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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Pajero Sport - GLS

Our Opinion

We like
Segment value champion, road manners that belie ruggedness, unique Super Select all-wheel-drive mode, interior presentation
Room for improvement
Design and DIY fitment of child restraint top tethers, compromised rear visibility, questions over small fuel tank and hi-tech drivetrain for remote off-roading

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Mitsubishi logo12 May 2017

Price and equipment

THE Pajero Sport line-up consists of three equipment grades, opening with the GLX at $45,000 plus on-road costs. Tested here is the mid-spec $48,500 GLS that serves as a stepping-stone to the $52,750 Exceed flagship.

Mitsubishi left the Pajero Sport’s generous standard equipment list for each variant pretty much alone for the seven-seat version, with the main upgrades being roof-mounted ventilation for both rear rows and full-length curtain airbags covering all three rows, but only on the GLS tested here and top-spec Exceed.

The fact the base GLX only gets curtains for the front and centre rows is worth noting for safety conscious families on a budget.

Regardless of safety, it is worthwhile spending the extra $3500 on a GLS, which gets dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, with 7.0-inch touchscreen providing access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration plus digital radio reception. Those without a compatible smartphone are denied satellite navigation, even in top Exceed trim.

The GLS also has rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, an auto-dimming interior 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, and in the GLS tested here, an electronic locking rear differential. Super Select II enables driving on high-grip surfaces in high-range four-wheel-drive mode, similar to models with permanent full-time four-wheel drive such as the Ford Everest or Toyota Prado but with the addition of a rear-drive option as well.

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 are the $590 metallic or pearlescent paint finishes, plus a range of dealer-fit genuine accessories.

Interior

Given the addition of a third seating row opens a model’s appeal up to families, we find Mitsubishi’s interior design choices for the seven-seat Pajero Sport perplexing.

For some reason, the only child seat top tether fitted as standard is for the central position of the middle row. We found another in the glovebox with instructions on how to fit it ourselves, including the torque wrench settings for securing the bolt. If we needed the third top tether point for the other available seat, we would have to pay $33 to a Mitsubishi dealership and get the torque wrench out again.

The instructions also advised us to remove the top tether when not in use, as if anyone is really going to do that. But we found out why when crunching our cranium on it as we climbed into the third seating row.

Why Mitsubishi has not done the sensible thing and installed the top tether points onto the seat backs of the central row is known only to their internal bureaucracy. The same bureaucracy that decided to install the centre-middle seatbelt into the ceiling like an old Subaru and put the buckle for this seatbelt exactly where the occupant’s left buttock would rest. In addition to discomfort caused by the buckle, the angle of the seatbelt means it passes right across the throat of a primary school age child rather than their shoulder and chest.

As some form of saving grace, outboard positions have Isofix points, but if you persevere and cram a trio of child seats into the central row as many fertile families would, all the top tether straps and seatbelts hanging from the ceiling limit rear visibility for the driver and play havoc with anyone trying to travel in the third row.

It is also extremely difficult to even access the third row with all this going on, making it is easiest to jump in through the open boot.

There is also no provision to attach child restraints in the third row, but Mitsubishi is far from alone in this regard.

If you need to use child seats then perhaps reconsider whether the Pajero Sport is the best option for you until they come up with a better solution or the youngsters have graduated into booster seats.

Another Pajero Sport oddity is the folding mechanism of the third seating row.

Rather than folding flat into the boot floor, the seat bases flip up against the backrest of the central row, creating a large step in the load area and combining with the new – and useful – under-floor storage area.

This reduces overall boot space by 171 litres to 502L compared with the old five-seat version. This reduction is larger than the paltry 131L available with all seven seats in the upright position.

With all the seats folded flat, the seat bases cascade forward like dominoes to create a large flat load space, but at 1488L it is 136L smaller than the old five-seat layout provided. For comparison the Volkswagen Tiguan, a much smaller mid-size SUV, offers 1655L of seats-down boot space. The Pajero Sport is not exactly a triumph of packaging, then.

Still talking about the back of the car, we found ceiling-mounted AC vents to be sub-optimal for carrying infants in their rear-facing capsules as the airflow disturbs them. Being up by the tops of the windows, the Pajero Sport’s AC outlets are not as poorly placed in this regard as those in the more centrally mounted items in a Holden Trailblazer or Isuzu MU-X, but we would like to see more seven-seat SUVs with pillar-mounted rear vents such as those in a Hyundai Santa Fe.

Compared with rivals such as the Ford Everest, Isuzu MU-X and Toyota Fortuner, the Pajero Sport’s interior storage options are somewhat lacking too, with Mitsubishi offering fewer – and variously smaller – glove boxes, cubbies and cup-holders.

Anyone from Mitsubishi reading this can now breathe a sigh of relief, as the rest is good news.

On the move, interior refinement is top notch for this type of vehicle, with engine growl and tyre roar present but pleasantly distant. We had no cause for complaint over road noise, either. The driver must remember to put their seatbelt on before starting the engine, though, to avoid being subjected to an annoying warning chime.

The cabin presentation is up there with the segments finest, too. Like rivals, this is a largely hard plastic environment, but the textures do a good job of visually hiding that fact until curious fingers find out the truth. Metallic and piano black trim are used sparingly but effectively to lift the ambience, while the general shape and layout of the dashboard is modern, attractive and cohesive, with a classy looking steering wheel to greet the driver.

It is a nice touch that mid-spec GLS gets pretty much the same cabin ambience as the top-spec Exceed, which largely serves to add a suite of active safety and driver assistance features.

For example, GLS customers are treated to plush leather-upholstered seats that are generously padded, ruched armchairs that reminded us of a La-Z-Boy recliner. They are as comfy as they look, but the effect works better up front than in the central row, where the bolsters on outboard positions can restrict shoulder room when travelling three abreast. Also, the protruding bolsters don’t line up with the Isofix anchorages, meaning the child seat sits at a slight angle when installed in the outermost seats.

Those riding in the third row do without all the fancy padding, and for that matter, legroom, but the seats are adequate for pre-teens and shorter teenagers to travel without grumbling. Although the cushions are quite flat in form, they are angled in a way that helps hold occupants in place while providing ample support for their thighs. In this row, the driver’s side passenger gets a pair of cup-holders.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity works well on the reasonably large touchscreen, which when not used with a smartphone still features contemporary app-style menus and functions. DAB+ digital radio reception is a bonus and we found operating Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming relatively painless.

But most people – unless they have a Windows phone or some antique Nokia – will just plug in their smartphone and use the built-in telephony and audio connectivity provided by Apple/Android.

The smaller trip computer display in the instrument panel is less impressive, particularly the fuel consumption readout that appears to reset every journey rather than providing an average figure since last fill-up or kilometre reset.

But this is a minor grumble as the overall dashboard and instrument layout is clear, logical and concise.

For people not needing to attach child restraints, the Pajero Sport remains one of the segment’s top picks for interior comfort, presentation and refinement.

The model deserves a much better seatbelt and child seat solution.

Engine and transmission

The Pajero Sport packs an impressively refined, smooth, muscular and efficient 2.4-litre turbo-diesel engine and class-leading eight-speed automatic transmission.

Developing 133kW of peak power at 3500rpm and max torque of 430Nm at 2500rpm, this is not the segment’s gruntiest unit but it does well considering its small size. For example the much larger 3.0-litre engine fitted to an Isuzu MU-X puts out the same peak torque figure and 3kW less power. And has only six gear ratios to play with.

But getting this much out of such a small engine, combined with the relative complexity of an eight-speed automatic transmission, raises questions about the long-term durability of this drivetrain in the tough conditions Australia presents. Think off-road, carrying plenty of adventure gear and towing a camper or caravan. And the Pajero Sport is rated to tow 3100kg, at least 100kg more than its direct rivals.

Time will tell whether the Mitsubishi is up to this task, but for peace of mind we would prefer an unstressed larger unit with fewer gears and less to go wrong for this type of usage.

Also, the Pajero Sport engine may be small, but so is the fuel tank at 68 litres, which is perhaps a deliberate ruse to discourage owners from going too far off the beaten track.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For urban, suburban and motorway driving the Pajero Sport’s slick eight-speed auto does a marvellous job of keeping the little engine in its sweet spot and apart from an initial hesitancy until it warms up to operating temperature, delivers intelligent, seamless shifts.

We rarely had to even think about its machinations, a sure sign of well-calibrated transmission logic. Similarly impressive was its ability to let the engine tick over quietly at just 1800rpm while cruising at 110km/h.

This helped make the most of what little fuel could be crammed into the tank, translating into impressive long-distance fuel consumption. We achieved 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres during a motorway stint, just two tenths of a litre higher than the official highway figure.

During our week of mixed driving, we achieved consumption of 8.5L/100km, not far off the official combined figure of 8.0L/100km.

These figures were achieved with the chunky drive selector knob on the centre console set to rear-drive mode, but a unique-to-Mitsubishi feature we valued highly on the Pajero Sport was the presence of a centre differential that enables four-wheel-drive mode to be activated on bitumen roads.

Unlike other part-time 4x4 systems fitted to every competitor bar the Ford Everest and Toyota Prado, both of which are far more expensive and have permanent 4x4 with no rear-drive setting, the Pajero Sport can be left in this mode permanently (with a small impact to fuel economy) to serve like permanent all-wheel-drive for confident driving in slippery conditions, or on Australia’s many gravel roads that seem to be increasingly interspersed with sections of bitumen that would have mechanically sympathetic drivers of other vehicles reaching for the rear-drive mode every time they encountered the transition to blacktop, only to flick back to high-range 4x4 mode once the gravel resumed.

Another 4x4 mode setting locks the centre diff in high-range, while a third switches easily to low range, provided the vehicle is not moving and the transmission is in neutral. The GLS also gets a locking rear diff that is activated via a button on the dash.

In practice, the engine and transmission work well to drag the two-tonne Pajero Sport through rough terrain without feeling as though they are overworked. That said, we did not attempt this with a full load of people and luggage on board, nor did we have a trailer hitched to the back.

Ride and handling

As a rule, vehicles that can go a long way off-road tend to be compromised on paved surfaces. And vice-versa.

Steering that is vague and slow, excessive bodyroll and a firm ride suffering from bump-shudder are typical symptoms.

In recent times the worst of these traits have been ironed out to varying degrees, with the Pajero Sport being near the top of the pack for on-road manners. And this has not come at the expense of rough-stuff readiness.

For the urban jungle, the usual obstacles of potholes and speed humps did little to provoke the big Mitsubishi. Hitting lumps and bumps at an angle could bring about the chassis shimmy typical of body-on-frame SUVs and utes but this was more of a tremor than a quake and it generally resisted uncomfortable pitching.

Light, responsive steering and a tight 11.2-metre turning circle aid round-town manoeuvrability, these same qualities ensuring the Pajero Sport can be hurled along a curvaceous country lane without us having to think up any nautical analogies.

There just isn’t the top-heavy sensation that tends to blight this type of vehicle, particularly ones that soak up poor surfaces as well as the Pajero Sport. The sense of stability and level of ride comfort combines with the refined engine, relaxed cruising courtesy of a sophisticated transmission, a well-insulated cabin and plush seats to make the Mitsubishi a great road-trip companion.

A benefit of these well-polished road manners is the fact that not all road trips are long, straight highways, and crossing a mountain range in the Pajero Sport is less arduous than even some more road-oriented SUVs such at the Toyota Kluger or Nissan Pathfinder.

Venturing onto variously rocky and sandy tracks via gravel roads, we experienced few dramas in terms of ground clearance or traction, even if the electronics were working hard to keep everything in check judging from the disco lights on the dash. The aforementioned Kluger and Pathfinder would be totally lost in these conditions.

So Mitsubishi has struck a great balance with the Pajero Sport’s mix of abilities. Even with the effective dynamic overhaul lavished on Holden’s Trailblazer, to do much better in all environments takes a big step up in price to the Ford Everest, which in our opinion is compromised by the the downside of urban unwieldiness.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP awarded the Pajero Sport a maximum five-star rating, scoring it 36.22 out of a maximum 37 points based on crash test results from the Triton ute with which it shares an engine and chassis. It 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 equipment on the Pajero Sport GLS includes dual frontal, side chest and curtain airbags for all three rows 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. Seatbelt reminders are fitted to all seats, with the front two having pre-tensioners and load limiters.

Mitsubishi supplies the Pajero Sport with a five-year, 100,000km warranty and a years’ roadside assistance pack. Service intervals are a sensible 15,000km or 12 months, with a three-year capped-price servicing program priced at $350 for the first maintenance visit, $450 for the second and $550 for the third (correct at time of writing).

Verdict

The Pajero Sport GLS is a compelling proposition for people wanting a genuine off-roader that can seat seven. It drives, rides and handles as well as its best competitors, has plenty of standard equipment, pleasant interior ambience, a class-leading transmission, a unique and useful centre differential, is fuel-efficient, safe, comfortable and easy to live with regardless of the driving environment.

Then there is the five-year, 100,000km warranty that is only beaten in this segment by Isuzu – by 30,000km. And the price compared with every competitor means this is a lot of car for the money.

So it was with a heavy heart that we discovered the child seat attachment setup in the Pajero Sport. Seven-seat SUVs are family car heartland these days, so to offer a solution like this is mind-boggling.

Rivals

Holden Trailblazer LT from $47,990 plus on-road costs
Like the Everest, we’d go for something higher than base-spec with the Trailblazer. Holden in Australia did a lot to transform the rather rubbish Brazilian-developed, Thai-built Colorado 7 into what is now an excellent off-road SUV. Drive a hard bargain on an LTZ and it would pose a threat to the Pajero Sport GLS.

Isuzu MU-X LS-U AWD from $49,800 plus on-road costs
After Holden completely transformed the Colorado 7 into the superb Trailblazer, the related MU-X was in danger of looking a bit dated, but with two updates applied in a matter of months, this tough Isuzu is back in the game. No longer the value champion it once was, though.

Ford Everest Ambiente 4WD seven-seat from $53,990 plus on-road costs
The cheapest 4x4 seven-seat Everest costs more than the most expensive Pajero Sport. If hooked on an Everest, we’d find the extra cash and go for the less poverty-spec Trend variant.

Toyota Fortuner GX automatic from $49,990 plus on-road costs
Usual story: Base-spec Toyota for more than mid-spec Mitsubishi money, with the expected equipment deficit. Unexpected is the inferior driving experience.

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