JOHANNESBURG - I’m not a marketing person by any means but sometimes I wish I was, not just because the dark side, as we call it in the industry, generally pays well but because sometimes you drive a vehicle and can’t understand why there aren’t more of them listed on the monthly sales figures.
That’s certainly the case with Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport which remains a perennial underachiever against the likes of Toyota’s Fortuner and Ford’s Everest.
And it’s not because of a lack of comfort, ability or especially off-road performance, it’s just one of those things that makes you scratch your head after having spent time driving it, despite having won Car Magazine’s best Large SUV/Crossover Top 12 Best Buy award.
Like its competition, it’s bakkie-based on the Mitsubishi Triton which I feel should also be doing better in that tough segment.
The recent styling upgrades have made it a lot less polarising, the imposing front certainly showing it means business with slim angled headlights, chrome ticks and a large bumper. The rear I’m not that certain about, it’s as though a lot of attention was focused on the front and someone had to finish on a deadline and ended up with an anime-esque type design.
Not in an offensive way and I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it wouldn’t put me off buying it.
The cabin upgrade makes it more modern with a full-colour 20cm touchscreen, leather, multi-functional leather steering wheel that’s tilt and telescopic adjustable and chrome inserts, it's a pleasant place to spend time on the road.
And because connectivity is no longer an option, Bluetooth with voice control comes standard as does smartphone-link display audio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Exceed model, on test, includes remote-control connectivity, electronic tailgate and sliding sunroof.
The Pajero Sport also has a proper third row of seats that fold into the floor when not in use and while adults will be okay on shorter trips with their knees pointing skyward, it’s mostly the shorties that would sit there.
Under the hood is the tried and trusted 2.4-litre turbo-diesel plant that’s good for a solid 133kW and 430Nm coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Our four wheel drive test car was fitted with Mitsubishi’s excellent Super Select II 4WD system with Electronic Off-road Assistance, Hill Descent control (between 2km/h and 20km/h) and locking rear differential.
The Pajero Sport impresses with its on-road manners and acoustic dampening with very little engine or road noise intrusion.
For a ladder frame set-up the engineers have managed to find a pleasant balance although the softer suspension does make it roll somewhat in corners at speed and it also wallows slightly in S-bends. Given that as daily family transport, long road trips and weekends doing off-road trails will be its primary role, this takes nothing away from the complete package.
There’s enough grunt in the engine to easily keep you up to speed on the highways, the gearbox providing only a hint as it switches gears when you accelerate to pass slower traffic or gears down on uphills with the cruise control set.
Where I find the Pajero Sport to be particularly outstanding is off the black stuff.
The Super Select system sets it apart from any of the competition. It’s easy to set with the four wheel drive selector dial that gives you the option to switch between 2WD H, 4WD and 4WD high and low with a locked centre differential. There’s also a rear differential lock, all of which means that there’s hardly a place which you won’t be able to reach especially in the rock setting. There’s also the option of gravel, mud/snow or sand.
A 30 degree approach angle, 24.2 degree departure angle and 23.1 degree ramp breakover angle doesn’t do it any harm in the 4x4 stakes either.
I took it to a track just outside Pretoria, my fridge plugged into the 150W inverter plug, with a couple of mates driving the usual suspects. We drove the same lines mostly opting for the more difficult one, just because we could. The Pajero Sport didn’t outperform them by a significant margin but it did do so with a lot less wheel spin, dust and drama.
I opted out of one obstacle because I didn’t want to be “that guy” who had to make the call to the fleet manager and explain the underbody and panel damage. The others had some close calls and as a passenger I was sorely tempted afterwards to show them but discretion was the batter part of valour in this case.
One thing the Pajero Sport (and Triton) does lend itself to is fitting bigger tyres without any modification. I know a couple of guys who have slotted 33-inch mud tyres to their rigs and combined with the Super Select system their off-road ability increases dramatically.
They’re the kind of people who prefer a tough challenge to stressing about warranties so before you do, check with the manufacturer.
The Pajero Sport provides very decent combination of refinement, safety, comfort, off-road ability and practicality. It undercuts the opposition pricing significantly and in these economic times that provides a compelling argument for why you should be broadening your search if you’re in that market.
2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Pricing in South Africa
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2.4 MIVEC 4x2 (automatic) - R624 995
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2.4 MIVEC 4x4 (automatic) - R674 994
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2.4 MIVEC 4x4 (automatic) Exceed - R704 995
All Mitsubishi Pajero Sport models come with a three-year/100 000km warranty and a five-year/90 000km maintenance plan in South Africa, but you can ask the manufacturer to show you the unbundled price come 1 July.