well-muted at steady cruise, although there’s a satisfying bellow when you run the big four cylinder diesel to its red line. Something, incidentally, that you rarely need to do, so abundant is its eagerness at low revs.
The previous generation 2.8 litre turbo-diesel never struck us as unduly thrifty, so we were pleasantly surprised at the figures achieved for the 3, 2 litre power plant, with the newcomer returning better than 11 litres/ 100 km at a steady 120 km/h cruise. Complimenting the engine perfectly is the adaptive five-speed auto, which generally shifts very smoothly, providing downshifts whenever you need them. The Tip-shift feature was also an absolute blessing when negotiating mountain passes on and off-road, proving especially valuable in low speed work over challenging terrain.
RIDE AND HANDLING √√√√
It takes only a few seconds behind the wheel to appreciate that the emphasis is on good tarmac behaviour; with sharp, accurate turn-in from the powered rack and pinion steering and little body roll from the all-independent suspension set-up. In fact, the adoption of a double-wishbone coil-sprung front and multi-link coil rear suspension probably owes more to road car design that the world of the bush, and would have been unthinkable in a heavy-duty off-roader until comparatively recently. Clearly off-road prowess is of secondary importance, and the Pajero does just fine provided that serious axle articulation and ground clearance isn’t required.
Because the suspension, limits travel in the interests of impeccable road manners, it tends to lift the wheels very easily off-road, inviting wheel spin and loss of traction. In fact, obstacles we’d dispatched with ease in both a Hilux Raider and Discovery Td5, suddenly became challenges that required more momentum and far greater concentration. The need to go a little quicker, to avoid ending up with wheels off the ground and a dearth of grip , also highlighted the fact that , despite claims that ground clearance improved, it was easy to scrape the under-belly where the other vehicles cleared humps without fuss.
Generally we were happy with the ride and handling balance, and appreciated the feeling of strength and rigidity, but there’s little doubt that the performance is below par when it comes to serious off-road work, with the flip side being true on the tarmac.
Mitsubishi has done its homework convincingly and engineered a vehicle that is strong on style, charisma, comfort and safety, providing exhilarating on-road performance that its obvious rivals can’t match. But take the battle to the bush and the picture changes, the Pajero’s lack of wheel articulation and clearance conspiring against it. But the overall verdict is that the new Pajero is a great all-rounder with a fabulous engine and automatic gearbox.