The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport has finally arrived in South Africa, over a year after it was shown at the Johannesburg motor show. It looks like it’s based on a Triton, but looks can be deceiving
The continued success of the Fortuner is proof that the market for affordable, mid-sized 4x4s is alive and well. But Toyota’s domination of the segment for bakkie-based SUVs (the reason, ultimately, for the keener pricing) is about to be seriously challenged for the first time with this vehicle: the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 3,2 DiD.
Consensus is that this is a good-looking machine, with a mix of angles and curves that look modern and quite compact. Nonetheless, overall length is 4 695 mm – identical to the Fortuner – while the height to the top of the roof rails is at 1 840 mm just a centimetre lower. Wheelbase is a substantial 2,8 metres (50 mm more than the Toyota) which suggests shortish overhangs and contribute to – wait for it – a sporty look.
The toothy grin of the heavily chromed grille (behind the ugly and optional chrome bulbar) confirm that it’s from the Mitsubishi stable. The overall design integrates styling cues which link it to the full-sized Pajero…a fact that shouldn’t do it any harm in the marketplace seeing that its namesake has a reputation that almost rivals Mother Theresa’s.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
The Pajero Sport is based on the Triton’s ladderframe chassis but uses a coil-sprung live rear axle, located by three links (two trailing arms and a Panhard rod). Like the initial, imported 2,5-litre Triton double cab, it gets the sophisticated Super Select 4×4 system – rather than the less advanced Easy Select used on current, locally-built 3,2-litre Tritons. The 4-speed INVECS II auto box (the only choice of trannie available) is similar to what was fitted to the first-generation Outlander while the direct injection oilburner is the same-sized 3,2-litre unit fitted to Triton and Pajero, though it differs in output from both. So it is apparent that Mitsubishi has dug deep into the existing parts basket to control costs and the launch price is R414 000, including a five-year/100 000 km service plan.
In true Mitsubishi fashion the specification list is somewhat eclectic, with an electrically adjusted driver’s seat, rear park distance control, a comprehensive driving computer and full leather on the list of standard stuff . It has also got seven seats in three rows, pitching it directly against the Toyota. Sadly, it lacks in the safety department and there are but two airbags and stability control is notable for its absence – not that is seems to desperately need it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Mitsubishi cabins tend to be a model of simplicity and clarity and that’s definitely the case here. Architecture is pleasing and eye-catching, with a particularly handsome steering wheel fitted with satellite controls: audio system and speed control on left and right spokes respectively.
The centre console is distinctive and appealing in a subconsciously bling, music-centre kind of way and the ventilation and air conditioning are exceptionally user-friendly, particularly from an ergonomic point of view. It is fully automatic, so it is a case of set and forget – with the exception of the recirculate function. While the ambient temperatures were on the way up during our testing, the feeling was that a bit more “vooma” was needed to cool the cabin. A separate fan speed control in the right rear wheelarch, along with dual air vents means those in economy class get to determine their own fate as far as airflow is concerned.
Front row seating is exceptionally comfortable and our testers found that it struck a good balance between providing a good view of the surroundings, and a sense of intimacy with the controls and the cabin environment in general. The second row is split 60/40 and the two portions slide independently through a 150mm range. Even when positioned somewhere in the middle of this there’s plenty of legroom for adults, while a fold-down armrest with cupholders provides a more sumptuous feel when travelling four-up.
But the Sport’s winning ticket is a third row which offers more than token accommodation. While these individual seats are clearly of the occasional variety, a six-foot adult could spend a few hours here without risk of deep-vein thrombosis, and they’d be more than adequate for kids. They’re easy to deploy and get to, thanks to the simultaneous fold/tilt funct on of the second row and the upright C-pillar which results in a large rear door aperture.
With all seats in use the luggage compartment is only good for a couple of soft bags, but that’s why the Sport has roof rails: simply add a roof box for those long trips, leaving the cabin for essentials only. With only five occupants, load capacity is impressive though: there’s exactly a metre between the wheelarches and the same distance up to the backrests of the second row, and realistically about 750mm between the highish floor and the roof. The spare wheel is slung beneath the vehicle in true bakkie fashion which frees up some oddment space under the boot floor.
★ ★ ★ ★
It’s no secret that Mitsub’s big four-pot isn’t the quietest around, but it bears testimony to the Sport’s refinement that it is less obtrusive than we expected. It makes up for its moderate vibrations with good response and quick reactions, the plentiful torque and minimal lag largely hiding the fact that there are but four ratios in the ‘box.
That said, there is an occasional clunkiness to the downshift s, and sometimes the feeling that a better choice of ratios would allow the engine to spend more ti me closer to its torque peak. The engine sounds wheezy when it gets towards the 4 000 mark. The wide spread of ratios manifests itself off road and the driver is sometimes forced to use the brakes even in low-range ‘One’, rather than just relying on engine compression.
The generously-proportioned intercooler means that there shouldn’t be too much power loss come midsummer, and this seemed to be the case as the Highveld really warmed up. The Sport’s 343 Nm and 120 kW are identical to the Fortuner but both are realised at significantly higher engine speeds. According to the information display the Sport uses about 12,3 litres per 100 km, a number which means a moderate range of about 550 km.
Stopping performance is excellent – both objectively and subjectively. Front discs and rear drums are all generously-proportioned, and the first encounter with the brake pedal rewards with immediate and powerful bite. They’re easy to modulate too, the sensation of being in control enhanced further by ABS/EBD assistance.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The Sport feels almost indecently nimble around town, slotting easily into parking bays and executing manoeuvres in tight spots that would pose a challenge for similar vehicles. The bottom line is that it doesn’t feel cumbersome or sluggish and wouldn’t pose any challenges for newcomers to this class of vehicle. Ditto the handling at higher speeds. The rack and pinion steering feels accurate but not overly sensitive, and the suspension is something of a revelation. Humps and bumps are smoothed away, and pockmarked or rippled bends tackled at moderate speed seldom turn forward momentum into unanticipated sideways motion.
While relatively firm suspension and a rear anti-roll bar limit axle articulation somewhat, it doesn’t hamper traction much thanks to the centre differential lock, which is engaged with the second of two low-range options. (Default mode for Super Select is rear-wheel-drive, then all-wheel-drive, then low-range and finally low range with diff lock.) Axle twisters will eventually cause opposing front and rear wheels to wave in the air and end forward progress but that’s the point at which the rear differential lock comes to the rescue.
Underbody protection is reasonably good. Everything is tucked away and we never heard anything scrape, observers confirming that ground clearance isn’t prematurely compromised over obstacles.
For a bakkie-based SUV, the Sport is mighty impressive in terms of the ride/handling/roadholding balance it strikes whether on tar or dirt.
★ ★ ★ ★
Despite the highly-public debate concerning Fortuner’s stability, specifically at higher speeds on dirt roads, it remains a success story with demand still outstripping supply – just check out used values. Now there’s an alternative, albeit in only one guise. For Mitsubishi’s sake we hope they add more derivatives (and a couple of extra airbags) sooner rather than later so that the Sport gets the market penetration it deserves.