Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Pajero Sport - Exceed
Differentiation from Triton, slick drivetrain, infotainment tech, combination of ruggedness and road manners, bitumen-friendly four-wheel-drive mode, cabin space, bang-for-buck
Room for improvement
Cheap interior materials, occasional hiccups from eight-speed auto, no third seating row
13 Apr 2016
Price and equipment
LIKE its ute-based Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest off-road rivals, the Pajero Sport is available in three equipment grades.
While Toyota offers manual transmissions, Mitsubishi mimics Ford’s auto-only policy and kicks off Pajero Sport proceedings with the $45,000 (plus on-road costs) GLX. Mid-range is the $48,500 GLS and serving as flagship is the $52,750 Exceed tested here.
The Mitsubishi undercuts both Toyota and Ford at entry-level by $4000 and $9,990 respectively, while the gap grows substantially at the top end, with the Pajero Sport Exceed being $9240 less expensive than an automatic Fortuner Crusade and a whopping $24,240 less than an Everest Titanium.
However the Pajero Sport uniquely lacks a third row of seats, presenting a roadblock to some families.
Standard Exceed equipment includes dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, multi-angle camera system, blind-spot warning, forward collision and ultrasonic mis-acceleration mitigation, power-adjustable heated front seats, a rear DVD entertainment system and eight-speaker premium sound system with seven-inch touchscreen providing access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration plus digital radio reception. Those without a compatible smartphone have to live without satellite navigation.
The spec sheet continues with rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, keyless entry with push-button start, folding power-adjustable exterior mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, tilt and reach adjustment for the leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel (with paddle-shifters) and an electric park brake.
Mitsubishi’s Super Select 4WD II system is also fitted, featuring four driving modes and an electronic locking rear differential providing the ability to drive on high-grip surfaces in high-range four-wheel-drive mode, like the full-time four-wheel-drive Everest.
All Pajero Sports get a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, auto-locking doors, seven airbags, hill descent and hill start assistance plus electronic stability, traction and trailer sway control.
The only options on a Pajero Sport Exceed are $550 metallic or pearlescent paint finishes.
Stepping, as we did, straight from a Triton in to the Pajero Sport – both in top-spec Exceed trim – there is a decidedly more upmarket ambience in the wagon.
The upper dashboard design is pretty much identical – though the Pajero Sport has a more modern infotainment unit – while the centre console is new, losing the ute’s staggered gear selector gate and supplanting the manual handbrake lever with an switch for the electric parking brake, all set within a classy piano black panel that encompasses a silver trim around the gear selector and four-wheel-drive mode knob.
Linking the central stack with the console are metallic silver strips flanking the centre console, echoing the design of the more upmarket looking multi-function steering wheel. It all hangs together beautifully and is certainly the best Mitsubishi interior on the market right now.
Completing the fancy-pants look are big armchairs with ruched leather upholstery that are as comfortable as they look, especially on long journeys.
The rear bench also has heavily contoured, luxurious-looking cushions – although the heavy bolstering effectively reduced shoulder room for adults riding either side of a child seat, something for family buyers to bear in mind. That said, there is a standard rear-seat entertainment system with DVD player and wireless headphones to keep those in the back happy.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is standard on the touchscreen, which steps up from the Triton’s unit with smartphone style, ultra-modern app-style menus and functions. But without a compatible smartphone, we were denied a satellite navigation function.
Unlike rivals such as the Toyota Fortuner, Isuzu MU-X, Holden Colorado 7 and, to a lesser extent the more expensive Ford Everest, the Pajero Sport simply has a massive 673 litre (below the cargo blind) boot rather than a third row of seats. Mitsubishi is working on bringing a seven-seat option to these shores.
Compared with those rivals, Pajero Sport interior storage options are somewhat lacking too, with Mitsubishi offering fewer gloveboxes, cubbies and cupholders.
Interior refinement is impressive, with roar from the the engine and tyres pleasingly muted and distant, while wind rustle is all but absent.
Engine and transmission
As with the interior, the Pajero Sport builds substantially on its Triton basis, with the ute’s impressively refined, smooth, muscular and efficient new 133kW/430Nm 2.4-litre turbo-diesel engine paired with a class-leading eight-speed automatic transmission (the Triton gets a five-speed auto).
While we never grumbled about the Triton’s lack of gear ratios, the Pajero Sport’s eight-speed auto boasts the party trick of enabling the engine to tick over quietly at 1800rpm during a 110km/h motorway cruise.
This translates into low long-distance fuel consumption and we saw 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres during a motorway stint, just 0.2L/100km higher than the official highway figure. Just as well, because the standard fuel tank is just 68 litres, seven litres smaller than the Triton’s.
During our week of mixed driving, we achieved low nines, while the official combined figure is 8.0L/100km.
With all those ratios to shuffle, the Pajero Sport could have been a gear-hunting nightmare but Mitsubishi clearly programmed the electronics well, and the engine was kept in its torque sweet-spot with smooth, almost seamless shifts. We only became aware of the transmission’s toil when starting from cold and driving at urban speeds, when shifts were occasionally hesitant.
Like the Triton, a big, chunky, easy-to-use selector knob on the centre console activates the three four-wheel-drive modes, the first of which can be used on any surface courtesy of a centre differential.
It can be left in this mode permanently to serve like permanent all-wheel-drive for confident driving in slippery conditions, or on gravel roads regularly interspersed with bitumen sections like the Peninsula Development Road on Cape York.
The other 4WD setting locks the centre diff in high-range or switches to low range. The locking rear diff is also easily activated via a button on the dash.
Ride and handling
The Triton impressed us with its ride and handling, especially considering the price difference to the class-leaders in this department. So it was no surprise that the coil-sprung Pajero Sport was also a comfortable companion that acquitted itself well on- and off-road.
Potholes, speed humps and road ripples are brushed off with similar indifference to that achieved by the much pricier Toyota Prado, yet that car’s top-heavy feel in urban and twisty country road driving is absent, the Pajero Sport’s sharp steering backed up by a responsive chassis that resists bodyroll well.
Mitsubishi has really kicked a goal here, creating an off-road-ready SUV that is a pleasure to drive around town while being the consummate road-trip tourer.
Safety and servicing
Based on Triton crash test results, safety watchdog ANCAP awarded the Pajero Sport a maximum five-star rating, scoring it 36.22 out of a maximum 37 points – not far off the ute safety benchmark Ford Ranger (36.72). The Mitsubishi got 15.72 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, a perfect 16 in the side impact test and the full two points in the pole test. Whiplash and pedestrian protection were respectively considered ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’.
Standard safety kit on the Pajero Sport includes dual frontal, side chest and curtain airbags plus one for the driver’s knee. In addition to stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and emergency brake assist are fitted. Advanced seat belt reminders are fitted to all seats, with the front two also having pre-tensioners and force limiters.
There is also hill-start assist, trailer sway control (when connected to a trailer with electric brakes) and an adjustable speed limiter plus a system that prevents or mitigates unintended acceleration.
Mitsubishi provides a five-year, 100,000km warranty and a years’ roadside assistance pack. Service intervals are a sensible 15,000km or 12 months, with capped-price servicing at $350 for the first maintenance visit and $580 for the subsequent three (correct at time of writing).
Styling wise, Mitsubishi missed the mark on the Triton but largely addressed this criticism with the Pajero Sport, although not everyone will be a fan of the unusual tail-light treatment. Like the Triton, the Pajero Sport surpassed expectations in terms of everyday liveability and road manners, while packing a better-presented, more feature-packed interior and segment-leading eight-speed automatic transmission.
For the money it’s great, especially as it takes a good fight up to its impressive and pricier competitors on and off bitumen, while trouncing older segment contenders on road manners, equipment levels and price.
A Triton offers a lot of ute for the money plus one of the segment’s best warranties, but the Pajero Sport provides all that plus arguably more real-world usability for not a lot of extra cash, especially when taking into account the cost of a ute canopy.
If you don’t need seven seats in your off-roader, the Pajero Sport makes a seriously strong case for itself.
Toyota Fortuner Crusade from $61,990 plus on-road costs
A swish-looking interior and impressive drivetrain blended with unstoppable off-road skills and a reputation for dependability, but at a premium price.
Ford Everest Trend from $60,990 plus on-road costs
The mid-spec Everest pack a decent amount of equipment and expands on the Ranger ute’s impressive ride and road manners.
Isuzu MU-X LS-T AWD from $54,000 plus on-road costs
Closely related to the Holden Colorado but with some chassis, equipment and interior differences plus a different engine and five-year warranty that pips Mitsubishi’s by 30,000km. Underbody armour makes this one tough off-roader.
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