We don’t need to go any further than to say this: the 2016 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS is a better buy than it was earlier this year.
The reason? It now has seven seats. That might not have mattered to some buyers in the market for a rugged family SUV, but it definitely matters to the majority of potential customers.
Mitsubishi Australia has said that it expects the two seven-seat models, the GLS and Exceed, to account for about 60 per cent of sales from here on, so it’s clear that buyers will appreciate the more pragmatic options in the range. The brand also claimed, though, that “anecdotally, a high proportion of Pajero Sport customers have said they favour the extra boot space over seven seats”.
So, what does the extra practicality of seven seats cost potential customers compared to the existing five-seat variants, and is it worth the expenditure? The answers to those questions are, respectively: nothing (yeah – extra kit for no extra cash!), and, well, there is no extra expenditure, so it’s a win-win.
The seven-seat layout is reserved for the top two trim grades, GLS and Exceed, and at $48,500 plus on-road costs the GLS model stays at the same price it was when it launched in five-seat guise earlier this year.
That positions the GLS possibly in the sweet spot for the brand, as it gets plenty of stuff that the entry-level GLX misses out on for only $3500 more, and if you can’t stretch to the flagship Exceed at $52,750, you don’t really miss out on much.
As such, the Pajero Sport GLS has leather trim, dual-zone climate control, leather seat trim, auto headlights and wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. All of that stuff comes in addition to the standard kit, including a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and push-button start, digital radio and a touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay.
The cockpit of the Pajero Sport is one of its most surprising elements, because it really doesn’t feel or look anything like the Triton ute upon which it is based. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, because the instruments and the climate controls are shared but the steering wheel is different - check out the inlays on the wheel, which mimic the brand's Dynamic Shield front-end styling - and so is the centre stack and console area.
The media screen is different, too: in the Pajero Sport you get a 7.0-inch touchscreen with a nice, crisp display and very logical menu system, and of course it has the requisite Bluetooth phone and audio streaming capabilities along with extended connectivity for Apple iPhone users (there's no satellite navigation, so you'll need to use your phone maps for that).
There are dual USB inputs in the centre console bin, as well as a HDMI input, and that bin itself is deep and useful, and has a 12-volt outlet, too.
Storage, in fact, is strong: there’s a decent glovebox, good sized cup holders (although they are positioned quite far back, and tall cups may get in the way of resting arms), a pair of mini storage slots next to the inside legs of those up front, and good door pockets with bottle holsters.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel is nice in the hand as well, making it feel upmarket, though the button placement can take a little while to get used to.
The dials of the instrument cluster, and the inner digital display, aren’t quite as plush as the rest of the cabin, and there’s no digital speedometer.
Still, the leather trim looks the business and is nice to the touch, with the stitched leather sections on the doors and the ruched finish on the seats truly make this feel like the cabin of a more expensive car.
There is electric adjustment for both front seats, but no memory settings, and the front seats aren’t heated, either: you have to opt for the top-spec model for that.
One thing that taller occupants may notice is that the head clearance up front isn’t terrific, and it gets a little worse the further you go back.
The second row will see six-footers likely messing up their hair on the headlining, while toe space is very tight for those in the middle row, too. Knee room is fine, but unlike some competitor cars, the middle-row seats don’t slide to allow for better space if required.
Again, there is decent storage in that part of the car, with good door pockets, dual map pockets, and a flip-down centre armrest with cup holders.
There are no low-mount vents, with air flowing from the headlining of the car by way of two outboard vents (there are two in the third row, too, so those right in the back will be comfortable). Further, above the middle seat in the second row there are controls for the fan speed, but not the temperature (there’s an additional control button up front to get air pumping in the back).
The middle seatbelt comes down from the ceiling of the car, which could be painful if you plan to use all seven seats at all times. Further, there are three top-tether anchor points, all of which are positioned above the third row, meaning straps could get in the way of those right at the back (note: you have to fit the outboard top-tether attachments yourself: only the centre attachment is fitted from factory). Both outboard second row seats have ISOFIX anchor points.
Access to the third row can be achieved by flipping either of the 60:40 split second-row seats. The kerbside is the larger section, which seems a little strange given it’s a bit heavier to operate, but both have simple flip and tumble seats that operate in one motion by way of a top lever.
Getting back there isn't too bad, even for big adults. But it is a big step up into the cabin, and while there is a step and a foot-well, little ones may struggle. Big ones, likewise, could have problems when it comes to getting out of the car.
Thankfully the third-row comfort is adequate, with enough knee room for an adult – but again, toe room is tight, and your knees are up at quite an angle. Consider this space better for smaller adults or children, as headroom is tight for anyone pushing past 170cm.
There are two bottle holders in the third row, too, but no child seat anchor points, and shorter kiddies may find themselves wishing they had a better view as the belt-line of the Pajero Sport has quite shallow windows at the back.
Operating those third row seats isn’t as simple as some of the best seven-seat SUVs on the market. The seat backs and bases move separately, meaning it’s a two-stage process, where something like a Kia Sorento, Toyota Kluger or Hyundai Santa Fe offer much simpler mechanisms to raise and lower their third-row seats.
The boot space on offer in the seven-seat Pajero Sport is obviously not as good as that in the five-seat version when all the seats are in play. In fact, the storage area rear of the back seats is quite limited: Mitsubishi claims boot space of 673 litres with five seats in play. UPDATE: Mitsubishi has confirmed that the boot space with all seven seats up is a meagre 131L - better buy a luggage pod (or a trailer!) if you plan to use all seven seats when you go on holidays.
Under the bonnet lies a 2.4-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine, with the only gearbox option being an eight-speed automatic. In this spec, you even get paddle-shifters.
The engine has 133kW of power (at 3500rpm) and 430Nm of torque (at 2500rpm), which puts it a little short of pulling power when you compare it to the Toyota Fortuner (2.8-litre four-cylinder: 130kW/450Nm), and the beefcake Ford Everest (3.2-litre five-cylinder: 143kW/470Nm).
As we’ve found previously, the engine is impressively quiet and nicely refined, revving smoothly despite a little bit of lag down low in the rev range. The paddle-shifters offer commanding response, but if you leave the auto to do its own thing it swaps cogs intuitively: particularly impressive is the way the eight-speeder drops back a gear to help engine brake on steep descents.
In terms of driving differences between the new model and its predecessor, the Pajero Sport GLS with seven seats is 44 kilograms heavier than the five-seat version that was on sale earlier in 2016, but you’d be hard pressed to pick the difference on the road.
Still, it’s not as refined as some less off-road-able SUVs out there. Both the Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9 offer a considerably more pliant ride and notably better steering response. But if putting a little extra arm work at the tiller isn’t a too big deal for you, and if the suspension taking a little longer to settle after a big bump doesn’t ruin your life, then this is better than acceptable.
That said there is kickback from the steering over mid-corner bumps and even on straights if you hit a sharp edge, while sharp speed-humps see the back end pogo up and down when there's only one person on board. With weight on board it’s a bit more settled.
The steering is true enough, if slow to react, and the suspension does a fine job of ironing out the bumps on the open road for something that is as properly capable of tackling the rough stuff: it isn't smooth and can be a little flummoxed by jolting surface changes, but you forgive it a little because you know what it can do off-road. The rear end can be a little skittish on steep corners, too, so be careful in the wet.
Over the base model, the GLS adds a rear differential lock, something that could prove handy if you take this big boy off-road. We took it on some decent dirt roads and the ride comfort was excellent on bumpy and corrugated tracks.
If you plan to tackle even tougher tracks, the Super Select II system allows you to shift between rear-wheel drive (2H), four-wheel drive (4H), four-wheel drive with centre diff locked (4HLc) and low-range four-wheel drive with centre diff locked (4LLc). The latter is designed to offer the maximum amount of traction when you’re negotiating sand, snow and steep ascents and descents – it also has helpers such as hill descent control and hill start assist. Another good bit is that you can switch on the fly from 2H to 4H, and you don’t have to drop it out of 4x4 when you hit the blacktop again.
There’s trailer stability assist that helps to control trailer sway at speeds. On towing, it has a 3.1-tonne braked towing capacity (750kg unbraked), which is the benchmark for the segment. If you really need 3.5-tonne towing, perhaps consider a dual-cab ute.
Mitsubishi still offers a five-year, 100,000km warranty on its full range, and it has a capped-price service program for all its models. Maintenance for the Pajero Sport is due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first, with the program spanning four years or 60,000km. The average cost over that period is $522.50.
The 2016 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS is a great value, properly capable family SUV, and with seven seats it makes an even stronger argument than it already did – our review of the five-seat GLS saw a score of 7.5 out of 10, which we've bumped to 8/10 here. If it isn’t on your SUV shopping list, give it a look.
Click the Photos tab for more images of the 2016 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport by Sam Venn.