5 / 10
Sounds like a truck, but it’s as tough as nails
Mention Mitsubishi Pajero to someone and guaranteed, the photo above is what will pop into their mind. Mention Commodore however and there could be a myriad of designs which they remember. Yes, the Pajero has been with us in a form like this for a very long time. Small tweaks along the way haven’t detracted from its attractiveness, however it hasn’t really changed much over the past decade.
It still sells, though, with Mitsubishi’s 5/10 Diamond Advantage warranty a keen deal maker. In 2009 it also receive a major power boost in the form of the 4M41 Common-Rail DI-D engine, which bumped power and torque by over 18 percent from the previous model. But as far as the interior goes, not a lot has changed. There’s still some faux-wood grain on the Exceed model (which we have on test), the same shaped dash as previous and basic interior dimensions remain the same.
While that’s not a bad thing, in that the interior is spacious and extremely comfortable, if you have a family like mine, there is a major drawback. The boot space is excellent, at 1050-litres when the third row is packed away. But if you’ve got a couple of young kids and then you have two more people, like the in-laws, who decide to come along with you, then you’ll need to utilise that third row.
Herein lies the problem: unlike most of its rivals, the Pajero’s sixth and seventh seats cannot be utilised independently. This means that with six people on board, you can’t bring a pram with you, as it won’t fit behind the third row. Toyota Prado and Land Rover Discovery 4, for example, allow the sixth seat to be used by itself, but a pram will fit alongside the seat, as well as having enough room for shopping and other sundry items behind the seat. This limits the Pajero’s ultimate practicality, however the rest of the interior has little to complain about.
There’s heaps of storage, good sized cup and bottle holders, grab handles for entry and egress, and decent quality leather covering the seats. Of course, the instrumentation and dash shape have been with us for some time now, but somehow it hasn’t dated too badly, the only exception being the screen at the top of the centre stack – a new LCD display would be good.
The Rockford Fosgate stereo is brilliant, and quite easy to set up using Mitsubishi’s Multi Communication System (MMCS), which is a touchscreen that controls radio, SatNav, DVD, reversing camera (which has a fantastically wide angle) and other functions. The boot mounted subwoofer adds to the punchiness on offer, too.
The carpets can be difficult to remove sand from, as it tends to lock into the fibres, however the seats are easy clean and very comfortable in all three rows. The Exceed specification tries to play the luxury part, however it would have been good to skip on the wood inserts at the top and bottom of the steering wheel – all they do is make things slippery, which can be dangerous.
The reason is you’ll be doing plenty of wheel twirling, as the Pajero, like its Triton stablemate, needs plenty of turns from lock to lock. Off road this isn’t really an issue and the reduced steering effort can sometimes be good, however on road it’s wearisome, especially in carparks where overcoming its slightly wide 11.4m turning circle can be an issue. Thankfully, you get a decent amount of feel through the steering. You also get good feel through the brakes, which work quite well, although when really tested, they will heat up and pedal travel increases ever so slightly.
Dynamically, the Pajero is fairly good for a large four-wheel-drive. Aside from the steering, it turns in without too much fuss, and handles quite well, exhibiting body roll as you would expect and keeping a predictable neutral-to-understeer balance the whole way through cornering. It rides firmly, and sharp ridges will cause it to jolt slightly, but it’s never jarring or too uncomfortable.
The biggest downfall of the Pajero, though, is the engine. Despite having plenty of grunt and accelerating quite well, there’s a constant reminder of its truck-like engine coming through the firewall, with the rattly diesel always letting you know what revs it’s at, not by looking at the tacho, but by its volume. Put it this way, a 2004 Toyota Prado diesel sounds more refined, and in 2010, this engine simply does not cut it. The only redeeming feature is it achieves reasonable fuel economy for such a heavy beast. On test this week, with our off road expedition included, it used 11.2-litres/100km.
On paper figures are actually quite good, with 147kW and 441Nm, and in practise, they help to move the 2350kg bulk of this car along fairly spritely. But having the droning, rattly sound always there doesn’t sit well in a $77,000 four-wheel-drive. But what this four-wheel-drive does do well is, erm, four-wheel-driving.
The suspension, which on road is merely average, has excellent travel, even with independent front and rear axles. Ground clearance of 225mm and a wading depth of 700mm means it’s up there with the big boys. Even when bouncing across rutted sand, the wheels quickly followed the surface, ensuring power was always getting to the ground. In some instances the ESC decided to cut in, but it never really hindered things, just kept the car straight and true. In rocky conditions it’s worth its weight in gold, as it clamps down wheels losing grip and as soon as it senses they’ve gripped again, it lets go, in split second timing.
Hill climbing in high-range on powder-soft sand wasn’t an issue as it has been with other diesels, and in low-range it is unstoppable. The optional rear diff lock would only make things better. Rather than upshifting and killling off power, the automatic holds onto the gears in manual mode, too.
If you’re buying a car that will comfortably go anywhere, but also haul people for the city trek, then the Pajero Exceed will suit your purpose. But if it’s refinement you want, then you’re best to look elsewhere. It has a better interior and drives better than Nissan’s Patrol, but it’s also a few thousand more, which puts it right into Prado VX territory. Land Rover’s Discover 4 can be had with all leather for a smidge over $71,000, and for that you’re getting a highly refined drive and off-road credentials which will match the Pajero.
Of course, Mitsubishi counters with a few more interior gagdets than both the Prado and Disco, as well as a far superior warranty, but its interior is nowhere near as flexible. It is a good looking machine, and off road it’s formidable, but we’ll be watching keenly for a complete redesign – it’s well overdue.
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*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.