I see it immediately: the stricken look on the face of the tradie who’s just parked me in.
You see, he’s just realising now that the owner of the hulking, bullbar-wearing 2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport he’s parked dangerously close to isn’t, in fact, a fellow tradie, but a pregnant woman with a broken foot.
It’s too late, though – he can’t very well admit he profiled me based on my car, and can only compensate me with a sheepish smile and the good grace to avert his eyes as I desperately try to get my very big car out of a very small space.
At its core, the seven-seater Pajero Sport is an affordable family car, but it feels like it might be better suited to the kinds of families that regularly tow a boat, own a full wardrobe of Driza-Bones or holiday on a cattle farm.
That’s probably because this makes no secret of being the SUV version of the Triton ute, with utilitarian styling, a comfortable but basic cabin, and serious ride height and heavy handling. Plus, the car I’m testing here is fitted with an imposing black bullbar.
The Exceed variant on test starts at $57,690 before on-road costs, and offers diesel power by way of its 2.4-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine and eight-speed automatic transmission.
If you want seven seats but for a lower pricepoint, there’s the mid-spec GLS grade for $52,240 before on-road costs.
The four-wheel-drive system allows you to switch between drive modes for optimal traction – from rear-wheel drive, to on-road high-range four-wheel drive, to four-wheel drive with a locked centre differential in high-range and low-range for heavy-going.
There’s also a drive-mode selector with the option of gravel, mud, snow, sand or rock.
A midlife model update in 2020 added some much needed tech – like TomTom satellite navigation, a hands-free power tailgate and a 360-degree camera on the Exceed – while a 2021 line-up shuffle saw the Exceed’s drive-away price rise by $500 to $60,990.
Australia is reasonably well served for big, booming, body-on-frame, diesel off-roaders, with the Pajero Sport joined by the Toyota Fortuner, Isuzu MU-X, LDV D90, Ford Everest and the Ssangyong Rexton.
However, the other brands are worth checking out in tandem with Mitsubishi, as you might find they provide a bit more standard equipment and a more premium feel in the cabin for your spend.
|2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed|
|Engine||2.4-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel|
|Power and torque||133kW @ 3500rpm, 430Nm @ 2500rpm|
|Drive type||Part-time four-wheel drive, low-range transfer case|
|Fuel claim, combined||8.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.2L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up, rear seats down)||131L/1488L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars (2015)|
|Servicing costs||$5990 for 10 years or 150,000km of coverage|
|Warranty||5yr/100,000km or 10yr/200,000km if serviced within the dealer network|
|Competitors||Toyota Fortuner, Isuzu MU-X, LDV D90, Ford Everest, Ssangyong Rexton|
|Price as tested||$57,690 plus on-road costs (+ $3500 bullbar)|
Getting into the car is an exercise in athleticism, with some vaulting required to get oneself up and into the driver’s seat, greatly aided by the grab handles littered around the car’s interior. Conversely, getting out is easier, and you’ll find yourself sliding or jumping out of the driver’s seat in a cavalier fashion in no time.
Once you’re up on the proverbial throne, it feels like you’ve entered another zone entirely. You’re able to make eye contact with dual-cab ute owners and small-truck drivers, and even offer them a knowing wave.
The rear windshield is nice and tall, so you get a greater depth of view at the back, while the side mirrors are huge, meaning side visibility is excellent, too.
However, I relied heavily on the 360-degree camera that’s exclusive to the Exceed grade – and can admit that at times I would have been lost without it, particularly when parking. The view provided to the driver is a composite of a CGI-generated image of the car, paired with real-time footage from cameras placed around the vehicle.
This meant the $3500 genuine Mitsubishi bullbar fitted to the car helpfully featured on the camera display, making my life far easier when attempting to reverse park.
The height of the car – it has 218mm of ground clearance – also means you don’t have to worry about kerbs or raised sections of road.
In the driver’s seat, the car has a comfortable, utilitarian vibe, with the Exceed offering a solid amount of equipment and technology, and a few measured attempts at offering a 'premium' feel.
You’d never accuse it of being luxurious, but the heated leather seats are smooth and practical with understated stitching, and the dash is accented with black gloss plastic and silver trim that keeps things looking polished.
A sizeable centre console houses two cupholders and three USB ports – two compatible with smartphones.
Hit the push-button start and there’s no mistaking this is a diesel car – the grumbling, rumbling feel in the cabin and the dull roaring noise is immediate when you’re idling, but it does tend to level out as the car gets moving.
Straight out of the gate, you’re likely to notice the steering – for me personally, it was arguably the most noteworthy feeling during my time in the Pajero Sport, and something that takes some serious getting used to.
In short: it’s notably heavy and takes brawn to manage, especially in smaller streets. However, I’m more accustomed to medium SUVs and hatchbacks with a light steering feel, so the Pajero Sport definitely felt very ute-y to me (and dual-cab owners might feel right at home).
Swinging out of parallel parks, I found I had to muster as much of my meagre upper body strength as possibly to haul the big Mitsi into line.
I also experienced a bit of a delay in communicating feedback from the steering wheel to the car – usually at suburban speeds. This all but disappears during freeway driving and, as my colleague Kez Casey pointed out in his review, it becomes a little more alert and flighty – likely to respond nervously to even the slightest steering wheel input.
I quickly grew accustomed to it, though, and adjusted my driving style accordingly to give myself more space to make turns and allow more precision when manoeuvring.
The eight-speed transmission does a nice job of effectively shifting through gears without any hesitation or fidgeting. Meanwhile, the engine offers up 133kW of power and 430Nm of torque, and while it handles low-speed traffic well, it can feel somewhat lethargic with moderate to high throttle input.
Still, there’s ample capacity there, it performs well under pressure and it never feels underpowered – it’s just lacking that punchy, peppy feeling in the middle to upper range of acceleration. That’s not necessarily a mark against the car, however, given you’re unlikely to feel much like putting your foot down or speeding around bends.
Much of this is to do with the ride height and suspension feel, which can equate to a top-heavy, wobbly sensation when taking corners or driving over larger bumps at speeds of over 50km/h.
Otherwise, it remains a composed and comfortable car, and I feel a little bit like the princess in The Princess and the Pea by complaining about any discomfort, given you’re so far removed from the road it’s tricky to ascertain any irregularities at lower speeds.
While I didn’t venture off-road for long, dirt roads and some hilly, unpaved areas in the bush were no issue for the Pajero Sport – especially in 4H mode, which allows the car to operate in full-time four-wheel drive.
I was particularly impressed with the fuel consumption of the Pajero Sport. Around town it sat bang on the quoted 8.0L/100km on a combined cycle, and with more freeway driving in the mix that quickly dropped to a low 7.2L/100km, which I felt was very respectable for a car of its size.
That’s a win because good fuel consumption is likely a major reason to buy a diesel car. The other key reason you’re looking at this car is cabin space, and on that front the Pajero Sport has positives and negatives.
The middle row is well equipped with a 150W socket, two USB ports, roof-mounted air vents and an armrest with cupholders.
It’s nice and roomy in there for two people, with plenty of knee room even for lofty folks – although taller people (six-foot and above) might find their head hits the roof because the bench sits quite high in the car. Unfortunately, the middle seat in the second row is a bit narrow, so sitting three across as adults might compromise elbow room.
There are only three spots for child seats in the Pajero Sport, with ISOFIX anchorage points on each of the outboard seats in the second row, and three top-tether restraints over the back of the middle row. That means the third row can only be used for children who don't require car seats.
Obviously, the Pajero Sport is a three-row car, but getting all three rows into place with enough room for all occupants can be a bit of a logistical struggle. I found that everything didn’t fit that neatly together. Having the third row flat with the second row in action requires you to shift the middle row forward in order for things to feel well spaced.
Once again, as a woman lacking in upper body strength, I would have appreciated some electronic levers to adjust the rear rows, given the manual tabs and pulls in both the middle row and the rear row can take a bit of gusto to use (not to mention a bit of back-and-forth action to get everything where you want it).
Getting into the third row is easiest when you fold the middle-row seats forward and in half to create a clear path of entry. Once you’re in there, third-row leg room and head room aren’t all that bad, and the sizeable windows prevent it from feeling dark and cramped.
If you want maximum cargo capacity, it is possible to fold the back two rows to create a positively cavernous compartment, but the floor isn’t entirely flat, with a slight downhill slant.
The Pajero Sport offers a full-size spare wheel under the floor and a solid – if not overachieving – list of standard equipment.
There’s active cruise with distance control, lane-change assist (which sounds an alarm if you’re veering into another vehicle but errs on the subtle side), front seat heaters, the aforementioned overhead camera with rear sensors, and an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
A small complaint – the car never remembered my phone when pairing with Apple CarPlay, ignoring my ‘always enable’ prompts and asking for authentication every time I plugged it in (I had the same issue with my last Mitsubishi, too).
It’s missing any form of active lane-keeping or lane-tracing to keep you centred, and there’s no head-up display, but a large digital speedometer in the centre of the driver display is large enough to compensate.
There’s also autonomous emergency braking but, fair warning, I found it quite terrifying – sounding a loud alarm and slamming the brakes on in traffic when I came a little close to a car in front at a low speed.
Mitsubishi's 10-year, 200,000km warranty is a drawcard for anyone happy to service exclusively within the Mitsubishi dealer network, but those who want to use their own mechanic will receive five years or 100,000km.
Scheduled servicing for the Pajero Sport totals $5990 for 10 years of coverage, with each individual visit ranging between $399 and $699, plus a one-off $999 spend for the 120,000km service.
Despite initially taking issue with some of the Pajero’s less refined qualities – the steering, the fiddly rear rows, that trademark diesel grumble – I came away surprisingly charmed by this car.
It’ll have you feeling like you can tackle a rocky mountain outcrop at a moment’s notice, squeeze in a mountain of rubbish, furniture or gardening goods without fretting about space or mess, take your family (and pets) away for a weekend in the country, or simply amble around town without blowing your budget on fuel or contending with kerbs and potholes.
And even if you don’t require that bullbar around town, it adds a certain aesthetic edge (and some strong tradie energy).