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Future models - Mitsubishi - Pajero Sport

First drive: Mitsubishi injects Sport into Pajero junior

Hey, Sport: Mitsubishi’s new large off-roader, the Pajero Sport, is smooth on the surface and tough underneath.

Mitsubishi Challenger makes way for all-new Pajero Sport, but only in five-seat form

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Mitsubishi logo30 Oct 2015

By RON HAMMERTON

MITSUBISHI’S smoother, more luxurious and technologically advanced Challenger replacement is poised to enter Australia’s large SUV fray before Christmas, but only in five-seat, 4x4 form.

As expected, the new model will be called Pajero Sport when it replaces the seven-year-old Challenger in December, thus bringing the vehicle into line with the international name while basking in the glow of the Pajero brand.

Although the rugged Triton-based large wagon is available with seven seats from the Thai factory, Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) has elected to forgo the third row of seats for the new-generation five-door wagon.

Officially, the decision to go with the five-seat version – at launch at least – is said to have hinged on Australian customers’ need for maximum cargo space, but a lack of side curtain airbags for the rearmost seat and an enclosed rear cabin design – potentially creating a cave-like ambience for little kids – could also have influenced the decision to skip the third row.

Mitsubishi points out that two of its other SUV models, the new mid-sized Outlander and ageing Pajero flagship, offer the seven-seat alternative anyway, but it has promised the look at the issue and perhaps introduce a seven-seat version at a later date if the stars align.

In the meantime, grey nomads and empty-nesters looking to make that long-awaited trek around Australia will find plenty to like about the Pajero Sport, on and off road.

At 4665mm long, the Pajero Sport is 90mm longer than Challenger, affording more interior space.

Although the Pajero Sport gets an all-new body and interior that gives it a substantially more upmarket aura, the main focus with this model has been to raise the car-like levels of comfort and convenience while at the same time enhancing the big five-door wagon’s off-road ability with new gadgetry and more supple suspension.

Mitsubishi also did not want to sacrifice any of the toughness that true bush-goers appreciate. Like its predecessor, the Pajero Sport sits on a tough ladder-frame shared with the Triton utility.

Rear of the firewall, the frame is largely carried over from the Challenger, but the front has an all-new crash-friendly design engineered for five-star safety.

A more car-like suspension tuning has been wrought on the suspension that comprises double wishbones at the front and a three-link coil, solid-axle set-up at the rear.

All Pajero Sports for Australia will have a full-on 4x4 drivetrain, with a choice of rear-wheel drive and serious 4x4 traction, along with plenty of ground clearance (218mm} and long suspension travel.

Now armed with easy-select (twist knob on the centre console) high- and low-range drive modes in four electronically controlled flavours – two of which lock the central differential – the Pajero Sport is ready for all but the most strenuous off-road rock-hopping, mud-slopping action.

And this time around, the vehicle also gets four traction modes – dubbed Gravel, Mud/Snow, Sand and Rock – in a first for Mitsubishi.

Like its rivals, the Pajero Sport also offers push-button hill-start assist and hill descent control.

We sampled some of these modes in a short burst around a compact but challenging off-road test track near Mount Fuji in Japan this week, and came away impressed with the suspension travel, grip and ride of the latest set-up.

Only once did we manage to confuse the electronics into a brief halt in proceedings when a couple of wheels left the ground at the same time, but only for a moment.

Unfortunately, we cannot comment on the on-road behaviour of the new model, as we did not get near bitumen on this outing. That will have to wait for the Australian launch in December.

The sole powertrain offered in the Australian model is Mitsubishi’s latest 2.4-litre turbo-diesel, directly out of the newly arrived Triton. Smaller than the diesels of many of its rivals, and certainly not class-leading, the engine nevertheless bangs out a competitive 133kW of power at a tall 3500rpm and 430Nm of torque at 2500rpm.

This is about the same power as the 131kW/350Nm Challenger, but with considerably more torque. As SUV lovers know, torque is where it is at.

The engine is not only more sprightly but also much quieter than its predecessor, contributing to the Pajero Sport’s much improved refinement over Challenger.

The engine is matched to an Aisin eight-speed automatic transmission. No manual gearbox will be available, as Mitsubishi estimates the demand for such a ’box will be negligible – it accounts for less than five per cent on Pajero, and sliding.

Official fuel figures are yet to be confirmed for Australia, but the Thai model is claimed to have gained a 17 per cent improvement over the Challenger (9.8 litres per 100km in auto form). We expect that it will achieve about 8.0L/100km on the combined fuel cycle – a pretty handy performance.

This fuel economy is partly attributed to Pajero Sport’s relatively low weight, although it still cracks the two-tonne mark. Tipping the scales at 2070kg, the new SUV is 70kg heavier than its predecessor, but lighter than almost all of its rivals, including the Ford Everest that comes in at a porky 2495kg in its heaviest form.

However, most of those rivals are seven-seaters.

MMAL promises it will take the full suite of safety and convenience features, but it is not yet prepared to spell out how these will be applied to the range.

In Thailand, the flagship GT-Premium has 18-inch alloy wheels, forward collision mitigation with autonomous braking, blind spot warning and seven airbags. For drivers prone to confusing the accelerator pedal with the brake, a “missacceleration mitigation system” will detect an obstacle – like your garage wall – and hit the brake.

While Challenger once competed in one of the smaller segments of the Australian motor market, the Pajero Sport faces a raft of similar competitors, most of which have arrived in fresh forms over the past couple of years.

These include the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest, but MMAL says its version will be mainly aimed at Holden’s Colorado 7 and Isuzu MU-X.

This gives a hint at pricing, with the Isuzu starting at $45,600 in 4x4 manual guise, and the Holden at $47,990 for the 4x4 auto.

MMAL is yet to divulge how many variants it will offer, what specification will be included and at what price, but we anticipated a couple of variants, with a base model featuring cloth seats and a slimmer level of equipment, and a high-end model with leather and all the fruit.

Regardless of trim level, all Pajero Sports will get keyless entry and start, an electronic parking brake, Mitsubishi’s super-smart connectivity for iPhone and Android smartphones (pioneered on the current Pajero), a seven-inch display screen, supremely comfortable seats with loads of support, dual-zone climate control (but no rear vents), and a full-sized spare wheel.

Although some elements of Triton can be spotted in the cabin, the Pajero Sport has a dash and console that is commendably upmarket, with excellent finishes. A raised centre console that slopes up towards the dash is a classy touch.

Sales targets for the new model are yet to be detailed, but MMAL is expecting bigger things than the circa-2000 Challengers it will unload this year.

The company might, however, have to factor in a drop in Pajero sales, as the smaller, newer young brother might be responsible for a little cross-showroom sales cannibalisation.

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