This fairly mild axle-twister ruthlessly exposed the long-wheelbase Mitsubishi Pajero's lack of ground clearance...
This fairly mild axle-twister ruthlessly exposed the long-wheelbase Mitsubishi Pajero's lack of ground clearance...
...And this is what what happened.
...And this is what what happened.

Sorry, I really am. It was never my intention. To damage the Mitsubishi Pajero, that is.

OK, I should have known things were going to go pear-shaped when Saturday night ended in an unnecessary disagreement (my fault, I know) with my girlfriend about plans for Sunday.

I probably should have done with the Pajero what many vehicle manufacturers intend these days when they market vehicles as go-anywhere 4x4's with every possible electronic gizmo to make your life easier.

I should have taken it where it would have been happy: mall-crawling, or on dirt roads and sandy stretches without an over-ambitious middelmannetjie.

In the end, though, when I went with friends to do some off-roading, I instead found myself attending what the rough and hard-to-bluff guys call “a Tupperware party”.

Billed as having the tough-as-nails Dakar genetics running through its veins, the long-wheelbase Pajero DI-D with its new 3.2-litre diesel engine may have some of the genetics of its predecessors (which no longer compete in the legendary event) but, to be honest, I seriously doubt whether the one we tested would even complete the first stage.

Sure, the 140kW and 441Nm of torque it produces would be enough, the ride would be a comfortable one and you'd look the part - for a while, at least.

In your wake, however, there would be a trail of plastic from the moment the flag dropped and crossing the line without front and rear bumpers, bent plastic sidesteps, buckled bashplates and serious undercarriage damage is just not cool.

Not if your claim is a “designed to go anywhere, anytime, no matter the terrain” vehicle.

Terrain does matter, and when I buckled the hard plastic sidestep going through a not-too-difficult axle twister, my heart sank, not only because of the damage, but because they looked the real deal.

Next up was a rather innocuous-looking hill, which turned out to be the day's destroyer-in-chief.

Before me went a Land Rover Discovery 3, a Discovery 2 and an Isuzu KB 280 double-cab.

Noticing that my initial line would damage the undercarriage, I reversed to the sound that every driver dreads: that horrid scraping and scratching noise that bores in to the pit of your stomach.

No amount of guidance or digging helped and in the end I had no choice. Sorry.

The rear bumper had some serious damage that put an end to my day's 4x4 activities.

Wondering whether the next obstacle would cause further mayhem really is no fun, so the rest of the time was spent taking the escape routes.

It was during lunch that someone mentioned taking a vehicle such as the Pajero up Sani Pass (after a particularly rainy season) or through the Richtersveld.

I suspect that, fully loaded for a longish trip, possibly with a trailer, the likelihood of similar damage is a very real one.

Don't get me wrong: it's not a bad car, but (as is the case with many modern 4x4's) when the going gets a little hectic, there will be damage. And to counter this you will need aftermarket bumpers, suspension and rock sliders that will probably nullify the warranty.

I suppose the jump seats folded neatly in the back are probably more of a pointer to what the makers' intentions were than the Super Select 4WD-II transfer case and Active Stability Traction Control, which is peace of mind for when things become a bit difficult.

So, too, the incredible sound system with a large subwoofer in the back that could probably pop the windows if the music is loud enough. Teenagers would love it and so did I, but our taste in music differs ever so slightly.

Getting to grips with the Mitsubishi Integrated Communications System (Garmap, receiver with RDS, CD DVD CD-R, VCD, MP3, JPEG and MPEG4) proved to be frustrating, and if you're even slightly technologically challenged, sorry for you. Even my girlfriend, a techno wizard, shook her head at the convoluted way it operated.

My frustration arose mostly from having just stepped out of a Mercedes-Benz CGI where the whole system worked logically and smoothly.

Pajero claims at least 80 percent of its buyers are existing clients and I noticed, while driving during the time I had it, that almost all the current Pajeros I saw were spotless, standard and looked like they were SUV's used to cart families around.

It was the older models that had roof-racks, all-terrain tyres and baked-on dust.

For a family on a trip to Mozambique, or some of the less rugged places in southern Africa, though, the Pajero is more than adequate and hits the mark.

It was my first experience of a Pajero and, while I appreciate the build quality, fascia layout and general on-road feel, considering its reputation, to be honest, I was a little disappointed.