Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Pajero - GLS 5-dr wagon
On-road ability, compact feel, easy entry-exit for big 4WD, interior versatility, five-speed auto
Room for improvement
Ride surprisingly firm in some circumstances, small third-row seat
14 Feb 2001
By TIM BRITTEN
FOUR-WHEEL drive vehicles - full-size four-wheel drive vehicles - tend to have a longer lifespan than regular volume-selling passenger sedans.
Mitsubishi's Pajero is a good example. Early in 1999 speculation was rife that the long-running Mitsubishi 4WD, really only in its second incarnation after being launched originally in 1982, was surely due for replacement.
The favourite rumour was that Mitsubishi would do something for the Tokyo motor show in October that year.
And Mitsubishi delivered on cue - although no-one really expected quite what it dished up.
The third-generation Pajero proved to be a different animal to its predecessor.
Not only did the new model dispense with the traditional backbone chassis in favour of a sedan-style monocoque body it also finally trashed the live-axle rear suspension and replaced it with a plush, absorbent, multi-link independent arrangement.
Mitsubishi had taken the hard decision to go down much the same road as Mercedes-Benz with its successful M series four-wheel drives. Off-road ability took a back seat to on-road comfort and dynamics.
And, Mitsubishi claims, the adoption of a monocoque body also means it is easier to engineer-in higher degrees of passive safety than normally expected in a large 4WD.
On top of that, the company gave the stylists their heads, with the result the Pajero looks - from some angles - almost radical.
So now we have a Pajero that is easier to live with, on a day-to-day basis, than virtually any other "full-size" 4WD - such as a Nissan Patrol or a Toyota LandCruiser - because of its more car-like proportions and on-road behaviour.
Off-road, the story has changed slightly - but more of that later.
The new model comes in long-wheelbase, four-door wagon form only, with either the familiar 140kW, 3.5-litre petrol V6 or the 2.8-litre, 92kW turbo-diesel.
Visually, the Pajero may find itself equally admired and despised.
There is no mistaking the new model with its ultra-short front overhang dramatised by pronounced, rounded proto-mudguards and an equally muscular side view with jutting wheel arches swooping up to and blending into the tail lights.
The side window line kicks up in sympathy and there are heavy, ribbed plastic protection panels on the lower half of the doors.
It is not immediately obvious, but the new car is broader (by 100mm) and lower (by 35mm) than the outgoing model. What this means is there is less height to step up into, as well as more shoulder room.
Mitsubishi says the Pajero is bigger inside, increased in width by 110mm, and longer by 60mm, translating to more passenger space as well as a 194-litre bigger luggage area at the back.
Although cargo height has been reduced slightly - by 30mm - there is absolutely no problem wheeling a pushbike or two straight in, provided the centre-row seats are folded.
The rearmost seats are clever, too. Small and intended for short adult trips only, they fold neatly and easily into the floor, so invisibly that there's really no sign they are there.
Those familiar with the previous Pajero will be delighted with the new dash.
Thoroughly contemporary but avoiding gimmickry, it looks balanced and easy to comprehend with large, well located controls and a useful double-glovebox array that remains when the optional passenger airbag is fitted.
Rotary dials for heating/air-conditioning are easy to use and the master light switch is in the conventional Japanese position on the indicator stalk.
A multi-coloured graphic advising of barometric pressure, altitude, temperature and time of day dominates the upper centre of the dash, continuing Mitsubishi's tradition of offering information other manufacturers don't worry about.
Pajeros were once fitted with an "inclinometer" that advised the steepness of the slope being climbed or traversed.
In GLS form, the front seats have fore-aft, backrest and cushion tilt/height adjustment, the former being notable for dispensing with the usual Mitsubishi side adjuster in favour of a more conventional lift-bar under the front of the seat.
The seats are large and accommodating, presenting no problem for tall passengers and, because of the lower floor permitted by the monocoque construction, easier to access than other 4WDs of similar size.
The centre-row seats don't skimp on legroom either, although there is less space here than in a Patrol or LandCruiser. And the back seat, as already mentioned, is good only for children even though it is rated to carry adults.
A big surprise is in store once the new Pajero is taken out on the road.
The immediate impression is that it feels sedan-like. The driver is in a more comfortable, involving relationship with the steering wheel and controls, less perched on top of things.
It is still high and commanding by comparison with a regular car, but the Pajero tends to wrap around the driver more, feeling quite compact and wieldy.
The steering, now rack and pinion rather than recirculating ball, is well weighted and the car responds smoothly, with a stable sure-footedness lacking in the live-axle heavyweights.
The Pajero inspires confidence although it is still a large mass of vehicle.
Part of this is due to a lack of body roll, which in turn is due to suspension settings tending towards the sportier end of the scale.
The downside is the Pajero feels less plush than one might have imagined, given its all-independent underwear, and that the car can skip around on some corrugated surfaces - albeit in an easily controlled way and certainly with none of the waywardness of the live-axle beasts. The firmish settings however do give rise to the occasional uncomfortable thump from underneath.
Overall, however, a Pajero will outrun any other full-size 4WD apart from, we suspect, an M-class Mercedes.
When it comes to venturing off-road - an increasingly less-likely scenario with today's 4WDs - the Pajero can hold its head reasonably high.
Ground clearance has been improved, from 215mm to 235mm, and rear suspension travel has increased by 30mm, so the Pajero can be wheeled with confidence anywhere the previous model would go.
The dramatically short front overhang also means there is little chance of getting into strife in terms of approach angles (it is an impressive 42 degrees) although the back end, at a less impressive 24 degrees departure angle, hangs out more than expected.
The single camshaft, 24-valve, 3.5-litre V6 is entirely suited to the Pajero, although there were times we were expecting a little more accelerator response from its 140kW.
Despite the weight reductions, the Pajero still tops two tonnes in GLS form.
But we could never complain about the actual performance delivered, largely because the INVECS-II five-speed, Tiptronic-style automatic gearbox is so good in its ability to either allow manual override or to anticipate driver demands.
The five-speeder is also self-programming in full-auto mode so driver habits are duly noted and the transmission operates accordingly.
An edgy, quick driver will have the box upshifting at higher rpm than a more relaxed driver.
The Pajero also retains the ability for driver-selection of four-wheel drive mode with what it calls the Super Select system: it's possible to proceed in rear-wheel drive only or to activate full-time on-road 4WD via a centre differential complete with viscous coupling.
This centre diff can be locked to distribute power equally to front and rear wheels should conditions demand.
A low-range setting, complete with centre differential lock, is used in heavy-duty off-road situations.
Although the system lacks any of the push-button 4WD selection provided in a number of off-roaders today, it is easy to operate via a second selector lever next to the console-mounted shifter.
Thus the driver can cruise around the city in the slightly more economical two-wheel drive mode or, at anything up to 100km/h, slip into high-range 4WD when it starts to rain, or if the road surface deteriorates.
The GLS does not get the standard anti-lock brakes of the Exceed, but the four-wheel ventilated discs are reassuringly full of bite.
This is especially noticeable on dirt surfaces, which remain a problem with many ABS systems.
All this allows the Pajero to move seamlessly between on-road and off-road. It is very confidence inspiring if the going gets a little fast and loose.
The Pajero proceeds with relative silence, although more tyre and suspension noise found its way inside than expected, no doubt partly due to the lack of a full chassis to isolate the body from what was happening down below.
In the bush, the Pajero is possibly a better operator than before with increased ground clearance and rear-wheel travel.
Live axles are still the best in really tough going because they ensure a constat ground clearance, but the Mitsubishi walks its way neatly through most of the heavy-duty stuff.
The only cringe factor is the thought of all those lovely, curved panels and the limitations of plastic to absorb attack from overhanging scrub or hidden stumps. Bull bars do make sense when you are going properly off-road.
In terms of utility, the new Pajero scores with its bigger interior and easily manipulated seating arrangements.
The 60/40 slip-fold centre row folds and flips easily to increase the loading area, although we did have a beef with the awkward access to the rearmost seat.
Equipment levels in GLS were pretty good too, with a driver's airbag (passenger's is optional), air-conditioning (with ducts to the rear seats) and AM/FM/single-disc CD all part of the deal.
Passenger's airbag, anti-lock brakes, leather trim and power driver's seat don't make an appearance as standard equipment in anything short of the flagship Exceed model.
All except the leather trim and power driver's seat are optionally available on GLS.
Mitsubishi has never been short of good product despite its uncertain market performances, and the new Pajero is proof again that this company is still able to blaze new trails that will undoubtedly be followed by others.
It is difficult to think of a better-suited vehicle for the many Australians partaking in the family-size 4WD phenomenon.
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