2017 Pajero Sport Review – Yes, it’s a better Pajero than the Pajero!
Review by STEANE KLOSE
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Okay, that headline is going to rankle a few people, even our own David Wilson I suspect – sorry Dave!
One thing we aren’t afraid of at Loaded 4X4 is having an opinion, and they don’t all need to be the same, so let’s push on with mine.
I’m a Pajero owner (2015 NX GLS) – which as you’re about to read, doesn’t necessarily make me a Pajero fan – but when Mitsubishi launched their Challenger replacement and called it Pajero Sport, even I took mild offence at the hallowed Pajero name being slapped on the rump of a pretender.
It wasn’t just any pretender either, it was smaller, less powerful and arguably a bit frightening to look at, not that the full-fat Pajero will ever win any beauty contests.
Time of course marches on and living with the NX Pajero has me feeling a little jaded with the famous off-roading nameplate. It should be good, it deserves to be good, but in my opinion, it’s a half-cooked egg, thanks to a lack of commitment to ongoing development on the part of Mitsubishi.
What’s wrong with the mighty Pajero I hear you ask? Well, the front seats are flat and oddly uncomfortable, which combined with a steering wheel that isn’t reach adjustable, has you never feeling quite right behind the wheel. The interior plastics are woeful and with only a few thousand kilometres under the wheels, they creak, groan, vibrate and rattle in a manner that does not befit a vehicle built in late 2015. A sideways glance and a crooked smile is all it takes to scratch them.
The glovebox lid rattles relentlessly, the dash seems to move through a two-inch arc while traversing corrugated roads (yes, it really is that bad) and the front passenger door rattles on its striker plate, something a ‘readjustment’ improved but won’t cure. On regular bitumen, the doors ‘work’ in their frames noticeably more than you’d expect from a new vehicle.
When it comes to NVH (Noise Vibration and Harshness) it’s at least a generation behind the times. Road noise is prevalent, engine noise and vibration constant and the ride at times harsh, something not helped by running 18 inch wheels/tyres.
Then there’s the soft touch areas, particularly the arm-rests that feature a slither of foam padding under their faux-leather covers, just enough to suggest comfort, without actually providing it.
And let’s not forget the quaint dot-matrix centre dash information readout that would have been obsolete when it first appeared in the NS over a decade ago.
Yes, there are fixes for many of these issues, including one for the vibrating dash that involves a well-placed cable-tie (I’m not kidding) but what gives me the shits more than anything is knowing that the NX is the fourth update of the fourth Pajero series and these known issues – that have existed since the launch of the NS in 2006 – have never been rectified.
The upside of this ‘first-world’ style automotive tragedy, is that the Pajero is no longer competitive enough to sell for a premium and you can cut a great deal on a new one, if you’re prepared to live with its foibles.
To balance the bad with the good, in my opinion the Pajero’s driveline is close to indestructible. That 4M41 diesel is a rough but willing unit and as tough as they come, much like the five-speed Aisin auto it’s bolted to, and the rest of the drivetrain is just as robust. This was ninety per-cent of the appeal when I was buying.
Off-road, in completely stock form, the Pajero will surprise even the most jaded owner. Ours recently took on Bendelby Ranges Station’s Billy Goats Ridge track, a tough, rocky climb that is hard on tyres and body panels if you get it wrong. The Pajero on stock 18-inch rubber and standard suspension – with some expert guidance from David Wilson (this was an Adventure 4WD Weekend Walkabout trip) – made it through unscathed, in fact it impressed me immensely across a variety of semi-serious terrain that weekend.
Sadly – for me at least – the full-fat Pajero, despite its off-road prowess, remains a case of ‘diminishing returns’, or in 4WD speak, a steadily increasing loss of traction on a downhill slope, and that’s a bit of a shame. Some decent R&D dollars could see it soldier on with it’s head held high, but the chances of that happening are nil. The good news, is that it looks like we may get to see an all-new Pajero in the future, one that will be designed and built in partnership with Nissan.
Thus, having recently spent a week in the very impressive Pajero Sport I’ve drawn the – no-doubt somewhat controversial conclusion – that the Pajero Sport is a better Pajero than the Pajero.
Let me explain…
My time with the Pajero Sport kicked off in Adelaide and involved a road-trip across to the Victorian High Country for a few days of off-road driving with Ford’s Ranger XLT. All up that’s around 2,000kms and the sort of distance that gives you a reasonable sense of the vehicle you are driving.
Two things strike you when you first plant your rump in the Pajero Sport. It feels narrow and being based on the Triton’s comparatively narrow platform, that’s exactly what it is and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It also feels quite special and that’s not the first impression I get from most new vehicles. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but sitting in the Pajero Sport feels right. Maybe it’s a combination of the well-executed interior, the excellent seating and the spot-on driving position. Whatever it is, you get the sense that a lot of thought has gone into creating a genuinely impressive interior environment that can’t be confused with the Triton and can’t seriously be compared to the ageing full-fat Pajero’s cabin.
For starters, the Pajero Sport has a reach adjustable steering wheel, heck, even the Triton commercial vehicle has one of those. The Sport Exceed’s leather seating is excellent, the steering wheel is perfectly sized and puts all major controls at your fingertips, there are paddle-shifters to manually control the 8-speed auto that importantly, don’t rotate with the steering wheel and a nicely presented dashboard that is clear, legible and logical to operate. The centre console treatment gives the driver and front seat passenger a ‘wrapped in’ cosy feeling, but watch those silver painted trims. Our test car had picked up a couple of down to the plastic scratches on the passenger side, in its brief time on the press fleet. Based on the wear seen on similar painted trims in MQ Triton’s, it’ll take some care to keep them looking good.
As with Triton and Pajero, the Sport now comes with a new Apple Car Play and Android Auto equipped infotainment system and while it doesn’t offer as many features as some aftermarket units, it’s a massive step up from Mitsubishi’s mostly terrible MCCS units. It’s easy to use, was easy to pair with my Android phone (can only presume iphone users will experience similar levels of success) and adds to the road-trip experience.
The Sport is chock full of active safety features, that in the Exceed’s case include forward collision mitigation with autonomous braking, blind spot warning, ultrasonic misacceleration mitigation, stability and traction control, hill descent control, trailer stability assist and hill start assist. On the passive safety front there are seven airbags, seat belt pre-tensioners and a very clever multi camera system, that not only provides the regular rear view camera footage that we have come to expect (standard on all Sport spec levels), but in the Exceed’s case adds an overhead view to the 7” touch screen.
In stark contrast to the Ranger that we had on test at the time, Mitsubishi has dialled down the warning chimes (bongs) that the various systems can emit, making for a considerably less frustrating driving experience. If they’d delete the audible seat beat warning chimes (you can unplug them but you didn’t hear that from me) and the safety message that appears when the infotainment screen first comes to life, the Sport would almost be a frustration free ownership experience.
On the open road, the Sport is a refined and comfortable cruiser, one that rises above its Triton derived, ladder frame underpinnings. The rear coil sprung suspension has none of the ‘back of the head slap’ that the Triton’s ancient leaf arrangement serves up, and I suspect a few more dollars have been spent on the dampers, as they control the ride well, even in the rough stuff. The Triton’s abysmal units will have slunk out the back for a smoke, well before the road turns to crap.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sport isn’t as good on road as some monocoque based, soft-roaders with independent rear suspension. There’s still the odd shudder through that ladder frame chassis over broken bitumen but for what it is – a high riding legitimate 4X4 – it’s darn good.
The new 4N15 2.4-litre MIVEC turbo-diesel is a significant step up from the rather ordinary 2.5-litre lump that Mitsubishi saddled the previous Challenger and Triton with. It’s far quieter, noticeably torquier and combines well with the truly excellent 8-speed automatic, that had a real knack for being in the right gear at the right time. It’s a solid combination and one that didn’t put a foot wrong over the course of our loan. The paddle shifters are a useful tool and come into their own off-road, where they allow the driver to wind on an armful of steering lock and punch up or down the ratios with the flick of a finger. On road, they are arguably no more or less effective, than using the centre console auto trans shifter to manually select gears.
There were two other notable highlights with the Sports on-road driving experience, the first being that a techno-dead-beat (me) could sync my phone, use the navigation, find my music and work out the cruise control without issue. The second was the cruise control – a well calibrated autonomous setup in the Exceed that works like a charm (it’s better calibrated than the Ranger’s autonomous cruise) and makes driving long distances, with other numpties on the road, a breeze. Now that I’ve bought an MY17 Triton Exceed – you can keep tabs on our build here – that only has regular cruise, I’m certain that Mitsubishi will introduce autonomous cruise at the next update…just to shit me.
The Sport’s off-road performance is just as memorable. Unfortunately, the Ford Everest that we were meant to be comparing the Sport to, morphed into a Ranger prior to pick-up, but there are still some worthwhile comparisons to be made. We shared the two cars between four different drivers over the course of three very wet and snowy days in the High Country, and the feedback was interesting.
All four drivers (myself included) preferred driving the Sport, agreed that the Sport felt stronger, considerably more nimble, had a more compliant ride and handled the soggy conditions better than the Ranger. A little unfair perhaps given the Sports coil sprung rear end, but there you have it. The Ranger won the power war, but only just, and at no stage did the Sport feel underpowered in comparison, thanks in part to that excellent eight-speed auto.
The track conditions on our High-Country trip, due to an unseasonal cold-snap that resulted in an overnight snow dump, prevented us from safely testing the Sport in seriously challenging terrain – factory rubber and sodden High Country tracks don’t work well together. We’ll get a Sport up to David’s Adventure 4WD test track in the Barossa in the near future, to see how it handles cross-axle situations and properly test its traction control, wheel travel and rear locker. We expect that, like the Triton, it will to some degree suffer from a lack of ground clearance, although it’s 265/60/R18 tyres provide 218mm of clearance under the rear diff, compared to the 205mm provided by the Triton’s smaller 245/65/17 tyres.
Clearance isn’t enhanced by that crazy rear-diff mounted dampener that automatic versions of both vehicles share, although all reports suggest it can be removed and left in the shed permanently, without any ill-effects being experienced. Yes, it’s an afterthought that smacks of an exhausted R&D budget, but it’s easy enough to fix.
On the subject of clearance and modifications, it’s worthwhile noting that some Sport owners are installing aftermarket suspension with a moderate lift and then fitting 32” tyres without issue. Looking at the stock Sport, you wouldn’t think this was possible, but it is, and it will add around 18mm or so of additional clearance under the rear diff.
While we avoided the really tough tracks we still put the Sport through its paces on a combination of fast (mud) dirt roads and slower, tougher tracks in the Craig’s Hut region. The Sport features a terrain management system called Off Road Mode, that offers a choice of modes that include gravel, mud/snow, sand and rock, with rock only being available when low range is selected. Each mode has specific throttle control and traction control calibrations, each designed to best suit the type of terrain selected. For example, in Rock mode the throttle control sensitivity is backed off, the traction control is set to activate with minimal wheel spin and low-range is mandatory to keep speed down. The concept is nothing new and like many of the good things found in 4X4s now, owes its existence to Land Rover.
We spent the weekend with the mud/snow mode selected and found that the Sport would happily slither its way up wet river crossing exits without the aid of the rear locker.
The Sport’s locker, like most lockers, can only be selected in low range and unfortunately, it disengages the traction control to all wheels, which is pretty much the norm these days, although it shouldn’t be. Locking the rear diff and maintaining traction control on the front wheels would be a far more effective option, and one that is available on the full-fat Pajero, via an aftermarket modification.
I tend to prefer punching the locker switch to relying on traction control, it just seems to work easier, but there is no denying that both the Pajero and the Sport have very well calibrated traction control systems that almost, but not quite, make a cross-axle locker redundant. There is still plenty of value in having that factory fitted rear locker!
A 42:1 crawl ratio means that the Sport is one automatic 4X4 that isn’t shy of steep descents, another area in which it shows up the full-fat Pajero. If in doubt there is always the hill descent control that in the Sport’s case works well at holding a pre-set speed. On a side note, on our recent trip to Bendelby Ranges we witnessed the failure of the hill descent control in a Pathfinder, which unfortunately chose to jump out of low range at the same time. The driver was quick to grab the handbrake and was lucky enough to bring the vehicle to a stop, but it pays not to switch off the brain when you switch on an electronic driver aid.
On the tighter mountain tracks the Sport was considerably more maneuverable than the up-sized Ranger and lacked the Ranger’s tendency to bottom out over the erosion humps found on No.3 Road. Again, not a truly fair comparison, but it served to highlight just how the Sport’s more compact dimensions and smaller turning circle, make it right at home on tight High Country tracks.
The flip-side of that compactness is that the Sport has a noticeably narrower interior than the Pajero, as well as its main rivals, the Fortuner, Everest, Trailblazer and MU-X. It’s also more difficult to see out the back of the Sport and for buyers looking to put bums regularly in the 6th and 7th seat, the Sport’s rivals have it trumped.
We saw an average fuel consumption of 8.4L/100 across the week of our loan and while the Sport’s 68-litre fuel tank capacity is disappointing from a long-distance, remote touring perspective, it proved adequate for the type of trip we undertook.
I’ve always been a stickler for using 4H (high-range all wheel drive – centre diff unlocked) in the Pajero, as 2H (rear wheel drive) offered no measurable fuel saving that I could detect, but that wasn’t the case in the Sport. Running in 4H on the highway saw fuel usage rise into the low 9L/100 and dropping back into 2H saw an immediate improvement, with low 8L/100 being achievable. Why that’s the case I don’t know, but it would seem that using 2H in the Sport at highway speeds, will save a few dollars on those longer trips.
LOADED 4X4 VERDICT:
Yes, the styling is polarising, with most people finding it difficult to warm to, but spend some time with the Sport and you’ll find yourself – admittedly begrudgingly to begin with – starting to think, “yeah, that looks alright”.
I remember openly laughing at the first ML Triton I laid eyes on – it looked like a cartoon character ute – and a year later, having grown to appreciate its mould breaking styling, I bought one. The Sport is no different and I’d go so far as to say that it has rendered the competition style-less. Add a small lift and some 32s and it starts to really come together in the looks department.
For me, compared to the full-fat Pajero, the Sport is nicer to drive in all on-road situations, nicer to sit in, considerably better designed, possibly better built and it has certainly had more time and money put into its development. The Sport only really gives ground to the Pajero when it comes to interior space (width), some aspects of the drivetrain like CVs where the Pajero has a strength advantage, and potentially off-road thanks to its comparative lack of clearance (218mm vs 235mm), something we’ll look to test properly soon. Frankly, I don’t think there will be much in it, both are top-notch off-roaders.
Should I have bought a Pajero Sport rather than a Pajero? Yes, I honestly think it would have been a less frustrating ownership experience.
If I was looking to buy a top-spec ute based 4X4 wagon right now, the Pajero Sport would be short listed with the Holden Trailblazer based on price (we’ll be testing one next week) and the MY17 Isuzu MU-X which is a solid, well rounded performer both on and off-road. Truth be told, I’d be down at the Mitsubishi dealer looking to cut a deal.
The massively over-priced Ford Everest Titanium and Toyota Fortuner Crusader, wouldn’t get a look in. And that’s pretty much how the rest of Australia sees it going by the monthly VFACTS sales figures.
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PRICE AS TESTED:
Pajero Sport Exceed: $53,000 plus on-roads
COMPETITOR PRICE COMPARISON:
Engine: 2.4 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: 8-spd automatic
Suspension: Front: independent; rear: coil sprung solid axle
Steering: Hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes: ventilated front discs | ventilated front discs
Fuel consumption claimed: 8.0 l/100km combined
Wheels and tyres: 18×7.5 alloy wheels / 265/60 R18 tyres
Approach/departure: approach 30 degrees; departure 24.2 degrees
Ground clearance/wading depth: 218mm/700mm
Tow rating: 750kg (unbraked); 3,100kg towing (braked)
ANCAP rating: 5 stars
MC category – “off-road passenger vehicle”
KEY FEATURES: INTERIOR/EXTERIOR
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed
12V Socket(s) – Auxiliary
18″ Alloy Wheels
8 Speaker Stereo
ABS (Antilock Brakes)
Adjustable Steering Col. – Tilt & Reach
Air Cond. – Climate Control 2 Zone
Air Conditioning – Pollen Filter
Air Conditioning – Rear
Airbag – Driver
Airbag – Knee Driver
Airbag – Passenger
Airbags – Head for 1st Row Seats (Front)
Airbags – Head for 2nd Row Seats
Airbags – Head for 3rd Row Seats
Airbags – Side for 1st Row Occupants (Front)
Antenna – in Rear Glass
Armrest – Rear Centre (Shared)
Audio – Aux Input USB Socket
Audio – Input for iPod
Blind Spot Sensor
Body Colour – Bumpers
Bottle Holders – 1st Row
Brake Emergency Display – Hazard/Stoplights
Camera – Front Vision
Camera – Rear Vision
Camera – Side Vision
Central Locking – Key Proximity
Central Locking – Once Mobile
Central Locking – Remote/Keyless
Chrome Door Handles – Exterior
Chrome Door Handles – Interior
Chrome Door Mirrors
Chrome Exterior Highlights
Collision Mitigation – Forward (Low speed)
Collision Warning – Forward
Control – Electronic Stability
Control – Hill Descent
Control – Park Distance Front
Control – Park Distance Rear
Control – Traction
Control – Trailer Sway
Cruise Control – Distance Control
Cup Holders – 1st Row
Cup Holders – 2nd Row
Daytime Running Lamps – LED
Disc Brakes Front Ventilated
Disc Brakes Rear Ventilated
Door Pockets – 1st row (Front)
Door Pockets – 2nd row (rear)
Driving Mode – Selectable
EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution)
Electric Seats – 1st Row (Front)
Fog Lamps – Front
Footrest – Drivers
Gear Shift Paddles behind Steering Wheel
Gloss Finish Inserts in Centre Console
Gloss Finish Inserts in Centre Stack/ HVAC
HDMI input for Audio/Video
Headlamps – LED
Headlamps Automatic (light sensitive)
Headrests – Adjustable 1st Row (Front)
Headrests – Adjustable 2nd Row x3
Headrests – Adjustable 3rd Row x2
Heated Seats – 1st Row
Illuminated – Switch Panel (Window/ Locking)
Intermittent Wipers – Variable
Keyless Start – Key/FOB Proximity related
Leather Gear Knob
Leather Look – Inserts in Doors
Leather Seats – Partial
Leather Steering Wheel
Mudflaps – rear
Multi-function Control Screen – Colour
Multi-function Steering Wheel
Park Brake – Electric
Parking Assist – Graphical Display
Power Door Mirrors – Folding
Power Windows – Front & Rear
Radio – Digital (DAB+)
Rain Sensor (Auto wipers)
Rear View Mirror – Electric Anti Glare
Seat – Height Adjustable Driver
Seatback Pocket – Front Driver Seat
Seatback Pocket – Front Passenger Seat
Seatbelt – Adjustable Height 1st Row
Seatbelt – Load Limiters 1st Row (Front)
Seatbelt – Pretensioners 1st Row (Front)
Seatbelts – Lap/Sash for 7 seats
Seats – 2nd Row Reclining
Seats – 2nd Row Split Fold
Seats – 3rd Row (Rear) Flat Folding
Seats – 3rd Row Split Fold
Seats – Bucket (Front)
Skid Plate – Front
Smart Device App Display/Control
Speed Dependant Wipers
Storage Compartment – Centre Console 1st Row
Storage Compartment – In Cargo Area
Sunvisor – Vanity Mirror for Passenger
Tail Lamps – LED
Tinted Windows – Extra Dark/Privacy
Towing – Latch/Hook Front
Towing – Latch/Hook Rear