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A lot of SPORT

12 May 2010

Make no mistake: YNJ078GP, our long-term Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 3.2 Di-D 4×4, has not had an easy time at Leisure Wheels magazine.

A week after it landed here in December 2009, all fresh and perky, it was faced with its first challenge: drive from Johannesburg to Stellenbosch in the Western Cape and back, with a few detours along the way, for a 4000km baptism of leisure motoring.

Before this trip got underway, Leisure Wheels staffers briefly drove the Sport around town. Initial impressions were not exactly positive.

“The gearbox ruins an otherwise great package,” commented one.

“The older-generation engine’s turbo lag doesn’t cut it,” said another. “The Toyota Fortuner has got it covered.”

And so, one fine morning in December 2009, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport left smoggy Gauteng for the more palatable and cleaner air of the Western Cape.

And what a pleasure!

It was immediately apparent that the ride quality of the Sport is out of the top drawer. It doesn’t ride like a 4×4 at all. Instead it feels more like a luxury sedan. With the cruise control set at 120 km/h, the engine and gearbox sorted out the rest of the details. It was a really, really comfortable and relaxing ride.

Maybe first impressions are not always lasting ones?

We had expected that the four-speed auto gearbox would continuously hunt for the ideal ratio on the open road.

But? nothing. At 120 km/h the engine ticked over at around 2000 r/min, and that’s where the 343 Nm of torque earns its keep.

Even on uphill sections the gearbox remained unfazed, sticking tenaciously to that fourth gear.

And so, in super-relaxed mode, the Pajero Sport stopped over at the Sundowner Lodge in Kimberley, and the next morning departed for the La Provence Guest Cottages, near Stellenbosch.

The cottages and surroundings are a peaceful retreat from city life. There are various cottages accommodating two to six people, fully equipped and self-catering, linen and towels supplied. Each cottage has a television as well as a telephone.

Guests can enjoy a braai on their patio, overlooking the vineyards leading to the top of the historic Kanonkop mountain.

The vineyard lies nestled on the upper south-facing slopes in the Vlaeberg Valley. It commands a splendid view of the Helderberg and Hottentots Holland Mountains, overlooking False Bay to the south. On a clear day you can even see the ocean.

Continuing the relaxed theme the Pajero Sport had already established, the relaxed holiday included much relaxation.

After a brief overnight detour to the beautiful town of Tulbagh, the Pajero Sport headed home, still in relaxed fashion. It arrived back in Randburg with 4000 hassle-free kilometres under its belt.

A direct spin-off of all the “relaxing” on this trip was an average fuel consumption of only 8,65 litres/100km – amazing for a 3,2-litre 4×4 that’s not exactly a lightweight. And it proves that fuel economy has got a lot to do with one’s right foot, and mindset.

Back in the land of smog, the Mitsubishi returned to the daily task of tackling peak hour traffic and transporting the Leisure Wheels crew to and from photographic shoots – and average fuel consumption leaped up to the 11,5 litres/100km mark. Still not too shabby for a big 4×4.

The Pajero Sport was also due for a bit of fame, on television. With legendary racing driver Hannes Grobler as the judge and jury, the Sport was lined up against the Toyota Fortuner 3.0 D4-D 4×4 and Ford Everest 3.0TDCi 4×4.

The task? Towing a 1200kg Jurgens Safari Xcape off-road caravan over the same route, which included dirt (good and bad) and tar (good and bad). Grobler, who happens to own an Xcape himself, would decide the winner of this towing contest. Here the aim was not to decide which vehicle was the strongest, prettiest, fastest, or even safest.

Instead, Grobler simply had to decide which of the vehicles he would prefer to tow his Xcape to Botswana or a similar destination with. And Grobler knows stuff about cars.

And surprise-surprise? the Pajero Sport was his first choice, mainly because of the comfortable ride, the relaxing engine/gearbox combination and the proven ability of the Super Select 4×4 drivetrain.

Next up was the Tuffstuff bakkie utility vehicle (BUV) shoot-out, as published in the March issue of Leisure Wheels. Here we again lined up the Pajero Sport, Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest against each other. We also amassed a panel of nine judges? some 4×4 fundis and some novices. Comprehensive scoring sheets covered everything from air-conditioning performance, seating comfort, engine performance, 4×4-ability, comfort – you name it.

And the overall winner was? the Toyota Fortuner. But only just, and the Pajero Sport upset the apple cart in some departments by comprehensively outscoring the popular Toyota. Any guesses as to which sections the Pajero Sport dominated?

Ride quality, both on gravel and tar. It was also voted the best-looking of the trio.

In summary: over the past four months the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport has certainly impressed us. Besides the fact that it is a good-looking vehicle, most of us love its laid-back character. The auto gearbox may not be to everyone’s liking, but it certainly encourages a more relaxed driving style – which is great for fuel consumption and keeping stress levels down.

We also enjoy the comfortable ride and the versatile and comfortable interior that can easily swallow a 250-litre geyser or transport seven passengers in comfort. The only area we find the Pajero lacking in – on paper at least – is the standard safety features. It has only two airbags and ABS, while some of its rivals have a whole lot more, and sell for less money.

But overall we like the Pajero Sport.

A lot.