Car reviews - Comparison - Mitsubishi Pajero Sport v Triton
Want a 4WD but can’t decide between a dual-cab ute or a wagon? GoAuto has the answers
25 Aug 2022
By MATT BROGAN
WE ARE incredibly fortunate in Australia not only to have an amazing country to tour and explore, but to have so many capable, dependable, and let’s face it, desirable vehicles with which to do it.
Four-wheel drive utilities and utility-based wagons are increasingly popular options for adventure-seeking families, recreational buyers and the ‘grey nomad’ set, the flexibility and value for money offered from either body-style making the choice between them more difficult than ever.
Utes in particular are not the barebones tradie workhorses of the past. Most models on sale in 2022 are as well equipped – and as safe – as the family SUV, and with their generous payload and towing capacities can tempt buyers to take the boat or caravan along for the journey.
But as is the case with any new vehicle purchase, there are pros and cons to the dual-cab utility, just as there are with a wagon or ‘SUV’ derivatives – and it is those points we’ll take a closer look at here.
To best exemplify those differences – while keeping as close to model parity as we could – we spent some time with the Mitsubishi Triton GLS (ute, from $53,990 plus on-road costs) and Pajero Sport GLS (wagon, from $54,190 plus ORCs) to discover the positives and not-so-positives of each from the viewpoint of one of our aforementioned buyers.
Our aim here is not to find a winner, per se. But to point out the differences you may not have considered before rushing to sign on the dotted line.
Comfort and practicality
It’s often said that utes have all the ‘boot’ space you’ll ever need. Looking at the Triton and Pajero Sport it obvious that the former offers a lot more real estate in which to carry things.
But unless you’re prepared to segregate items – and secure them accordingly – the load bed of the utility can end up jumbling all your belongings together at one end or the other, usually depending on the angle at which you last parked.
The other downsides to the ute’s cargo area are that it is not exactly dust or waterproof and is separated from thieving hands by little more than a thin sheet of canvas.
Of course, hard-top and convenient roller-lid tonneau covers are available at an additional cost, as are sturdy canopies – many now with central locking connected directly to your key fob. But the separation between the passenger compartment, and the lack of lighting and segmentation available, can still make owing a ute more chore than delight in day-to-day driving.
Conversely, it is easier to walk around and reach into the load area of a ute than it is a wagon. Wagon’s typically have on large entry point at the rear of the vehicle, or via the folded seats at the front. Horses for courses, but worth keeping in mind.
Having said all of that – and a point we consider incredibly important for those heading off-road or on that cross-country trip – the isolation between the passenger and cargo compartments is one that does have its benefits, especially from a safety standpoint.
Carrying liquid fuel and gas canisters, or loose heavy items such as firewood, tools or a chainsaw in the back of a wagon raises obvious safety concerns. You may also prefer to carry your pets separately to your family, remembering of course the disparity between cabin and cargo temperature must be factored in.
They’re just a couple of issues many buyers don’t consider when deciding if a ute or a wagon is right for them…
The other side of the argument is a two-fold one – and it centres around carrying capacity and comfort.
Yes, a ute can carry more (in volume terms, at least), and in the case of some models, can also tow more. But the trade-off here is one of ride comfort, cabin accommodation (i.e., space and flexibility) and of course vehicle dynamism, which we’ll cover later.
Most dual-cab utilities (excluding the Nissan Navara) ride on leaf springs at the rear, which help them offer greater carrying capacity than their wagon counterparts.
Leaf springs offer a firm, abrupt ride quality that is hard to settle, even when the vehicle is moderately loaded. For rear seat passengers in particular the sensation of a leaf-sprung ride is one that is less than ideal, especially over longer journeys on corrugated outback roads.
It's here that the softer coil-sprung ride of the wagon is a far better choice. There’s a car-like feel to the Pajero Sport we found appreciably calmer than that of the Triton, and from experience we can say the experience is similar when driving the Toyota Fortuner (wagon) and HiLux (utility) or Ford Everest (wagon) and Ranger (utility) back-to-back as well.
Beyond the ride, it’s also worth considering the upright posture offered in the rear seats of dual-cab utes against the more car-like backrest found in wagon models – and of course the ability to tumble and fold the second-row seats to carry oversized items, or even another couple of passengers.
Ventilation to the back seats is another strong consideration, especially in the warmer months, the Mitsubishi duo on test particularly interesting in that the Pajero Sport offers ceiling vents to both the second and third row of seats, while the Triton offers only a (noisy) ceiling-mounted fan to draw air from the front of the cabin to the rear.
Finally, we reckon it’s worth considering the roof length and weight capacity of the model you’re considering if you’re planning to use that space when touring.
The shorter roof of a utility has obvious limitations when carrying multiple items while the longer roof of the wagon provides a good base from which to install a full-length roof rack or roof-top tent.
When we say “ute-based wagon”, we really mean it. The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is essentially a Triton with a body, its chassis, driveline, and many of its suspension components being identical to the derivative commercial variant.
But there are clear differences…
As mentioned, the Pajero Sport runs a coil-sprung rear-end that provides a more car-like ride than the leaf-spring Triton. The coil springs also gift the Pajero Sport with better rear-end articulation than the utilty model and, being equipped with disc brakes, better on-road stopping performance.
And we emphasise “on-road” here because off-road there are minor differences you may not pick up on until you’ve Iived with the car for some time – or drive off-road regularly.
The drum brakes of the Triton offer a greater swept area (the area ‘gripped’ between the pad/shoe material and the metal surface of the rotor/drum) than the single-piston calliper of the Pajero Sport. Not only does this improve the vehicle’s ability to hold on steep grades, but it also improves the action of the park brake.
On test, we found that the electronic actuated and disc-type park brake of the Pajero Sport failed to offer anything like the same arresting strength as the mechanical drum-type park brake of the Triton. The Pajero Sport instead lurched on to the transmission’s Park detent when set on any grade, which is hardly confidence inspiring or an ideal situation for longevity of the unit.
The other upside to drum brakes on the rear – and again a point encountered on test – is that the enclosed system simply doesn’t allow heavy grit and small pebbles to become lodged between the backing plate and the rotor. There’s little worse than the grinding noise that comes from this scenario, and with wear and tear an ever-present challenge to driving off the beaten track, is something we think it best avoided if possible.
That point aside, the duo from Mitsubishi is remarkably similar. Underbody protection is comparable, the four-wheel drive system identical, and the wading and (unladen) clearance heights so close that it makes no real difference.
However, the body style and wheel placement in relation to the front and rear bumpers (overhang) is different enough to make a difference to the vehicles’ off-road geometry – and to its turning circle.
The Pajero Sport turns more tightly than the Triton, offers a better departure angle, and a superior ramp break-over angle. The Triton claws back some ability with a more generous approach angle, but for most drivers we reckon that single degree is something that is far too difficult to notice.
Riding on 18-inch alloys with road-biased all-terrain tyres, the Pajero Sport and Triton are difficult to separate in terms of outright grip and braking response, the traditional “light in the rear” feeling offered in the ute now largely a thing of the past.
Both vehicles offer a full-size matching spare underslung beneath the load floor, but annoyingly, access to the spare in the Pajero Sport is via a mechanism located inside the cargo area floor (and not from the rear of the vehicle as is the case on Triton) meaning you’ll need to unload all your baggage in the event you need to change a tyre.
Finally, and again something we don’t believe many buyers anticipate, is the size of the fuel tank between this pair and others of their ilk. In the Mitsubishi range, it’s the Triton that offers a larger capacity tank than the Pajero Sport, the additional seven litres providing up to 90 additional cruising kilometres on the highway cycle.
Dynamics, safety and even more
Earlier, we touched on the fact that most modern utes are tuned to handle as well as their wagon siblings. But on a slick road with nothing in the tray, you may find the ute is still a little more ‘nervous’ than its five-door counterpart.
Of course, tyre choice and driving style comes into play here, and you’ll only have to frighten yourself once to learn where the threshold of grip is (a point that is true of any car).
But in addressing these shortcomings, manufacturers like Mitsubishi have adjusted the various driver assistance systems fitted to their vehicles – and the brake bias front-to-rear – to mitigate the differences as best as possible between tray-back utilities and bodied wagons.
Both offer an extensive array of safety technology, the only difference we found of any consequence when testing both GLS grades was the absence of adaptive cruise control in the Triton (a standard inclusion on Pajero Sport).
Otherwise, both vehicles offered the usual list of three-letter acronym assistance features, as well as top-tether and ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, child locks on the rear doors, seatbelt reminders, rear power window isolators and curtain airbags across all passenger rows.
In fact, we reckon the only obvious difference between the pair (aside from the points listed earlier) was that the upright rear window of the Triton meant that anyone in the back seat was a risk of a suntan.
Finally, it’s important to note that in most Australian states and territories the Triton is classified as a commercial vehicle. This means you may not be offered a cooling-off period at the time of purchase, may be required to pay higher registration and insurance fees, and will also be charged commercial vehicle rates when travelling on most toll roads.
It is also worth bearing in mind that, when fully loaded, some dual-cab utility models will be heavy enough to push into the light rigid (truck) licencing category, meaning you may not be legally allowed to drive one on a car licence.
So, do your homework, and choose a vehicle that suits the majority of your needs for most of the time. You can always hire a ute (or a wagon) if you need one, which means you’ll get far more use – and more enjoyment – from the vehicle you should have purchased in the first place.
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