If you start your evaluation of the new Mitsubishi Pajero Sport from the outside, as almost all of us will, you will spring to the conclusion that this is a Mitsubishi Triton with an enclosed rear, and seven seats.
Your second thought will be that the Pajero Sport is aimed squarely at the Toyota Fortuner, and the upcoming Ford Everest. And you will be perfectly correct, because the Fortuner is as close to the Pajero Sport as you can get in the South African market.
And if you then look at the price of the Pajero Sport (R414 000) you will probably think that it’s a bit expensive. A top-of-the-range Fortuner, for example, costs R407 000.
But take a closer look at the Pajero Sport, on the inside and particularly under the skin, and your initial impressions will begin to blur.
Yes, it does look more like a Triton than anything else, with a very similar (albeit chromed) grille, similar bonnet, air intake, foglights, and more, in the front. In fact, all the way back to behind the front doors, it would be hard to distinguish a Pajero Sport from a Triton. From there, though, it is more Pajero, with flared hips, and the similarities continue when one moves beyond mere appearances.
Only one engine is currently available in the Pajero Sport locally, and it is the familiar 3,2-litre DI-D turbodiesel, complete with common-rail injection. A 3,2-lite diesel can be found in both the Pajero (121 kW and 373 Nm) and the Triton (118 kW and 343 Nm), but the Pajero Sport matches neither of these, producing 120 kW and 343 Nm. Fuel consumption figures aren’t given, but we achieved an average of 12,2 l/100km in our missed driving, highway and urban. With a fuel tank of 70-litres, that should give a range of 570km.
Mitsubishi fans will be pleased to hear that the transmission in the Pajero Sport is none other than the four-speed automatic, with the acclaimed and reliable SuperSelect four-wheel-drive system in tow. This gives the Sport the options of rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, four-wheel drive with locked centre diff, and four-wheel drive in low range.
While we can’t really fault SuperSelect, we are beginning to think that a four-speed auto box is looking at least one cog shy, especially when you think that Mercedes and co are bringing out six- and seven-speed ‘boxes. But it still works well, has a great reputation for reliability, and very seldom hunts for a gear, so it might be a little churlish to grumble too much. A rear diff-lock complements the SuperSelect system.
Foreign markets see the Pajero Sport in other guises too, namely 2,5-litre turbodiesel and 3,5-litre V6, and with both five-speed manual and four-speed automatic gearboxes, and in 4×2 and 4×4. 2010 could very well see the local introduction of a 2,5-lite 4×2, manual version.
The Sport has a ladder-frame chassis, and in this regard is the same as the Triton, as compared to the monocoque construction of the Pajero. But wit suspension it’s a different story: the Sport and the Pajero both have double wishbone coil springs with a stabilizer bar at the front, and multilink coil springs with a stabilizer bar in the rear. The Triton has similar front suspension, but leaf springs in the rear.
As you can imagine, the Pajero Sport rides far more like a Pajero than a Triton, and this means that it is exceedingly comfortable and composed on the road. In this respect, which is instantly noticeable, it is more SUV than double cab, which is not something that a standard Fortuner, for example, can claim.
The next aspect of the Pajero Sport that is likely to come under close scrutiny is the interior, and here the vehicle falls almost midway between the more utilitarian Triton and the luxurious Pajero. Yes, the Pajero Sport does have leather upholstery on all seven seats (more about those later), and the steering-wheel controls of the Pajero (for audio system and cruise control), but the dash layout is pure Triton.
This means that it has good quality plastics, as opposed to the softer materials of the Pajero, and that very modern blue display unit in the centre of the dash, feeding the driver such information as audio, trip computer and more.
And now for the seats themselves. The front two are comfortable, electrically-adjusted bucket seats that move backwards and forwards, up and down, and are generally very comfortable. The second row is a 60/40 split bench that can slide backwards and forwards, and can be easily and quickly folded out of the way.
The third row also folds away, and this is also easy to do. And they fold into the floor, leaving a flat luggage area that ranges from big to huge, depending on which of the seats has been folded away. And if you want, for example, three seats, and room for a surfboard, this is doable too.
We have three gripes with the Pajero Sport, although only one is major. The indicator is accompanied by an annoying “beep” that will discourage you from indicating unless you really, really have to. And despite the radio’s modern appearance, it doesn’t have RDS, so it doesn’t tell you what station you’re listening to, nor does it self-tune when the signal fades.
Lastly, and most significantly, is the limited model range. A single model might be all that Mitsubishi can currently procure from Thailand, where it is made, but this isn’t enough to put a limp in the Fortuner’s stride.
At R414 000 the Pajero Sport is too expensive (not that it isn’t worth it) to stir up any real enthusiasm from the masses. The sooner Mitsubishi South Africa can get a 2,5-litre turbodiesel 4×2 model, preferably manual, the better.
Everyone at Mitsubishi is excited about the introduction of the Pajero Sport, and we believe they have reason to be. It is by no means a revolutionary vehicle, and it isn’t going to set the market alight with just one model. But it is a far more refined vehicle than any SUV built on a bakkie base can expect to be.
And while it looks a tad expensive on paper, these thoughts disappear after a few minutes behind the wheel. It’s not a Mitsubishi version of the Fortuner, but it is nevertheless a very real, direct rival to the Toyota.
If Mitsubishi can somehow persuade potential Fortuner buyers to look past the huge Toyota brand name, and get these people behind the wheel of a Pajero Sport for a test drive, then they could quickly have a sales hit on their hands.
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 3.2 DI-D GLS Auto
Engine: 3200cc, inline 4, common rail fuel injection, turbocharger, intercooler
Power: 120 kW @ 3500 r/min
Torque: 343 Nm @ 2000 r/min
Gearbox: 4-speed automatic transmission with manual function
4×4 system: SuperSelect four-wheel-drive system. Low-range, rear diff-lock.
Driving aids: EBD, ABS
Ground clearance: 215mm
Fuel capacity: 70 litres
Average consumption on test: 12,2 litres/100km
Range per tank: About 570km
Price: R414 000 (includes a five-year/100 000km service plan)