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The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport has made some strong inroads into the rugged large SUV segment since its Australian launch at the very end of 2015.
Based in part on the Triton ute, the Pajero Sport replacement for the Challenger (a somewhat popular choice among hardcore off-roaders), has immediately outsold fellow newcomers the Ford Everest and Toyota Fortuner, though not the more established Isuzu MU-X.
No doubt people have been drawn to this unusually styled family 4x4 by its razor sharp value-for-money and Mitsubishi’s affordable after-sales care.
Here we test the range-topping Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed, priced at $52,750 plus on-road costs or $54,990 drive-away. This means it undercuts the base Everest Ambiente by about $2000, as well as the mid-spec Fortuner GXL. Sharp indeed.
Unique features found on none of the rivals already mentioned include front- and side-view camera functions, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, DAB+ digital radio, Forward Collision Mitigation, blind-spot monitoring and 18-inch alloy wheels.
This is in addition to standard features such as auto wipers and auto headlights with dusk-sensors, climate control, a naff DVD display screen for back-seat passengers, leather seats with heating, parking sensors and cruise control. You also get seven airbags and a five-star ANCAP rating.
The only major omission is an integrated satellite-navigation system on the touchscreen. The app-based system doesn’t cut it if you go bush and lose signal, does it?
As we found on our recent 4x4 Megatest, the Pajero Sport’s cabin presentation up front is also notably nicer than its immediately obvious ute-based rivals, being closer to softer fare such as the Kia Sorento or more upmarket offerings such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee in terms if design and material use.
It feels properly luxurious for a dressed-up ute, despite wearing the keenest price tag, with supple leather seats and highlights, modern contrast materials and a pervasive feeling of bulletproof fit-and-finish. The ergonomics are also excellent as, unlike many rivals, it has telescopic steering wheel adjustment.
The touchscreen with smartphone mirroring is also thoroughly modern, aside from the lack of sat-nav. The 360-degree camera is great, though the clarity is modest, while the wheel-mounted paddle-shifters are of weirdly high quality. They feel stolen from an Evo X (RIP).
The rear row isn’t so great, though. Taller rear occupants are perched up too high, though kids will no doubt enjoy the commanding view and the seats do recline. There are also no proper rear air vents unlike most rivals, while outward visibility is a little impinged. The middle perch is also on the narrow side, compared principally to the square MU-X.
You do, however, get Isofix child seat anchors unlike the Everest or Isuzu, which is an essential for a family vehicle. The roof-mounted DVD player has limited entertainment potential at this juncture, surely.
Here’s where we get to the first potential proper black mark against the Pajero Sport. Unlike almost all rivals bar the Grand Cherokee, it’s only available as a five-seater here (you can get a seven-seat version overseas). Remember, Mitsubishi still has to sell the ‘regular’ Pajero, and this seven-seat car needs some unique selling-points.
Humorously, the tilt-and-tumble function that flips the Pajero Sport's rear seats forwards is very clever, though there’ll never be cause for people to clamber behind them. The cargo space is a little narrow between the arches, but it's also very long and deep. Tons of space for gear. And there’s a full-size spare under the rear of the car.
Under the bonnet of the Pajero Sport is a fairly small-displacement engine — a 2.4-litre unit making 133kW at 3500rpm and 430Nm from a fairly high 2500rpm. Standard is a class-leading eight-speed automatic transmission with the aforementioned paddles, with a short first and a very tall eighth.
It’s worth noting that the Pajero’s kerb weight is 1992kg, which is 100kg lighter than the Fortuner and more than 300kg lighter than an Everest. Guess losing those two extra seats helps in some ways... Fuel use is a claimed 8.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, and we managed a figure in the low 9.0s. The 68L tank seems too small for explorers.
The 2.4 is an impressively punchy engine with ample torque available later in the rev range as well as down low, and the ability to even get the rear tyres squirming about in 2WD mode (not 4H). It’s also well behaved and tractable around town. Our 0-100km/h test stopped the clock at a shade under 10 seconds, which is sharp for the class.
Around town, the engine is super quiet, quite tractable and the eight-speed auto was well behaved. The braked towing capacity is 3100kg, though if we regularly hauled huge weights we’d consider the Isuzu with its relaxed truck diesel or the punchy Fortuner the slightly better bets based on our back-to-back testing. The Mitsubishi remains grey-nomad-friendly.
Around town, where most buyers spend greater chunks of time, the Mitsubishi picks up sharper bumps more than some courtesy of its larger diameter 18-inch wheels on lower-profile tyres. But it offers a generally decent ride, though can be a little more jittery than the super-pliant Everest. With trailer, its body control degrades a little, but it’s never unruly.
At lower speeds, the hydraulic-assisted steering is one of the lighter offerings out there (electric-assisted Everest aside), which is ideal. On a back road, the Pajero Sport feels rather nimble for a separate chassis off-roader, with sharp turn-in. It’s an easy car to place. That light weight also translates to good stopping power on gravel, while the ESC performed well in gravel during a simulated full emergency swerve and recover.
Downsides are the occasional chop through the suspension into the cabin a higher speeds and some persistent though controllable rack-rattle. The body control is occasionally a little undisciplined next to the Everest, which stays flatter, but the Pajero’s Sport’s car-like multi-link rear end makes it a far more accomplished handler than the Triton.
What about off-road? The Pajero Sport offers ground clearance of 218mm with the Exceed’s side steps — the price you pay for ‘style’. The claimed approach angle is near 30-degrees and departure angle around 25-degrees, though the cheap-looking factory towbar and ball setup hurts the latter notably. Wading depth is 700mm.
The superseded Mitsubishi Challenger was popular among the 4×4 crowd — they’re a common site with lift kits and mud-plugging tyres — and the Pajero Sport successor is equally skilled off the beaten path.
We threw the Mitsu against a range of obstacles including soft sand trails, moguls and divots, an old creek bed that produced about 30 degrees of body camber, slippery log trails, rocky outcrops both up and down, deeply rutted trails to test articulation, steep drop-ins and sharp peaks to test break-overs, a few water crossings with steep and slippery embankments and prolonged hill climbs and descents.
Immediately noticeable was the Pajero Sport’s excellent driving position and the relatively light and vague steering (not a bad thing off-road), hurt only by more invasive, though occasional, rack rattle.
The Pajero Sport offers good throttle response and downhill brake control, while its road-biased 4H system also includes a 4HLc that locks the centre diff. You also get various off-road modes to change throttle and gearing (like the Everest) that puts options in your hands.
On the downside, it failed to clamber up one trail without its rear diff lock on, whereas the Fortuner managed the same bit easily on the same course. Positives include the bluff nose that’s easy to see over, the great side-view camera (albeit with low resolution) and the excellent higher speed bump absorption, albeit redistributed in such a way as to throw off the body control.
The Mitsubishi comes with a five-year/100,000km warranty with capped-price servicing for up to four years with intervals of 12 months and 15,000km. You get one year of free roadside assist.
So that’s the Pajero Sport Exceed. For the class and the price point — where most rivals only offer base or mid-range variants — its cabin presentation and equipment list is hard to top. Especially when you remember that this thing can tow and go off-road farther than any of the urban soft-roaders you see at every school carpark.
If you can deal with only having two rows of seats and don’t carry five lanky people often, then the Mitsubishi is probably the best offering in class, though it lost by a nose to the Fortuner in the bigger test against a wider set of criteria, by group consensus.
This excellence is most marked in the Exceed specification, where its equipment list smashes immediate hardcore 4x4 rivals. Hence the 8/10 score. A great offering all-round.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.