Normally, when vehicle manufacturers launch a new vehicle to the media, the driving experience part is custom designed to specifically suite the specific vehicle. So the routes and tests are designed to highlight a vehicle’s best attributes, and mask its worst qualities. However, if you are Mitsubishi SA, you simply design a 4×4 competition and let the journalists have a right proper 4×4 go with the new vehicle.
There we were, at the McCarthy 4×4 Club’s clubhouse, east of Pretoria. We were part of a media group invited to compete in the #PajeroTough event. This 4×4 competition featured three sections, and was designed to really put the latest Mitsubishi limited edition model, the shorty Pajero Legend II, through its paces. And we’re not talking obstacles designed to highlight only the vehicle’s best attributes – no siree, Mitsubishi’s marketing and public relations departments put their money where their mouths are and devised some really tough 4×4 obstacles that would kill any soft-roader, and that would test even pukka 4×4s’ abilities to the maximum.
You don’t often see a manufacturer or importer being so ballsy – we take our hats off to the company for putting so much faith in its product. But before we get to the competition, a quick overview of the Legend II model, and what customers will get for their R659 000 for the short-wheel- base Pajero. Extras that are part of the limited edition Legend package include Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tyres, engine and gearbox protection plates, a Garmin NuviCam LMT GPS unit (loaded with Tracks-4Africa maps), a Bosal towbar, a nudge bar and a rubber mat set. For customers who want to go the whole nine overland miles, Mitsubishi also offers accessories at special discounted rates. This includes upgraded suspension (R9 380), a Front Runner Slimline II roof rack (R8 670), 140mm HID spotlights (R10 699), air compressor (R3 000), a snatch recovery kit (R2 399), a Caska D306LT navi unit (R12 999), headlight protectors (R565), a bonnet guard (R575) and a six-pack cooler fridge (R1 549). These prices exclude fitment (where applicable).
For the rest, it’s all familiar Pajero 3.2DiD GLS. In stock trim, the GLS’s pews are trimmed in leather, there’s climate control and a high-end sound system with Bluetooth connectivity. There is also an electrically operated sunroof, the driver’s seat is electrically adjustable and the steering wheel features remote buttons for the phone and sound systems. Under the bonnet lives Mitsubishi’s familiar 3.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, and it delivers a handy 140kW and 441Nm of torque (at 2 000r/min), which is sent to the wheels via a five-speed automatic gearbox (no manual gearbox option is available).
But the Pajero’s biggest coup is the Super Select II 4WD drivetrain. What sets this system apart from other part-time versions is the fact that you can select between 2HIGH, 4HIGH (with open centre differential so you can drive it on tar), 4HIGH LOCK (50/50 split between the front and rear axle), and 4LOW (low range, 50/50 split). Other part-time 4WD systems do not have the 4HIGH option where the centre differential is open, so on the road you can either select between 2HIGH and 4HIGH, with that 50/50 split. In the Pajero, you can drive it in 2HIGH or 4HIGH with that open diff, essentially turning the Pajero into a permanent 4WD vehicle for the road.
Driving it on the road
On tar and gravel the Mitsubishi Pajero certainly has a refined, comfortable and luxurious feeling about it. However, there is no hiding the Pajero’s age in its design DNA – it essentially has been around for a couple of decades now, only featuring a few cosmetic, trim and power upgrades over the years. The engine is also not the most refined oilburner on the block anymore. In the long-wheelbase Pajero, the engine is certainly adequate in the power department – in the lighter shorty version, it’s quite brisk, and fun. The five-speed gearbox is a smooth operator, too.
Driving it in the 4×4 competition
Right, so as mentioned, Mitsubishi designed some really tough 4×4 obstacles and let some experienced (and some less experienced) journalists loose on the tracks. The Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tyres had to remain at 2bar, which is not ideal if you need traction on a slippery surface. Our #17 Pajero nevertheless completed all the obstacles with absolutely no problem at all. In fact, our biggest conundrum proved to be deciding whether we should let the Mitsubishi’s excellent traction control sort out the traction, or if we should engage the standard rear differential lock.
The Pajero features an interesting monocoque design, where the suspension is literally part of the body, so there is very little wheel articulation. To keep forward momentum, you need a dash of momentum, aided by either the traction control or rear differential locker. Once you get that formula right, the Mitsubishi is pretty much unstoppable. We really had great fun on some tough 4×4 obstacles in what was essentially a stock 4×4. Mitsubishi even left the original side steps in place – and the fancy plastic items didn’t even get a scratch.
And the Pajero’s future?
The current Pajero will continue to be built as long as there is a demand for it, says Mitsubishi. For now, no all-new Pajero is on the cards. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel for Pajero fans. Nissan recently bought the controlling stake in its fellow Japanese company, and with lots of cash and plenty of research and development backup, there may well be an all-new Pajero in the offing in the future. Sure, the Nissan/Renault allegiance is keeping mum about its plans for the Mitsubishi brand, but considering the Pajero’s popularity and reputation across the globe, we reckon the new mother company will miss a trick if they do not develop a new Pajero.
At the very least, speculate the local Mitsubishi men, the future Triton bakkie range will most probably be based on the same platform as the Nissan Navara, the Renault Alaskan and the upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLT bakkies. All in all then, despite a current lull in a tough economic climate, the future of the Mitsubishi brand looks rosy.