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by Matt Campbell

We’ve extensively tested the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport over the few years it has been on sale in Australia.

We’ve tested it around town and on the freeway, on country back roads, gravel tracks and even over some pretty treacherous terrain off-road. We’ve compared the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport against key rivals such as the Holden Trailblazer and Toyota Fortuner, among others, and it has impressed us time and time again.

But this is the first time we’ve got one in the office with the express purpose of seeing what it’s like as a tow vehicle. It’s something readers have been asking for – we’ve had no end of queries sent in for our series of articles known as The Shortlist, where we pitch the best cars to suit people’s needs – and tow vehicles with serious off-road cred for a budget-friendly price is a common theme.

This thing ticks those boxes – the GLS version we have here is just $48,500 plus on-road costs, and for that money you get a serious off-roader with seven seats, lots of standard equipment (more on that soon) and – theoretically, at least – strong towing.

That’s because it’s powered by a 2.4-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine with 133kW of power (at 3500rpm) and 430Nm of torque (at 2500rpm), which puts it a little low on pulling power when you compare it to the Toyota Fortuner (2.8-litre four-cylinder: 130kW/450Nm), Holden Trailblazer (2.8-litre four-cylinder: 147kW/500Nm) and the Ford Everest (3.2-litre five-cylinder: 147kW/470Nm).

Perhaps what we were most curious about was the eight-speed automatic transmission – there is no manual option available – and in this spec it comes with paddle-shifters.

The tow rating is 3100 kilograms for a braked trailer, or 750kg for a trailer without brakes. Our tow test saw us throw a Haines Signature 492F 16.5-foot boat, which – including the trailer – amounts to about 1700kg – so, hardly pushing the limits of what’s possible, but still with enough mass to illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of the Mitsubishi SUV as a tow car.

It’s clear this isn’t the punchiest ute-based SUV in the class, and you can feel that it needs eight gears to maintain the momentum. In fact, the transmission is quite active, shuffling between the top four gears in order to keep things moving. It isn’t annoying because the shifts are smooth, but the engine noise is noticeable in the cabin, where it usually is impressively muted when the revs are kept in check.

It isn’t a powerhouse of an engine, but given that gearing and the amount of torque it still manages to maintain pace at 100km/h up hills – and that’s all you can really ask of a vehicle like this with something in tow.

It is impressively quiet and nicely refined when not towing, with smooth power build-up despite a little bit of low-rev lag. The paddles are a nice touch, though if you leave the transmission on auto to do its own thing it works intuitively, and it will grade brake on steep declines, dropping back and allowing the engine exhaust braking to assist so you don’t burn out the brake pads.

The ride comfort is exceptionally good – the rear suspension doesn’t jitter, shudder or shuffle over bumps, although at the front end there is still the tendency for the steering wheel to kick back over potholes and road joins at speed.

The steering is nicely weighted, with good response at higher speeds, where there’s good reactivity, while at lower speeds when you’re manoeuvring a trailer into a position the steering is light and malleable, without too much heft to make it difficult to do so.

Vision is good from the driver’s seat, and the side mirrors are wide enough to be able to see what’s going on at the back. The rear-view camera is slightly offset to the side rather than being positioned directly over the top of the tow-ball, and the resolution could be clearer – particularly in low light situations – but it still allows you reasonably good vision of what’s going on behind.

There are no active guidelines (lines move on the display to give you an indication of the angle at which you’re backing in), but all in all, it’s easy enough to line up, and therefore hook up, a trailer.

As for fuel use, Mitsubishi claims 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres on the standard procedure, and while we saw 9.2L/100km when not towing, the weight attached to the back had an effect on the consumption we saw: 14.5L/100km, across a mix of highway and urban driving.

The fuel tank range could be of concern to those who like to venture far and wide, with the Pajero Sport’s modest 68-litre tank making for a, theoretically, unflattering range of about 470km (or 740km without a trailer).

Would I recommend this over a Ford Everest? Nope – not if you regularly tow this sort of weight, or more, and not if you want to do long-distance drives without bringing jerry cans of extra fuel along with you.

But there are still good bones here, with the Pajero Sport offering impressive off-road ability and capability, and plenty of practicality, too.

There are heaps of creature comforts including leather trim, dual-zone climate control, auto headlights and wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, keyless entry and push-button start, digital radio and a touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There is no native/built-in satellite navigation in any spec of the Pajero Sport, so you’ll have to rely on smartphone maps or get yourself a Navman.

There are some little annoyances – like the fact that the only auto up/down electric window is for the driver, and the fact there isn’t much central storage on offer, and that anyone above 165cm might feel like they’re about to bump their head when they sit in the second- or third-row seats – but for adventurous young families, this could prove a great option.

The Bluetooth speaker of our car was also terribly hushed, making it hard to hear the person at the other end of the phone when driving at higher speeds – and that was with the phone volume at full, and the car volume as high as it could be, too. In spite of that the sound system is good, and the Bluetooth connectivity top notch, too.

The Pajero Sport is backed by a five-year, 100,000km warranty and it has a capped-price service program for all of its models. Servicing is due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first, with the program spanning three years or 45,000km, at an average cost of $450 over that period. There’s a 12-month roadside assist plan thrown in at the point of purchase, too.

If you are looking to tow on a regular basis, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport may not be for you. If, though, you want something that can occasionally haul the boat down the coast, or the caravan away for a jaunt with the kids that doesn’t include hundreds of kilometres of servo-free running, it might be just fine. No matter what, though, if you want a great family-focused SUV with serious off-road cred and plenty of kit for the cash, you can’t do much better.

Click the Gallery tab above for more images by Sam Venn.

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