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If you’ve outgrown your large SUV, there’s only one way to move and that’s up. And, two manufacturers battling for your hard-earned rugged SUV dollars are Mitsubishi and Holden. The 2017 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport has reigned supreme in this segment in terms of value for money and drivability, but does the revised 2017 Holden Trailblazer have the goods to knock it off its perch?

The Pajero Sport (previously known as the Challenger) aims to combine value for money, features, off-road equipment and an all-new body in a segment once dominated by vanilla and rugged options that didn’t focus on ride comfort and creature comforts.

Holden’s Trailblazer replaces the Colorado 7 and adopts a more global name for the product. While it’s virtually identical to the Colorado 7 from the rear, the front has received a facelift and the interior has been transformed to offer a greater technology edge.

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The Pajero Sport lost out to the Fortuner in our mega family SUV comparison last year due to the fact it wasn’t available with seven seats at the time. We then pitted it directly against the Fortuner when seven seats were made standard and it nailed the victory, convincingly knocking out the Fortuner.

This time around, the Trailblazer ups the ante with the most amount of torque in this segment and a huge focus on Australian tuned ride and handling, something Holden has spent a lot of time focussing on with cars like the Spark, Astra, Cruze and Commodore. Let the battle begin!

 

Price and specification

Kicking off from $45,000 (plus on-road costs), the Pajero Sport is a value leader in this ute-based SUV segment. The range starts with the GLX (available exclusively as a five-seater) and goes all the way up to the seven-seat Exceed model we’re driving here with a $52,750 (plus on-road costs) asking price.

The entire range comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission only and neither vehicle comes with the option of a manual gearbox.

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The narrow Pajero Sport model range only varies by $7750 between the base and top specifications and given the amount of kit you get in the Exceed model, it’s worth stepping directly to the top of the range.

Standard features include: Automatic windscreen wipers and headlights, LED headlights, leather seats, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, radar cruise control, electric park brake, dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt and telescopic steering adjustment, keyless entry and start, USB, HDMI and auxiliary input, auto dimming rear vision mirror, power windows with driver automatic up and down, privacy glass and electric driver and front passenger seats.

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Mitsubishi has loaded the Pajero Sport with safety equipment too. It comes with autonomous emergency braking, seven airbags (including driver knee airbag), front and rear parking sensors with surround-view camera, blind-spot warning, forward collision mitigation system, trailer sway control and electronic stability control.

There really isn’t much the Pajero Sport misses out on. It’s jam-packed with gear. In terms of capacities, the Pajero Sport can tow a segment leading 3100kg (braked with a maximum ball weight of 310kg) and consumes 8.0L/100km on the combined cycle. But, it only has a 68-litre fuel tank, which means it has a theoretical range of 850km using the combined fuel economy.

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Under the bonnet is a 2.4-litre turbocharged diesel four-cylinder engine that produces 133kW of power and 430Nm of torque. That torque is sent through an eight-speed automatic gearbox that moves 2105kg of kerb mass allowing a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 2710kg and gross combination mass (GCM) of 5400kg.

Front suspension comes in the form of a double wishbone setup with coil spring and stabiliser bar, while the rear uses a three-link coil spring and stabiliser bar setup.

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Holden’s answer to the Pajero Sport starts from $47,990 (plus on-road costs) in LT trim and goes up to $52,490 (plus on-road costs) for the LTZ top-specification being tested here. The entire range comes with seven seats and a six-speed automatic transmission.

Like the Pajero Sport, the $4500 price difference is best spent on the better equipped LTZ model, which gets you the creature comforts you’ll need to make long journeys pleasurable.

Standard kit includes: Automatic windscreen wipers and headlights, remote vehicle start, keyless entry, electric driver’s seat adjustment, leather seats, heated front seats, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, auto dimming rear vision mirror, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth audio and telephone streaming, USB and auxiliary input, single-zone automatic climate control, power windows with auto up/down on all windows and tilt steering adjustment.

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Just like the Mitsubishi, Holden has loaded the Trailblazer with safety technology. It comes with seven airbags (including driver’s knee airbag), forward collision alert, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, trailer sway control and electronic stability control.

Braked towing capacity is limited to 3000kg (100kg short of the Pajero Sport), consuming a greater 8.6L/100km on the combined cycle. Unlike the Pajero Sport, it has a bigger 76-litre diesel fuel tank. Despite consuming more, it can achieve a theoretical 883km on a single tank of diesel.

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Powering the Trailblazer is a segment leading 2.8-litre turbocharged diesel four-cylinder engine that produces 147kW of power and a whopping 500Nm of torque. Given it weighs 2147kg (38kg more than the Pajero Sport), it feels far punchier given the almost 20 per cent torque advantage. It features a higher GVM of 2820kg and GCM of 5700kg.

Trailblazer uses independent front double wishbone suspension and a five-link live axle rear suspension setup.

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Both vehicles are very well equipped when it comes to features and technology, but it’s the Pajero Sport that well and truly trumps the Trailblazer on the value front.

 

Interior

This is arguably the most important component of both cars. It’s where you’ll spend most your time, especially if you use these cars to tow a caravan around Australia or inland to your favourite camp site.

Despite being based off its ute sibling, the Pajero Sport offers the most luxurious interior. It doesn’t look like it’s inspired from a work-oriented utility and instead feels homely and well equipped for its demographic.

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A padded steering wheel sits nicely in hand, while all critical controls are within easy reach for the driver. A simplified centre stack contains the 7.0-inch colour LCD screen that houses the radio, some vehicle functions and smart phone mirroring.

It’s a simple and easy to use system that comes with inbuilt FM/AM and DAB+ digital radio with the ability to display images and external content via a HDMI interface. The cracking eight-speaker sound system offers a great audio experience, which is further backed up by the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

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Unlike the Trailblazer, the Pajero Sport doesn’t have an inbuilt navigation interface. It instead uses GPS hardware (such as an inbuilt GPS antenna) that assists your phone with exact GPS coordinates. It’s then up to your phone to display the map data and uses GPRS to transfer data.

If you don’t live in the smartphone age, it’s something you’ll want to consider. The system can accept most iterations of the Apple iPhone and most Android devices, so it’s not a huge problem, but if a smartphone is a foreign concept, you’ll need to look at an aftermarket GPS unit instead.

It also uses a voice recognition system that works effectively for getting the system to call contacts or adjust vehicle settings. Another press of the voice button activates your phone’s inbuilt voice features for sending text messages or doing a host of other things – a very handy feature.

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Beneath the infotainment screen is a very simple dual-zone climate control cluster. And beneath that you’ll find additional vehicle controls like rear climate control, a rear differential lock switch and heated seats.

Tucked away neatly beneath the climate controls is the four-wheel drive selector knob. It allows the vehicle to switch between four-wheel drive modes (which we’ll cover in greater detail later) and next to that is the electric park brake controller and a set of cup holders, followed by a generously sized centre console.

The front and rear seats are amongst the most comfortable pews we’ve come across. They allow you to sink in nicely and envelop you like a warm hug – especially with the seat heaters on in the first row. Both front seats are electrically adjustable too, which is great.

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While the static paddle shifters behind the steering wheel are pointless, they do come in handy if you’re travelling downhill and need to row through gears for engine braking – and you’ll find yourself doing this a bit given the eight-speed automatic gearbox likes to move through the cogs quite often.

The second row is equally as comfortable, but doesn’t offer as much leg room as the Trailblazer. It’s 10cm shorter and narrower than the Trailblazer, which means it is slightly compromised for leg room – but it’s not a huge issue if you’re carting kids or young adults around.

There are rear air vents that can be controlled by the front row, which provide welcome relief to hot weather conditions. They’re teamed with privacy glass, which adds an element of privacy and cooling from the sun.

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Accessing the third row is quite easy thanks to roll and tumble seats that expose the second-row door for easy entry and exit. The third row is very narrow in the Pajero Sport compared to the Trailblazer and lacks leg room. Again, it’s the type of space more tailored to children than adults. There’s also limited vision out the side windows.

Behind the third row there’s limited storage room with just 131 litres on offer. That space expends to 1488 litres when the second row is rolled and tumbled forward. Total payload comes in at 605kg. After a stack off-road driving, we found dust encroaching on the third row, meaning that dust seals are inadequate around the tailgate.

The Trailblazer takes a slightly different approach to the Pajero Sport. It more resembles its dual-cab sibling, the Colorado. A similar dashboard layout sees an identical steering wheel in front the driver that only offers tilt adjustment. We found it difficult to get it into a position that suited for the seat’s location. Reach adjustment would have helped immensely.

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The cabin also doesn’t feel anywhere near as premium as the Pajero Sport. In place of soft-touch materials in the Pajero Sport, the Trailblazer uses harsher scratchy plastics and instead of an elegant electric park brake, the Trailblazer uses a manually actuated hand brake.

But one of the redeeming features of the cabin is the 8.0-inch MyLink infotainment system that offers a touchscreen LCD screen. It comes with inbuilt AM and FM radio, along with DAB+ digital radio. Unlike the Pajero Sport, it uses an inbuilt satellite navigation system saving the owner data charges.

In addition to the standard equipment, it also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both systems allowing internal navigation use if you have a preferred platform and application.

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It’s an easy to use infotainment system that offers logical menus and navigation. It’s aided by two knobs and several shortcut buttons directly beneath the screen.

Below that is where you’ll find the climate controls. Where the Pajero Sport gets dual-zone climate control, the Trailblazer is stuck with just single-zone automatic climate control. Switches for the heated seats are tucked away behind a hood beneath the climate controls.

Four-wheel drive selected is limited to a small rotary knob next to the handbrake.

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The seats (both front and rear) in the Trailblazer are nowhere near as comfortable as the Pajero Sport. In fact, over time they make the driver and passengers feel quite tired. They’re quite firm and don’t offer a great deal of side support.

It’s the same story in the rear where occupants benefit from air vents and a stack of leg and shoulder room. Like the Pajero Sport, the second-row folds quite easily and makes entry to the third row a breeze.

Also like the Pajero Sport, there’s not a great deal of room for adults in the third row. Where the Pajero Sport was quite narrow and hard to see out of, the Trailblazer feels far wider and offers a heap of cubby holes for drinks and odds and ends, but it’s certainly an area reserved for children or young adults.

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Behind the third row there’s more room in the Trailblazer with 235 litres on offer. That blows out to a huge 1830 litres when the second and third rows are folded flat, trumping the Pajero Sport’s 1488-litre capacity.

There was a very small amount of dust behind the third row, which indicates that sealing is quite good, especially when compared to the Pajero Sport, which was covered in dust after just two days of gravel road driving.

 

Driving dynamics and comfort

While a competent and comfortable interior is a huge driver for customers, it’s the way a car rides and handles on the road that’s likely to seal the deal.

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Against the Fortuner we praised the Pajero Sport for a superior ride that focussed on a softer tune that caters toward on-road comfort as opposed to handling.

While that certainly hasn’t changed, it’s now up against the Trailblazer as its point of reference and that’s where the Pajero Sport faces its greatest challenge. Despite a great chunk of engineering work for Pajero Sport being performed in Australia, it’s Holden’s extensive focus on local ride and handling tuning that sets the Trailblazer apart from the rest.

The core differences between these two vehicles lies in the setup and tuning of the suspension. Both feature double wishbone independent front suspension with coil springs, but it’s at the rear where they differ.

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Pajero Sport uses a three-link live axle setup and the Trailblazer uses a five-link live axle setup. While it’s a minor digression it’s worth detailing exactly what all of this means.

Firstly, a live axle refers to a differential with output shafts directly connected to the wheel hubs. This is different to an independent rear suspension setup where the differential features output shafts, split into half shafts, and allow a pivot point about the external differential housing.

The advantage of independent rear suspension setups is that impacts on one tyre tend not to translate through the components to the other side of the car. The disadvantage is that you can’t get the same type of flexibility and articulation as you can with a live axle.

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Equally, the disadvantage with a live axle setup is that any impacts on one side of the car translate through to the other side. A sudden hit on one tyre can cause unintended toe events on the other tyre, which disadvantages handling and compliance.

With the Pajero Sport, a three-link suspension setup refers to the amount of chassis linkage points connected to the axle. In this case, it uses three linkage points and a coil spring, but no hydraulic damper.

Trailblazer, on the other hand, uses a superior five-link setup that links the axle to the chassis using five points, along with a coil spring.

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Using five links over three gives Holden engineers more flexibility when it comes to tuning the ride and handling. And, that was certainly evident during our testing.

In the urban environment, the Pajero Sport felt like the front end was firmly damped to compensate for a softer coil spring rate at the rear. The result would be compliance over bumps, but a tendency to oscillate at the rear over bigger bumps, resulting in a longer time to settle.

This character trait was most evident when driving on unsealed surfaces. Where the Trailblazer would glide over ruts and corrugations, the Pajero Sport would translate these through the chassis and into the cabin.

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In addition to those ride characteristics, there was occasional kickback through the steering wheel when catching ruts mid-corner. It wasn’t a great issue, but became a bit frustrating after a while.

Where the Pajero Sport wins brownie points is with its four-wheel drive system. It can be driven in two- and four-wheel drive high-range on both sealed and unsealed surfaces. It also has both a centre and rear differential lock, along with a low-range four-wheel drive mode.

The ability to drive in four-wheel drive on sealed surfaces gives an added layer of assurance to the driver, especially when towing or navigating icy or wet roads.

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Throttle response is where the Pajero Sport really falls down. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is fine on the move, but it can be caught hunting for gears and there’s a considerable amount of turbocharger lag from a standing start.

This results in needing to go harder with the throttle to entice a response from the engine. Once on tap, though, it provides a big slab of usable torque to get it moving. We can’t help but feel it would be better sorted with a six-speed automatic and at least 30Nm more torque.

In the urban environment, the Trailblazer really shines with a refined ride and impressive handling dynamics. The electrically-assisted steering rack offers adequate feel and is light enough to easily manoeuvre the big Trailblazer.

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Around town the full force of its 500Nm of torque can really be felt. Throttle response is great and the six-speed automatic is a very well sorted gearbox. Grade logic control has also been finely tuned to shift back through gears when moving downhill. It’s a handy feature especially when towing.

Trailblazer doesn’t get paddle-shifters and while we initially thought they were a pointless feature in the Pajero Sport, they come in handy when travelling downhill with a load on board.

Off the beaten track the Trailblazer’s local ride and handling tune offers a perfect middle ground between ride comfort and sportiness. Sharp throttle response means you can really have fun with the Trailblazer on gravel. It feels like it floats above the road as opposed to grabbing everything it comes across on the surface.

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All round the Trailblazer rides better than the Pajero Sport and that’s thanks to close attention paid to spring rates and the level of damping at the front end. It’s no Rolls-Royce, but it’s certainly comfortable enough to tackle a rutted track.

Where the Trailblazer falls apart is with the comfort of the seats and an inability to enter four-wheel drive mode on sealed surfaces. We found times where the rear could feel a bit skittish under sudden throttle inputs out of corners, where the Pajero Sport would hook up and power through.

It was also a bit dicey at times unladen on gravel where it became a bit of a drift machine. The driving position didn’t help this with the steering wheel feeling too far away. It was tricky to get a comfortable driving position.

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Off-road, the Pajero Sport’s superior four-wheel drive system worked wonders. While the traction control could be a little too intrusive at times, we found it simply meant dialling in a correct four-wheel drive mode to solve the situation. There was almost no situation where locking the rear differential wouldn’t get us out of trouble.

Despite missing the complex four-wheel drive setup of the Pajero Sport, the Trailblazer’s limited slip rear differential with electronic traction control surprised us with its versatility. Using advanced chassis controls it would send torque to the wheel with most traction and would use the LSD to its full advantage.

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Ultimately though, you’d prefer the full suite of four-wheel drive gear in the Pajero Sport over the limited array of equipment in the Trailblazer.

One point worth mentioning here as well is how poor the Pajero Sport’s rear-view camera was. It comes with both a rear-view camera and surround view camera, but the quality was so bad it wasn’t possible to tell what was around the car most of the time.

The Trailblazer’s rear-view camera offered a clear and high resolution view of the area behind the car and well and truly trumped the Pajero Sport’s surround view offering.

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In terms of off-road figures, the Pajero Sport comes with a 30 degree approach and 24.2 degree departure angle. It can wade 700mm of water and has a ground clearance of 218mm.

Trailblazer has a 28 degree approach and 25 degree departure angle, 600mm wading depth and 218mm ground clearance. In most measures, the Pajero Sport offers a better off-road solution.

 

Ownership

Mitsubishi provides a leading five-year/100,000km warranty with the Pajero Sport that demands 12 monthly or 15,000km service intervals.

Over three years, the Pajero Sport costs $1350 to service three times.

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Holden on the other hand only offers a three-year warranty, but also covers 100,000km of travel. Unlike the Mitsubishi, it requires servicing every nine months or 15,000km. That means over three years, it requires four services to the Mitsubishi’s three.

The total cost over three years to service the Trailblazer is $1396.

 

Verdict

With the Trailblazer now ticked off, the Pajero Sport has gone up against its entire field of competitors and in this instance, it has won again.

There’s absolutely no denying that at this price point, the Pajero Sport Exceed represents incredible value for money. It’s loaded with features, standard equipment and a comprehensive set of off-road equipment.

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Not only that, it comes with a five-year warranty and is cheaper to service than the Trailblazer over the same period.

While the Pajero Sport isn’t as refined as the Trailblazer on the ride and handling front, it excels with a comfortable, premium interior. The Trailblazer feels low rent in comparison and isn’t a comfortable car to be seated in over a long drive.

If Mitsubishi was to improve the quality of the surround view camera, give the engine a bit more punch and perhaps work on the car’s ride, there would be nothing to fault with the Pajero Sport.

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