Road test: Mitsubishi Pajero
By Feann Torr & Peter Maniatis
all the attention surrounding the latest AWD crossover vehicles,
such as the Territory, Adventra and other AWD wagon-based
vehicles, one could be forgiven into thinking the more agricultural
4WD is dying a slow and gas-guzzling death.
The Pajero could be piled into the latter category of 4WDs,
and compounding this negative outlook could be the fact it
is built by Mitsubishi; even more reason to think that this
particular model is on its last legs.
The list of negative aspects for a big and burly 4WD goes
on and on - there's the safety issue of rollovers (a bigger
issue in America than in Australia) and of course the cost
of maintaining such large and heavy vehicles, including petrol,
servicing, tyres - all of which can add up to hundreds of
dollars per week.
And how about the social impact? We often hear friends and
associates furious with big and bulky 4WDs blocking their
view of the road ahead, failing to indicate, impinging their
line of sight and generally making life a lot harder for the
average car and ute driver.
With so many potentially off-putting factors in store for
buyers of such 4WDs, can Mitsubishi's latest turbo diesel-powered
bitumen behemoth make a solid case for itself, or is it already
running half empty?
Model: Pajero (Exceed)
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Engine: 3.2-litre, 16-valve, L4 turbo diesel
Safety: Driver and front passenger + front side
(Thorax) SRS airbags, ABS
Pajero's 3.2-litre diesel
engine is terrific
Driving the diesel-powered Pajero around town and in built
up areas was an absolute breeze, and anyone thinking a diesel
engine is a low-tech chunk of outdated technology should think
The Pajero DiD, or direct injection diesel, may only displace
some 3.2-litres, but it has the kind of bottom end urge that
most LS1-powered V8 Holdens could only dream about.
This glut of torque low in the rev range makes the Pajero
a breeze around town - and the 5-speed automatic isn't half
bad either - and gives it a healthy 2500kg towing capacity
At just 2000rpm the Pajero is generating 373Nm of torque,
and though it's not as 'wham-bam' as what 380-odd Newton meters
would be like in a petrol engine, delivering its acceleration
more smoothly, it certainly gives the large Mitsubishi a distinctly
In the city, the Pajero does make sense on many levels -
except for those around it - and in reference to all the negativity
surrounding medium and large 4WDs, we had a couple of people
flash their high beams at us for what appeared to be no reason
at all. Perhaps a sign that 4WD owners are hard done by?
Nevertheless, the Pajero is a smooth riding vehicle on almost
all surfaces, and thanks to the Pajero's desert rally origins,
it benefits from independent suspension at all four corners,
as opposed to the Toyota Landcruiser, which has less advanced
live rear axle.
This independent suspension translates to a very supple ride
in suburbia - where it will amost exclusively be driven -
and impressive roadholding comes about thanks to the AWD transmission.
Even on unsealed roads the 4WD offers an impressive ride and
reassuring grip, and if dusty, sandy expanses are your bread
and butter, there's virtually no better vehicle than this.
Though not as heavy-duty
the Pajero is still an accomplished off-roader
Ground clearance of 225mm is pretty good by 4WD standards,
yet wheel travel can't compare to the Landcruiser's for instance.
But what it lacks in slow speed, rugged offroad ability,
it makes up for on sealed roads, with a level of composure
that is at odds with its 4.9 metre length and 2180kg weight.
It handles more like a large family sedan than a traditional
Pajero's independent suspension setup really is a godsend
for a vehicle of this size as even though it will seat seven
people, its suspension rig ensures it responds well to input.
Even in the shopping mall carpark the Paj does an impressive
job of navigating its way around, and the raised ride height
helps in the all-important reconnaissance.
If there are any negatives concerning the way the Pajero
practicalities, they'd be related to rearward vision, which
doesn't offer a low-level view of objects behind you - such
as low-slung Lotus Elises or Nissan 350Z Roadsters.
The brakes - ventilated 290mm discs up front, and 300mm discs
rear - are well suited to a car of this size and did an reliable
job on sealed roads and even more so when the bitumen disappeared,
offering good sensitivity, rarely locking up on unsealed descents.
Overtaking is a breeze thanks to the powerful bottom end,
the steering is a little wooly at times but is to be expected
of a vehicle of this size and weight, and in general we found
the diesel Pajero to be a remarkably easy to live with vehicle.
Mitsubishi 3.2-litre L4
The dual overhead cam, inline 4-cylinder engine has
a 3200cc capacity and has aluminium alloy cylinder heads
and 4-valves per cylinder. The diesel engine has a 17.0:1
compression ratio and makes use of turbocharger to increase
power and torque. An air-to-air intercooler helps keep
intake air cool and a large 90-litre fuel tank rounds
out the engine specs.
Though the Pajero is a well-sorted driving machine, able
to adapt to a plethora of situations, the engine is what defines
Though the new 3.8-litre V6 offers more power than the 120-odd
kilowatts of the diesel - with 150kW @ 5000rpm - but the oil
burner wins out in the torque stakes, and while it may not
be the quietest engine in town, rumbling at start up and emitting
all kinds of truck-like sounds, it's certainly very smooth,
and the power delivery comfortably progressive.
The DiD (direct injection diesel) engine makes 121kW of power
@ 3800rpm and generates 373Nm of torque @ 2000rpm, the latter
figure comparing well to the 314Nm of the 3.8-litre petrol
Thanks to the massively tractable bottom end, just stroking
the accelerator pedal lightly results in plenty of pull, and
if you plan on getting off the beaten track, the diesel is
the pick for heading up steep inclines and across rough terrain.
It's also a fairly frugal engine, making its petrol stable
mate look comparatively thirsty, and while no official figures
for the diesel are given by Mitsubishi, we averaged well under
the 10.9-litres per 100km/h of the petrol, and thanks to the
90-litre fuel tank, the Pajero can cover vast distances between
fills as well.
Pajero's 3.2-litre diesel
engine is terrific
In today's climate of high oil prices, a diesel such as this,
in a vehicle as large as this, makes complete and utter sense.
To get the same sort of torque output - around 400Nm - you'd
be wanting a 8-cylinder in a petrol engine, and even when
softed it would drink like a thirsty 'roo. If you did the
sums, your yearly fuel costs would be significantly improved
with a 4-cylinder diesel like this, compared to a big petrol
So the engine's impressive, but what about the transmission?
We tested the range-topping Exceed equipped with the less-macho
5-speed auto - but before you turn away in disgust, it actually
makes a lot of sense in this application and performed quite
well for us.
Generally speaking, most Pajeros will only get light-duty
off roading, spending most of their time in traffic, which
is where the automatic comes into its own.
Smooth shifts (though not exactly lightning fast) match the
engine's short rev range well. The low range gears are a nice
addition in an automatic model, and their low ratios make
slow and steady bush excursions less flighty than with the
standard 'road-use' gears.
Mitsubishi also gifted Pajero with a switchable AWD system,
that allows drivers to choose between two and four-wheel drive
on the fly, which is useful depending on whether you're covering
long distances on the highway (2WD) or trying to get up the
steep inclines in Toorak or Vaucluse (4WD).
The Pajero is neither trend setting nor dull in its exterior
design. It treads the safe middle ground that will appeal
to both the off-roader types - what with its flared wheel
arches, short overhangs and chunky tyres - and those who will
probably never take it offroad, with a largely modern front
end and dynamic headlight cluster.
The Pajero: Looking good
in outback Oz
The recent facelift that gives the 2004 model Pajero its
unique face brings the Pajero into more a modern world, one
filled with traffic lights and driveways, while the very nature
of the vehicle dictates the cars tall body, largely upright
windscreen and high ground clearance.
A rear spoiler and chrome accents differentiate the range-topping
Exceed model from other Pajeros, and from where we stand,
the metallic paint job with two-tone colour scheme works well,
and the 16-inch five spoke alloy wheels give it a purposeful
Though it doesn't particularly stand out in today's AWD market
inhabited by slinky crossovers, it's not an ugly vehicle by
any means, just an orthodox one.
Entering the Pajero Exceed felt like we were hopping into
a more acclaimed vehicle such as an X5 or Toureg with its
lashings of light shale European leather and a general feel
The seats were comfortable with driver and passenger electrically
adjusted heated seats, which made long trips surprisingly
We felt that the Pajero's height and a sense of interior
space helped the driver to focus their awareness on the road
and conditions ahead, as well as leaving them more refreshed
on long highway drives, and not boxed in like in compact 4WDs.
In people mover mode, the Pajero is well equipped to handle
7 occupants with plenty of room for the sports equipment or
camping gear in the boot. The second row of seats offers enough
space for 3 adults whilst the rear two fold-down seats are
more attuned to accommodate young children.
With the rear seats folded away, the boot offers plenty of
space for serious expeditioners - in fact this is where the
Pajero moves ahead of entry-level X5 and Touareg models with
better rear cargo space.
The light shale leather
looks gear, though
the (obscured) instruments need work
As with all new crossovers and 4WDs, the Pajero has many
slots and compartments to make Houdini feel quite at home,
with six cup holders alone. Not sure of the practicalities
of so many compartments in the end - more places to lose things.
The Pajero falls a little short when it comes to the dash
and driver cockpit feel. In general the dash looks like it
first set its sights inside a Mitsubishi in the early 90's.
A little agricultural for our money but might not perturb
the die-hard adventurer. We also felt that for the asking
price of almost 70 large one, the Pajero lacked a Sat Nav
system and rear parking sensors, which are standard on mid-level
crossovers and 4WDs.
One area in which the Pajero makes up for these shortcomings
is in the acoustics department. Quite simply, it makes getting
into and driving the thing all the more enjoyable.
All up there are 6 speakers hooked up to a 6-stack CD stereo
system, with an extra single slot for convenience, and the
clarity is sensational - something that really took us by
surprise in Mitsubishi's big 4WD.
Some other nice touches include a sliding arm rest that help
the driver get comfortable and the big side mirrors added
to the great feel and safety of the car.
The Pajero DiD is one mud-plugger that deserves to do well.
It's balanced on road and off, has a stunning powertrain and
offers versatility and luxury in its seating arrangements.
It's tall enough to see over other road users in traffic,
but not so huge so as to make it a hassle to park and navigate,
like the hulking Patrol and Landcruiser. Thanks to the independent
front and rear suspension, not to mention smooth power assisted
steering, the Pajero feels more like a sedan in its blacktop
ride and handling than a traditional 4WD.
Thanks to the turbocharged diesel engine, the Pajero is incredibly
easy to drive, and whether you're overtaking a road train
in the Nullabor or navigating the stop-start traffic of the
concrete jungle, the Pajero obliges willingly, not mention
In answer to the questions of usefulness and suitability
concerning modern day 4WDs which we broached in the introduction,
it's safe to say that Mitsubishi's latest diesel-powered bitumen
behemoth does indeed make a very solid case for itself, and
is arguably one of the Japanese marque's best buys.
Muscular Diesel Engine
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for detailed specs on the Mitsubishi Pajero range.