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Road test: Mitsubishi Pajero

By Feann Torr & Peter Maniatis

Mitsubishi PajeroWith 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?

Make: Mitsubishi
Model: Pajero (Exceed)
Price: $69,990
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Engine: 3.2-litre, 16-valve, L4 turbo diesel
Seats: 7
Safety: Driver and front passenger + front side (Thorax) SRS airbags, ABS

Drive

Mitsubishi Pajero

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around town and in built up areas was an absolute breeze, and anyone thinking a diesel engine is a low-tech chunk of outdated technology should think again.

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 with brakes.

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 quick feel.

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.

Mitsubishi Pajero

Though not as heavy-duty as Landcruiser,
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 mudslinger.

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.

Engine

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 it.

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 engine.

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.

Mitsubishi Pajero

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 V8.

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).

Exterior

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.

Mitsubishi Pajero

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 stance.

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.

Interior

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 of luxury.

The seats were comfortable with driver and passenger electrically adjusted heated seats, which made long trips surprisingly endurable.

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.

Mitsubishi Pajero

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.

Overall: 4/5

 

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 frugally.

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.

Pros:

Cons:


  • Muscular Diesel Engine
  • Ride & Handling
  • Versatile interior


  • Dashboard
  • No Sat Nav
  • Rearward vision

Comments on the review? The Car? Anything you like? Email us.


for detailed specs on the Mitsubishi Pajero range.

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