Mitsubishi has finally taken the wraps off the Challenger replacement and it's called the Pajero Sport. We hop in for a drive.
It’s a segment that barely existed in Australia several years ago — an off-road capable SUV based on a commercial vehicle. But, fast-forward to today and the segment includes vehicles like the Ford Everest, Toyota Fortuna, Holden Colorado 7, Isuzu MU-X and now, the Triton-based 2016 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.
The SUV segment as a whole has seen a 9 per cent growth in Australia over the past year, with SUVs now commanding a 36 per cent market share. So it’s easy to see why car companies are scrabbling over their next SUV idea.
More: Read more about Pajero Sport's five-star ANCAP safety rating
More: Read more about Mitsubishi Pajero Sport safety technology
More: Read more about Mitsubishi Pajero Sport pricing and specifications
The Pajero Sport sits on an all-new architecture compared to its Challenger predecessor and uses Triton-underpinnings at the front, with a new rear end from around the B-pillar rearward.
In fitting with its new platform, the name has also changed from Challenger to the vehicle's global name, Pajero Sport, placing it in the Mitsubishi lineup as a sub-Pajero offering that looks different but features the same off-road credentials.
Starting from $45,000, the entry-level Pajero Sport undercuts its competitors with the automatic-only GLX, moves up to $48,500 for the mid-specification GLS and tops out at $52,750 for the Exceed. All prices exclude on-road costs.
From the outside, the Pajero Sport presents with an ambitiously styled front-end. The sharp angles and swooping lines certainly help this SUV stand out from the crowd. A great deal of emphasis was placed on making the front-end look unlike anything else on the road and we reckon Mitsubishi has certainly achieved that.
The rear on the other hand can take some time to become used to. The reverse Volvo look almost resembles a teardrop (Spanish gangster, anyone?) and features a progressive LED bank that actually looks pretty interesting at night.
Launching with a number of accessories, the Pajero Sport is likely to be kitted out by owners wanting to personalise their ride. Buyers can opt for a bull bar, padded wheel arches and a number of other cosmetic highlights, including a functional under body protection kit for those wanting to partake in some serious off-roading.
Inside the cabin it looks similar to the Triton, but features higher quality materials with a greater focus on luxury. The gear shifter has been changed for a shorter, stemmed unit and the manually operated handbrake has been swapped for an electronically controlled unit to increase space.
Also new is the seven-inch infotainment system that features a host of new technology across the range. In addition to the usual AM/FM, the system also comes with DAB+ digital radio and the ability to add applications. Even better is the Apple Car Play and Android Auto functionality that works very well. A voice recognition feature allows you to use the vehicle's onboard voice control or transfer to that of the mobile phone. There are also two USB ports for device connectivity and one HDMI port for video streaming.
The doors close with a confident thud and there is plenty of leg and headroom in both the first and second rows. Even taller passengers will find the space quite cavernous. The car doesn’t feel as wide as the Everest, but there is sufficient room to comfortably fit two adults side-by-side — a third would be a squeeze.
Three critical elements of the equation that are missing from the Pajero Sport are second-row air vents, a third row of seating and 12V power sockets in the second row. While a third row is available in Thailand, Mitsubishi Australia didn’t think there would be sufficient demand for a seven-seat option at launch, but says it is coming.
We found that during the launch program, it could become quite stifling on a warm day in the second row if the two front central air vents weren’t pointed toward the second row. This would be exacerbated even further on a genuinely hot summer day or with a full complement of passengers.
Our extensive drive program allowed us to spend time behind the wheel, in the front passenger seat and also in the second row. Equally as impressive across all three positions was the comfort of the pews. The newly designed seats feature extra bolstering and cushioning to help improve comfort levels.
The second row offers a recline feature, 60:40 split-folding and also comes with two ISOFIX points (and three tether points) that can operate independent of each other even if the 60 per cent portion of the seat is folded. Cargo capacity is an impressive 673 litres with the second row in place. That space increases to 1624 litres when the second row is folded.
The entire range is powered by the Triton’s diesel engine, which is a Euro 5 compliant 2.4-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel that produces 133kW of power and 430Nm of torque. The engine is mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission — a Mitsubishi first. Mitsubishi’s new gearbox helps reduce fuel consumption by 17 per cent in comparison to Challenger, now sipping an ADR-claimed 8.0L/100km across the range in comparison to the Challenger’s 9.8L/100km in automatic trim.
The new gearbox is a slick-shifting unit that can be controlled automatically or via statically mounted paddle shifters. It manages to offer quick gearshifts that keep the torque momentum flowing as the car moves through gears.
It never feels like it’s in the wrong gear and will happily use the engine's low-end torque as opposed to constantly hunting for lower gears. The only time it felt fussed was during sand driving when it was in a low-range mode where action only began from third gear onward.
From the driver’s seat, visibility is excellent out the front and sides. Rearward visibility can be compromised at times by second row passengers, but the large wing mirrors help account for the lack of vision.
The hydraulically assisted steering rack features a class-best turning circle of 11.2 metres and offers a tight steering ratio to prevent oversteering during cornering or tight turns.
To put the Pajero Sport through its paces, our drive program included time at the Stockton Sand Dunes and it highlighted the impressive nature of the four-wheel drive system. Featuring a predominantly two-wheel drive arrangement (with drive to the rear wheels), a dial allows the driver to change between two- and four-wheel drive modes.
A further turn of the dial changes to a four-wheel drive mode with the centre differential locked, while a final turn engages the low-range transfer case with the centre differential locked. GLS and Exceed models also get a rear-differential lock.
Similar to the Everest, the Pajero Sport uses a computer-controlled, user-selectable push button for off-road modes. The driver can switch between gravel, snow, sand and rocks, which allows the vehicle to vary stability control intervention and throttle sensitivity.
Strangely, the mode selection system can’t be used independently of the four-wheel drive selector. The driver first needs to select the four-wheel drive mode before varying the off-road modes. But, hill descent control does work without the centre differential locked or a low-range mode selected.
We also spent some time traversing rough, rocky terrain in the Olney State forest and came away impressed with the wheel articulation and 218mm ground clearance. Also worth noting is the 30 degree approach and 24 degree departure angles, along with 23 degree break over angle and 700mm wading depth.
On sealed roads, the Pajero Sport’s ride really shines. The Triton’s leaf-sprung rear-end has been swapped out for a three-link coil sprung suspension layout. The advantage is two-fold on the ride and handling front. Not only does the Pajero Sport ride softly over smooth surfaces, it also sits respectably flat through corners.
Additionally, the steering remains communicative and has feel about centre, which is missing from other vehicles in this segment. The only issue that presented itself with the suspension was reverberation through the cabin following sharp bumps while on the move.
A very quiet cabin atmosphere at both city speeds and highway speeds bolstered that smooth ride. There was some engine noise intrusion as the revs increased, but nothing overly noticeable.
The variation between GLX, GLS and Exceed comes down to features. The Exceed comes with all of the gear and a number of safety items not seen on most of its competitors. Some of these include radar cruise control, forward crash mitigation, blind spot monitoring and a new safety technology that prevents a driver from accidentally pushing the throttle when there is an object in front of them.
The feature highlights include:
GLX (priced from $45,000):
GLS (over and above GLX) (priced from $48,500):