The Mitsubishi Pajero, once a fixture of rural towns across Australia, is running out of time. Incredible, really, when you consider how SUVs continue to grow in popularity, yet in the Pajero’s case time has stood still.
There are no assurances the 2020 Mitsubishi Pajero GLS is the very last one we’ll see, but further updates for Mitsubishi’s long-runner are off the cards.
Model years may tick over, but as global markets like the UK, Western Europe and Japan all say ‘no thank you’ to the Pajero, the chance of seeing significant changes dwindles in line with global sales projections.
Believe it or not, getting this car to review was tough work. The request process started in August 2018, and after almost 12 months of pestering, Mitsubishi Australia finally granted us access. Better make the most of it, then.
With a lineage that stretches back to the first-generation Pajero, revealed at the 1981 Tokyo motor show and sold in Aus’ from 1983, and four generations over the years that followed, the Pajero has earned icon status.
In fact, the current generation alone is something of an icon in itself, arriving in 2006 and given its current styling revisions in 2014. It’s no spring chicken, then, but the best off-road legends tend to have long unbroken runs – think first-gen Mercedes Benz G-Class (40 years and counting) and Land Rover Defender (at 33 years).
For the 2020 model year, Mitsubishi has made a few changes. Most significantly, the previous range-topping Exceed variant has been dropped, leaving a two-model range that starts with the Pajero GLX from $49,990 drive-away, and tops out with the GLS seen here at $56,990 drive-away.
The powertrain is unchanged, meaning the long-running 3.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine continues with 141kW at 3800rpm and 441Nm at 2000rpm. Only one transmission is available, a five-speed automatic, sending power to Mitsubishi’s Super Select II four-wheel-drive system.
Official figures suggest mixed-cycle fuel consumption of 9.1 litres per 100km. During its stay at the CarAdvice garage, the Pajero sipped fuel at 10.8L/100km – if you’re doing more open-road touring, expect a lower figure.
Underpinning the Pajero is an ‘integral frame’ monocoque chassis – not typical of most hardcore 4x4s that use a separate ladder frame, but able to blur the lines somewhat between passenger car comfort and off-road ruggedness. The result is a sizeable four-wheel drive that, even given its age, is thoroughly pleasant to drive.
Acceleration is leisurely, but for a car with the Pajero’s capabilities that’s fine. There are also hints of diesel soundtrack depending on engine load and conditions, but overall the 3.2-litre engine is muted and smooth for its age.
The IVECS II (Innovative Vehicle Electronic Control System) transmission smarts aren’t at the cutting edge of control technology compared to the era in which the system debuted. Adaptive logic and the ability to ‘learn’ driver patterns mean Mitsubishi’s five-speed auto responds favourably to driver inputs without hunting for the right gear or swapping cogs unnecessarily.
For drivers who would rather mete gear changes themselves, a floor-mounted manual mode allows gears to be held as required, which is handy in some off-road situations or when towing.
On the subject of towing, which is a primary purchaser consideration, the Pajero claims a maximum 3000kg tow rating. It pays to keep in mind, however, that up to 2500kg the Pajero carries a 250kg ball limit, at 3000kg the ball limit drops to 180kg – limiting flexibility somewhat.
Unlike most recreational 4x4s such as the Toyota Prado, Isuzu MU-X and even the slightly smaller Pajero Sport, the Pajero runs on fully independent suspension. That helps give it a more settled and stable feel over smaller blemishes in the road surface, more in line with 4x4s like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Land Rover Discovery.
While the Pajero legacy (in more recent times, at least) is forged on its simplicity and dependability, those same provisions cost it points on presentation.
On the inside, the fourth-gen Pajero looks every bit its age. The dash design – one massive tombstone of black plastic – makes no attempts to position itself as a premium product. It’ll survive spills, scuffs, moisture, dust and dirt no worries, but won’t be mistaken for a luxury product.
The newest part of the Pajero’s interior is its 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system loaded with features like DAB+ radio and smartphone mirroring for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but lacking in-built sat-nav or a CD player, which seem like oversights given its propensity for remote getaways.
The driver faces analogue instruments with no digital displays. The darkly shrouded two-dial gauge cluster can be hard to clock at a glance.
Ahead of the driver, there’s no trip computer info or digital speedo readout; however, an LCD display in the centre stack offers some additional info, like barometric pressure, fuel monitoring, time and temp.
Ergonomics aren’t always on point, like the (admittedly minor control) switches hidden from view on the lower dash to the left of the steering column, plus limited seat adjustment (powered up front) and lack of steering wheel reach adjustment mean the Pajero may not be an ideal fit for all drivers.
Despite generous external proportions, the interior may be less spacious than expected. There are no issues up front, but adult passengers in the second row will find the seat base undersized with a lack of under-thigh support, though there is an adjustable backrest.
Getting into the third row is relatively simple, but once there, the tiny dimensions rule the rearmost seats out for all but the most compact passengers. A small, low seat, lack of toe and knee room, and no ability to slide the middle row forward force an awkward side-skewed seating position.
Comfort and convenience are covered by features like single-zone climate control, rear booster controls and overhead ventilation to all three rows, power windows with auto up and down for the driver, cloth and ‘synthetic leather’ seating surfaces, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats, auto lights and wipers, self-dimming interior mirror, HID headlights, and remote central locking with key start.
Items that have gone missing with the removal of the higher-spec Exceed model include a sunroof, leather trim, and sports pedals – but the GLS also gains Rockford 12-speaker audio, an alarm and auto high beam, while also coming in at more than $10K under the old range-topper, which seems an agreeable compromise.
With all three rows of seats in use, there’s barely enough space left to handle a couple of grocery bags. The final row of seats can be stowed flat in the boot floor, which is a fiddly multi-stage process.
Behind the second row, Mitsubishi claims a whopping 1069L to the top of the seats, meaning plenty of useful acreage to pack your luggage into, along with plenty of bag hooks and an included cargo blind. Drop the second row and there’s 1789L, with a load length of just over 1.4m.
On the safety front, Mitsubishi provides six airbags, ABS brakes, traction and stability control, plus three top tether and two ISOFIX child seat mounts for the middle row (positioned inboard and ruling out use of the centre seat).
Against more modern competitors, the Pajero misses out on technologies that are fast becoming commonplace on much cheaper vehicles. Features like adaptive cruise control, attention monitoring, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and autonomous emergency braking are nowhere to be found.
Mitsubishi touts a five-star ANCAP rating, but the assessment is dated from 2011, meaning the data is now considered out of date with the lack of crash-avoidance technology making the Pajero ineligible for a five-star finish under current criteria.
For buyers seeking simplicity, the Pajero’s more basic range of features appeals to staunch traditionalists, but as a flagship vehicle it leaves much to be desired. Particularly amongst peers like the Ford Everest and Toyota Prado, which carry more safety and luxury tech, but also wear more expensive price tags.
Similarly, the way the Pajero GLS comports itself on the road feels much more like past generations of 4x4s and not the newest or most advanced. The engine can’t be rushed, and would rather dig into its torque reserves than fly through its rev range.
There’s around 2300kg of kerb weight to shift, so the Pajero is no traffic light grand prix racer. It needs a moment to really get rolling, but between 1500 and 2500rpm it feels almost unstoppable.
Steering is on the heavy side at low speeds, with an 11.4m turning circle making for a somewhat cumbersome feel in tight quarters, but head onto the open road and it is much more stable and secure as a result.
Ride quality also favours the open road. It’s absorbent enough to soak up jagged rural road surfaces and doesn’t jar or shock occupants.
You can also point it away from made surfaces, with the Super Select II 4x4 system accommodating on- and off-road use with shift-on-the-go ease. To keep fuel use trim in town there's two-wheel drive, and should conditions turn damp there's on-road four-wheel drive for added traction. Head into the rough stuff and 4HLC mode locks the centre diff, while 4LLC adds low-range gearing into the mix for heavy-duty work.
In factory form, there’s 225mm of ground clearance and up to 700mm wading depth should things start to get hairy. While the lack of rigid axles won’t work for rock-hopping traditionalists, the four-wheel independent set-up holds its own on moderate off-road terrain, as does the standard rear diff lock.
As a touring vehicle, travelling noise is low, engine and road intrusion are well managed, though wind noise can factor in depending on the conditions. The block-shaped Pajero isn’t necessarily the most aerodynamically efficient.
Now that the newer Pajero Sport has established itself, it's clear that buyers after a better-equipped, plusher, or more high-tech four-wheel drive have an option. Be that as it may, there’s still a clear audience for, and plenty to like about, the Pajero.
Its amount of time on the ground imparts the perception of having proven itself (recent recall notwithstanding), and certainly on the used market there’s no shortage of examples of the current fourth-gen model with well beyond 300,000km on the clock.
Owners are covered by a five-year/100,000km warranty and capped-price servicing for the first three years or 45,000km set at $479 per visit, occurring at 12-month or 15,000km intervals (whichever comes first) inclusive of all fluids and filters described in the regular service schedule.
Because of their dedicated ‘heavy-duty’ focus, cars like the LandCruiser, Patrol, Prado and Pajero are unlikely to ever be pert driving, easy to park, economy champions. For their target market that’s absolutely ideal, too.
While the sophistication and complexity of rivals continues to expand, the Pajero sticks to the ‘keep it simple’ mantra favoured by regional and remote buyers, and carving out its own niche in the process.
No model can run forever, though, and with production scaling down for overseas markets, eventually Australia is likely to follow suit. Mitsubishi Australia tells us Pajero production will soldier on for a few more years but won't yet commit to an end date for Australia.
The Pajero’s future gets even murkier now that Mitsubishi operates under the control of Nissan. While past concepts have pointed to a next-generation Pajero, the need to scale down development costs has put plans on hold while Nissan and Mitsubishi clarify the direction for Pajero and Patrol replacements.
With sharpened pricing over the years (including the ongoing current offer) and a hard-won reputation, the Pajero makes sense as a sturdy rig for touring Australia from corner to corner reliably and comfortably.
If you’re not swayed by bells and whistles, the Pajero could be just the thing. It won’t stick around forever, though, nor will it have you bristling with joy every time you get behind the wheel, but it will handle anything you can throw at it and come back for more.