Is Mit­subishi’s Pajero Sport ready to rule the roost?

If and when Mit­subishi re­tires its Pajero, the Pajero Sport will be left to look af­ter Mit­subishi’s fortunes in the 4x4 wagon mar­ket. Is it up to the job?

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS FRASER STRONACH PHO­TOS MARK BEAN

WITH THE in­clu­sion of a third-row seat to its rel­a­tively new Pajero Sport, Mit­subishi now has two off-road ca­pa­ble, dual range, three­row 4x4 wag­ons in its show­room, and they are both Pa­jeros. It begs the ques­tion, why is the ‘old’ Pajero – so long in the tooth – still around? And can the Tri­ton-de­rived Pajero Sport step up to take its place? We’ve driven them side-by-side to find out.

When the rev­o­lu­tion­ary NM Pajero de­buted in 1999 it was well ahead of its time. In­deed, even the Range Rover of the day, gen­er­ally ac­knowl­edged as the in­no­va­tor of the 4x4 world, still re­lied on tra­di­tional sep­a­rate-chas­sis con­struc­tion and live axles at both ends – it wouldn’t ‘catch up’ with the NM’S ground-break­ing mono­coque con­struc­tion and fully in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion un­til 2002.

The NM was a com­plete de­par­ture from all pre­vi­ous Pa­jeros dat­ing back to the NA of 1982, all of which had a sep­a­rate chas­sis with a live axle at the rear, ini­tially on leaf springs and then on coils. So what bought about the rev­o­lu­tion­ary change with the NM? In a word: Dakar.

Mit­subishi first en­tered what was then called the Paris-al­ger­dakar in 1983 with its then brand-new Pajero win­ning both the Pro­duc­tion and Marathon (pro­duc­tion mod­i­fied) classes

with a near stock-stan­dard ve­hi­cle. Two years later a mod­i­fied pro­duc­tion Pajero won out­right, but by that time the writ­ing was on the wall for pro­duc­tion-based ma­chines with the emer­gence of the pur­pose-built (so fast they had to even­tu­ally be banned) Group B rally cars, such as the Porsche 959.

To com­bat this Mit­subishi de­buted its first built-for-rac­ing Dakar pro­to­type in 1987, the suc­ces­sors of which went on to win Dakar out­right in 1992 and 1993. Wins in 1997 and 1998 were fol­lowed with a mod­i­fied Pajero Evo­lu­tion, ef­fec­tively a lim­it­ed­pro­duc­tion ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial loosely based on the ear­lier pro­to­type cars and de­signed to cir­cum­vent new race reg­u­la­tions.

Think­ing what was good enough to win this most gru­elling of all long-dis­tance ral­lies should be tough enough for ev­ery­day use, Mit­subishi then set about build­ing a new Pajero in­spired and val­i­dated by its Dakar win­ners. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, the NM’S dou­ble wish­bone front sus­pen­sion and multi-link rear sus­pen­sion were de­vel­oped us­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence gained with Dakar-win­ning cars. For the sus­pen­sion to work ef­fec­tively, Mit­subishi turned to an all-steel mono­coque con­struc­tion as per the Pajero Evo­lu­tion.

The NM’S mono­coque was claimed to have an as­ton­ish­ing three-times the tor­sional rigid­ity of the pre­vi­ous Pajero’s body-on-chas­sis ar­range­ment, while the fully in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion of­fered more wheel travel than the out­go­ing rear live-axle chas­sis.

The fact that 17 years later (see ‘Time­line’ side­bar p35) the NM’S ba­sic plat­form still un­der­pins the Pajero of to­day is proof of the sound­ness of the de­sign and of the en­dur­ing value of mo­tor­sport as an automotive de­vel­op­ment tool.

As good as the Pajero’s chas­sis is there are hur­dles ahead for its ag­ing 3.2-litre diesel, due to ever-tight­en­ing ex­haust emis­sions reg­u­la­tions. The now im­mi­nent Euro 5 reg­u­la­tion will be cleared by fit­ting a diesel par­tic­u­late fil­ter be­fore year’s end, while Euro 6’s tougher NOX lim­its will re­quire SCR (Ad­blue) or sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy on all diesel en­gines, es­pe­cially an older de­sign like the 3.2, by mid-2018.

Will that be the end of the Pajero as we know it? Of­fi­cially the word is: “Mit­subishi Mo­tors will con­tinue to sell and make im­prove­ments to the cur­rent model for the fore­see­able fu­ture”.

This may be true, but there’s much spec­u­la­tion that the Pajero won’t ex­ist be­yond Euro 6 and that Mit­subishi’s fortunes in the 4x4 wagon mar­ket will be left to the new Pajero Sport. Can the Pajero Sport fill the Pajero’s very big boots?


THE Pajero Sport’s 2.4-litre diesel – a brand-new de­sign and mated to an eight-speed au­to­matic gear­box – is a world apart from the Pajero’s 3.2-litre diesel and fivespeed au­to­matic.

In very much a sign of the times the Sport’s small diesel comes close to match­ing the max­i­mum torque of the onethird-big­ger Pajero diesel by claim­ing 430Nm against the big­ger en­gine’s 441Nm, even if it takes an­other 500rpm (2500 v 2000rpm) to achieve that max­i­mum fig­ure. The 2.4-litre en­gine gen­er­ates 133kw ver­sus 147kw for the 3.2litre, but tellingly the big­ger en­gine has to rev harder to get to that peak power fig­ure. An­other way to look at the dis­parate tech­nol­ogy on of­fer here is that a 3.2-litre diesel in the same state of tune as the Sport’s 2.4 would make 175kw and 570Nm. Sounds tasty, doesn’t it?

What’s cru­cial here is that the Pajero is a sub­stan­tial 230kg heav­ier the Sport, and it lacks the ad­van­tage of the Sport’s ad­di­tional and closer gear­box ra­tios. Pedal to the metal from low speeds there’s not much be­tween the two, but once the Sport gets into its stride it’s no­tice­ably quicker. The Sport’s smaller frontal area would also work to its ad­van­tage once you get to speeds (gen­er­ally above 70km/h) where aero­dy­nam­ics play an in­creas­ingly sig­nif­i­cant part in over­all per­for­mance.

The Sport’s 2.4 is also qui­eter and smoother than the Pajero’s 3.2. In-line four-cylin­der en­gines have an in­her­ent dy­namic bal­ance prob­lem – the big­ger they are the more they vi­brate, and there’s only so much bal­ance shafts can do.

The Pajero’s gen­eral re­fine­ment also suf­fers against the Sport due to its now-old five-speed auto, which can’t match

Iron­i­cally, the Pajero feels sportier than the Sport

the fast, smooth and more ‘in­tel­li­gent’ shifts of the Sport’s much newer eight-speed. With less weight to carry around and less air to push out of the way, it’s no sur­prise the Sport is also more eco­nom­i­cal.


THE Pajero Sport may be ‘new’ com­pared to the Pajero, but it re­lies on an ‘old-school’ sep­a­rate chas­sis, which is not a sur­prise given it’s de­rived from a com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle, namely the Tri­ton ute.

The Sport im­presses with a ride that’s gen­er­ally smoother and qui­eter than the Pajero. One of the ben­e­fits of body-on-chas­sis con­struc­tion is that road noise and harsh­ness is eas­ier to iso­late than with a mono­coque, and you can cer­tainly hear and feel that dif­fer­ence with these two.

In com­par­i­son, the Pajero has a firmer, sharper ride, but it’s tighter and crisper in its gen­eral road feel. It’s also more sta­ble on rough roads, es­pe­cially at higher speeds. Back-to-back with the Sport you can feel the Pajero’s Dakar breed­ing. Iron­i­cally, the Pajero feels sportier than the Sport.


NEI­THER the Pajero nor Pajero Sport are ab­so­lute lead­ing edge when it comes to off-road per­for­mance, but both are still more than ca­pa­ble off-road and are cer­tainly up to the de­mands of any keen recre­ational 4x4 en­thu­si­ast.

De­spite be­ing dif­fer­ent at the very core of their re­spec­tive de­signs the over­all re­sult of what they can do off-road is very sim­i­lar, and they also get there in a sim­i­lar way.

Both have Mit­subishi’s unique Su­per Se­lect 4WD sys­tem, which is ef­fec­tively a full-time sys­tem with the op­tion of 2WD. The cen­tre diff is a sim­ple me­chan­i­cal af­fair (no self-pro­por­tion­ing or self-lock­ing) but the driver can eas­ily lock or un­lock the cen­tre diff with a turn of the Su­per Se­lect dial. For some­one who knows what they are do­ing, Su­per Se­lect is a great sys­tem.

Both the Pajero and the Pajero Sport also have a driver-switch++ed rear locker, but when the locker is en­gaged the trac­tion con­trol is can­celled across both axles, not just the rear. This means the locker isn’t al­ways a ben­e­fit – some­times it helps, some­times it hin­ders.

The Pajero, with its fully in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion, is more

The Pajero feels like it’s ready to go around again for an­other decade

dra­matic off-road in terms of lift­ing wheels than the live-axle Sport, but it coun­ters with sig­nif­i­cantly less front over­hang, a lit­tle more clear­ance and bet­ter vi­sion for the driver. The Sport comes back with a much deeper crawl ra­tio thanks to its eight­speed gear­box. In­ter­est­ingly the two share a near iden­ti­cal wheel­base – the Sport’s 2800mm is just 20mm longer than the Pajero.


BE­FORE you even climb aboard you can no­tice the gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ence. The Sport has a prox­im­ity key, so you only need it on your per­son for the car to un­lock; with the Pajero you have to press a but­ton on the key fob. Once in­side, the Sport has push-but­ton start where the Pajero re­quires you to in­sert the key in an ig­ni­tion switch. There’s no reach ad­just­ment for the Pajero’s steer­ing wheel, ei­ther.

But that’s where the Sport’s ad­van­tages, if in­deed these things are ad­van­tages, end. The Pajero’s cabin is far more airy and spa­cious, and the driver’s space isn’t com­pro­mised by ridicu­lously wide cen­tre con­sole, which tall driv­ers will find an­noy­ing in the Sport as it im­pinges on leg space.

The Pajero’s sec­ond-row seat is also con­sid­er­ably big­ger than the Sport’s, while the dif­fer­ence with the third-row is even more ap­par­ent. Where the Pajero’s third row will take adults, even if it’s a squeeze, a nor­mal-size adult sim­ply can’t fit in the Sport’s third row. In fact, the Sport’s third row is only re­ally suitable for young chil­dren, and with the third-row folded away the Pajero has far more lug­gage space than the Sport.

The Sport comes with five seats in its base-spec model, whereas all three Pajero grades have seven seats, which helps to re­dress the bal­ance if you don’t need seven seats.

All Pajero and the Pajero Sport mod­els have five-star AN­CAP safety, de­spite the top-spec Sport be­ing fit­ted with high-end safety equip­ment like au­ton­o­mous brak­ing – an­other sign of the in­ad­e­quacy of the cur­rent AN­CAP sys­tem.


BOTH have sim­i­lar tow rat­ings (3100kg for the Sport; 3000kg for the Pajero), a prac­ti­cal and iden­ti­cal wheel and tyre spec (265/60R18), and a full-size spare. While a 20-litre big­ger fuel tank (88L v 68L) is a bonus for the Pajero and more than com­pen­sates for its ex­tra thirst.

Both have prac­ti­cal en­gine bays, though there’s more space for an ex­tra bat­tery un­der the bon­net of the Pajero than the Sport. The Sport coun­ters by draw­ing its in­take air from the in­ner guard, whereas the Pajero’s air in­take is un­der the bon­net lip – although the en­gine is pro­tected by a wa­ter drain be­tween the in­take and the air fil­ter.


YOU only have to look at the cur­rent pric­ing to see the most ex­pen­sive Sport, even with its far more ex­ten­sive equip­ment list, is cheaper than the base-spec Pajero.

In essence the Sport is a much smaller wagon than the Pajero, so it can never fill the role of its older brother even if that brother is re­tir­ing. Not that the Pajero Sport is a bad thing, far from it. It’s just in a dif­fer­ent – and smaller – class.

For its part, the Pajero feels like it’s ready to go around again for an­other decade. What the Pajero sim­ply needs is a pow­er­train that meets the up­com­ing reg­u­la­tions, and Mit­subishi could do a lot worse than fit­ting the one from the Sport.

The Pajero is still keen to lift a leg.

Not old, just older; stal­wart Pajero will fall foul of Euro 6 rules.

The Sport (be­low) has less space for peo­ple and lug­gage.

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