Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Pajero - 5-dr wagon range
Balance between on-road and off-road ability, interior space, value for money
Room for improvement
Engine noise, interior noise, low-speed ride harshness
18 Dec 2008
By PHILIP LORD
There is no doubt that the Mitsubishi Pajero has history in Australia - in 2008, it’s celebrating its 25th year - but the fact is its most direct rival in the Toyota Prado, with far less history, sells a lot more.
Perhaps it’s the might of the Toyota marketing budget, perhaps it’s the cushy ride and the superior perceived quality of the Prado, but any way you look at it, the Toyota fills more driveways than the Mitsubishi by a country mile.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons with the Prado, because while there are other Pajero competitors, none are as defined as the Toyota Prado. The Prado/Pajero rivalry is akin to that of the Falcon/Commodore, and has being going strong ever since the Prado 90 Series arrived on the scene in 1996.
But the question is, does more Prado sales actually mean it is a better 4WD than the Pajero? Isn’t the Pajero a good truck in its own right?
With the new NT series, the Pajero is actually arguably better.
The Pajero in its current shape has been around since the NM series of 2000, with several upgrades since and a major re-skin in 2006 with the NS series.
The new NT is really a gentle makeover of the NS, except where the 3.2-litre DI-D engine is concerned, where it has been given a big pull-through. It is not only more powerful than the previous model, it has also leapfrogged past the D4-D Prado turbo-diesel’s outputs.
When we arrived in Sunbury, Victoria to test the new NT Pajero, there was a fleet of identical-spec Pajero VRX DI-D to drive. Mitsubishi had only received the vehicles the week before the test, so with between 1800-2000km travelled on the odometer, the diesels were barely run-in.
That’s the only explanation we have for when we fired up the new engines, because it’s fair to say that the tappet-like sound, the booming and some coarseness at middling to high revs was very obvious.
The previous iteration of the DI-D was no turbine smooth-engine, and frankly on this first taste neither is the new NT series engine, despite Mitsubishi saying that noise suppression was a key component of the upgraded model's development. It is slightly better when cruising on the highway, but only then.
Never mind the clatter, feel the power - and torque. The new DI-D peels off some serious numbers at the flywheel, with a good slab of additional power and torque over the previous model.
Taking off, there is some turbo lag, but not big spoonfuls of it as some turbo-diesel engines are want to indulge in. The revs rise to the 2000rpm mark and the solid mid-range torque chimes in, giving excellent throttle response. The diesel will rev to its 4200rpm redline and beyond, but not as smoothly as some other turbo-diesels.
Even though it’s responsive enough at lower speeds, the new engine comes into its own on the highway, where it just builds a head of steam and takes off. It has very good overtaking response.
It’s not only the engine noise we hope we can explain away with the tightness of the engines or even irregularities in trip computers in the vehicles we tested.
The fuel consumption - over 150km in a variety of conditions, including tight, high-range tracks and easy, open highway cruising, showed an average of 11.5L/100km. That’s not even close to the claimed combined urban/country figure of 9.2L/100km.
The new Aisin five-speed auto transmission (that replaces the Jatco five-speed unit, but only on the DI-D models) shifts quite well, although the lurch when manually shifting from second to first on slow steep tracks isn’t as fluid as it could be.
While the final drive remains at 3.917:1, the first gear ratio is now taller at 3.520:1, compared with 3.789:1 for the old Jatco unit. The rest of the ratios are also slightly taller than before.
The Pajero VRX tested rides on 18-inch wheels and 60-series tyres and it doesn’t quite have the ride compliance of the taller-tyred models on their 65 aspect ratio tyres.
The bonus is very good grip levels for such a large 4WD wagon and dynamics on paved roads and dirt are both very good. It is not of the calibre of a BMW X5, certainly, but will leave its chief competitor in the Prado lurching and tyre howling in its wake.
Even though small, sharp bumps are not soaked-up especially well, get onto fast undulating country backroads and the Pajero comes into its own. It’s noisier and feels a bit harsher inside than the Prado, but it is much more planted on the road.
The Pajero’s interior is still looking quite fresh after its 2006 NS update, although it follows a few manufacturers who try to mix and match their cabin plastics quality, presumably to keep down costs.
Starting from the top, the upper dash looks by itself contemporary and smooth and the epitome of high-end motoring quality, but by the time your eyes fall to the lidded storage compartments on the lower centre console, it’s more like the shiny plastics quality of something from a China Products emporium circa 1978.
The new-for-NS series LED centre trip computer display also looks a bit like the readout of my very first LED digital watch, back in 1977.
Never mind the clunky detail finish - the way the interior works is actually pretty smooth overall. While the Prado persists with the side-folding third row seats - which take up precious load space, are awkward to use - at least the Pajero has ingenious underfloor stowage for its third row seats.
The third-row seats only have a 70kg limit per person and anyone heftier would find the small space uncomfortable anyway.
The new NT Pajero follows closely in the footsteps of its predecessor, the NS, but with the promise of a far more powerful and responsive diesel engine.
While the engine is better in some regards, we need to drive it again with run-in engines to see if the noise and economy have improved.
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