JOHANNESBURG - The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport has always been something of an underrated dark horse in the bakkie-based SUV segment, which has long been ruled by Toyota’s locally produced Fortuner. The Mitsubishi SUV’s sales have been marginal by comparison, but it’s not due to any lack of ability or competence on its part.
Now there’s a new Pajero Sport in town, sporting a sharper look and new features. And sure, it’s unlikely to suddenly light up the local sales charts, but those seeking something a little different from the default Fortuner and Everest herd will likely find a very compelling package in the updated Mitsubishi.
The Pajero Sport was recently given a refresh, and it’s particularly striking up front with its new ‘Dynamic Shield’ design treatment. There’s a distinct sharpness to the headlight and grille treatment, while those boomerang accents give the vehicle some serious presence. But the side and rear views are not so exciting by comparison and those bleeding taillights look strange. It’s almost as if they’ve tried too hard to make it look like a car, when in fact they might have been better off going for a boxy look inspired by earlier generations of the Pajero. Just look how crazy SUV fans are going over Ford’s new Bronco - there’s certainly a gap there.
But styling is subjective, and you may very well like how the Mitsubishi looks. And the good news is that the rest of the package has a great deal going for it.
Pajero Sport pricing versus rivals
The Pajero Sport is priced from R609 995 for the 2.4 4x2, which undercuts its rivals by quite a margin. Consider that the equivalent Isuzu MU-X 4x2 sells for R643 100 while the Ford Everest 2.0 SiT XLT sells for R637 800 and the Toyota Fortuner 2.8 4x2 starts at R700 100.
The Pajero Sport 4x4 range starts at R659 995, while the more luxurious Exceed that we had on test is priced at R689 995 - but even that’s a good 100 grand cheaper than the top dog Fortuner.
How does it fare in the power wars?
Granted, the Toyota rival now has more power, with its 2.8-litre D-4D motor having recently been upgraded to the tune of 150kW and 500Nm. If superior performance is what you’re after then it might be worth spending the extra money, but the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport’s 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine is still a very decent powertrain that delivers adequate performance and economy, while impressing with its overall refinement.
You might be inclined to compare it with the 2.4-litre Fortuner, but keep in mind that the Mitsubishi’s unit is somewhat more powerful, with 133kW and 430Nm on tap, versus 110kW/400Nm in the Toyota’s case. The Mitsubishi also out-powers the Isuzu 3.0 (130kW/380Nm) as well as the Everest 2.0 SiT (132kW/420Nm).
What’s it like on tar?
The Pajero Sport impresses with its on-road refinement. It’s as quiet as you’d expect in this class and the ride quality is particularly cushy for a bakkie-based wagon. A downside to its softer suspension set-up is that it can feel a little wallowy and you do really feel the body roll in corners, and this vehicle’s considerable size doesn’t do its overall sense of agility any favours either. But when you consider that this is a family vehicle primarily built for road trips and off-road adventures, we feel that Mitsubishi made the right call by going for a softer set-up.
Going off the beaten track
As with its key rivals, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport will go just about anywhere, as long as you’ve chosen one of the 4x4 models. Slot the Super Select II 4WD system into 4LLc (low-range gearing and locked centre differential) and you will climb and descend just about any slope, and there’s also a 4HLc mode (high-range gearing but with central diff still locked) for traversing sandy sections and a 4H configuration that spits the torque in a 40:60 manner to keep you safer on wet roads or on gravel.
The Pajero Sport 4x4 models are also fitted with a rear diff-lock for those wheel-in-air scenarios and there’s also some electronic help for those tricky off-road sections. This comes in the form of Hill Descent Control as well as selectable Off-Road modes that optimise the vehicle’s dynamic systems for various surfaces: Gravel, Mud/Snow, Sand and Rock.
More luxurious cabin
The most recent facelift didn’t bring any radical changes to the cabin of the Pajero Sport, however Mitsubishi did beef up the spec sheet with some new features and other electronics.
There’s a new full-colour instrument display, which lends a more modern feel, while connectivity is enhanced by the fitment of additional USB inlets, which also serve rear passengers, as well as additional accessory sockets.
The new Exceed flagship model also gains new features in the form of an electronic tailgate with dual-kick sensors as well as a powered sunroof and Mitsubishi Remote Control Connectivity, which allows you to control select features from your smartphone.
But even if you opt for the standard Pajero Sport spec grade you still get full leather seating (with electronic adjustment for the driver) as well as dual-zone climate control, cruise control, multi-function steering wheel and a 20.3cm touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone pairing.
Unlike the Fortuner, the Pajero Sport also has proper third-row seats that fold into the floor to create a flat loading space.
The back row will seat adults for shorter trips, albeit with knees in the air, but these seats are ideally suited to children.
The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is a largely overlooked contender in the large SUV game, and it’s a pity because it offers a really compelling combination of refinement, comfort, luxury, practicality and off-road ability at a price that undercuts its rivals. It’s well worth a test drive.