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New models - Mitsubishi - Pajero

First Oz drive: Pajero diesel goes techno

Extensively tested: The Pajero Di-D completed over 30,000km of testing, mostly in outback South Australia, before being released.

Mitsubishi has jumped on the new generation turbo-diesel bandwagon with the latest powerplant for its Pajero 4WD

13 May 2002

MITSUBISHI has celebrated the current Pajero's second birthday in Australia with the release of an all-new turbo-diesel variant.

The Pajero Di-D - for direct injection diesel - is due to go on sale in June as a replacement for the long-running 2.8-litre indirect injection unit, which has been a staple in the Pajero line-up since the early '90s.

In today's terms, the 2.8-litre engine is simply uncompetitive against the new generation engines in the Toyota Prado and Holden's Jackaroo, as well as being hampered by the lack of an automatic transmission variant and cruise control.

These issues have been addressed with the new 3.2-litre Di-D powerplant, which has brought the diesel Pajero into the new century and enabled it to leapfrog its key competitors, the Toyota Prado, Holden Jackaroo and Land Rover Discovery, in the process.

Diesel sales have climbed significantly in the last few years - in fact, almost three-fold since the early 1990s due to the availability of automatic transmissions and the continuing refinement of modern diesel engines.

In the large four-wheel drive segment, and the medium segment to a lesser extent, diesel-powered vehicles have been the growth area to the point where the ratio of diesel/petrol sales is now about 50/50 - that figure was once more like 30/70.

Mitsubishi is hoping to capitalise on this trend towards technologically advanced turbo-diesel engines, coupled with automatic transmissions, with its latest Pajero model.

Three model variants are available - GLX, GLS and Exceed - and each is available with either a five-speed manual or five-speed tiptronic-style adaptive automatic transmission (the previous model was a manual only proposition)Pricing for the Di-D models starts at $49,990 for the manual GLX and rises to $64,490 for the range-topping automatic Exceed. GLX and Exceed models have increased in price by $2200, while the GLS has gone up $1520, although cruise control is now standard equipment on all diesel models.

That makes the diesel models between $3820 and $4500 more expensive than the equivalent petrol models, depending on grade, while the diesel auto models cost $3000 more than their manual counterparts, which is the same as the petrol modelsThe GL diesel variant has been deleted from the model line-up, as Mitsubishi claims the sales volume at that stripped-out base level is too small to justify offering it.

The new engine is a 3.2-litre four-cylinder intercooled turbo-diesel unit that develops 121kW of power at 3800rpm and 373Nm of torque at 2000rpm, making it the most powerful in its class.

The Di-D engine is a big step forward on the technology front, featuring direct injection, double overhead camshafts and four-valves per-cylinder with electronic control, whereas the now superseded 2.8-litre engine made do with indirect injection, SOHC, two-valves per-cylinder and straight mechanical operation.

The switch to direct injection is said to have helped reduce both the noise levels and heat losses normal in an indirect injection engine, while the increased displacement and improved breathing efficiency of the four-valve head have resulted in power and torque increases of 25 and 28 per cent respectively.

The old 2.8-litre engine needed 17.3 seconds to reach 100km/h from standstill, while the new Di-D takes just 12.0 seconds, according to Mitsubishi's in-house test figures.

But despite the larger capacity and improved performance characteristics, fuel efficiency has also improved to the tune of 24 per cent.

As there is no official Australian standard to test to for diesel vehicles, Mitsubishi conducted an EU (European Union) combined test to compare the old and the new vehicles - the 2.8-litre manual consumed 12.3 L/100km, while the 3.2-litre manual used 9.3 L/100km.

Apart from the engine change, the rest of the Pajero package remains the same - the monocoque body construction, fully independent suspension and Mitsubushi's proven "Super Select" 4WD system.

Mitsubishi expects to sell just over 1300 examples of the new Di-D Pajero, or 190 units per month, in the seven months from June until the end of the year, which contrasts with the 500 sales the old 2.8-litre turbo-diesel Pajero generated for the whole of 2001.

The GLX grade is expected to account for 50 per cent of sales with a higher proportion of manual transmission models (62 per cent) taking favour with entry-level buyers.

The GLS grade should take 30 per cent of sales, with more people favouring automatics than manuals at this level, while the top-of-the-line Exceed should account the final 20 per cent of sales, with even more buyers going for autos at this point in the market.

Prior to the arrival of the high-tech diesel, Pajero sales were running at about 90 per cent petrol with the 3.5-litre V6 proving extremely popular with buyers and helping to keep the Pajero near the top of the sales chart for medium all-terrain wagons.

Mitsubishi is expecting a significant substitution from petrol to diesel with the introduction of the new engine and the availability of an automatic transmission, just as the Prado's sales graph improved daramtically when its auto/diesel model arrived.

PRICING:
Pajero GLX $49,990
Pajero GLX auto $52,990
Pajero GLS $55,810
Pajero GLS auto $58,810
Pajero Exceed $61,490
Pajero Exceed auto $64,490

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

IT is easy to see why the Pajero has been one of the top-selling medium 4WDs since its release two years ago.

With its monocoque body and independent suspension, it is the most car-like of its contemporaries and subsequently the most enjoyable to drive as an everyday vehicle. A comfortable, functional and adaptable interior adds further to the overall package.

On the road the new turbo-diesel engine is an exceptional performer. It's refined and quiet to the point where you almost forget it's a diesel once you're on the move and its quite happy to cruise well beyond the open road limit while barely sipping from the fuel tank.

The engine really starts to generate some forward thrust from around 1800rpm when the turbo starts to spool up, but it pulls cleanly from as low as 1000-1200rpm.

The introduction of electronic throttle control also aids driveability, as it makes the vehicle feel more flexible under varying driving conditions.

Gearing is well-matched to the engine in both manual and automatic transmissions, although the adaptive, tiptronic-style five-speed auto is the pick of the two for its "smart" control and manual functions, which are both absent from its competitors.

The drive route around the Dubbo region in central NSW didn't include any serious off-road sections to test the new engine's mettle, nor were there any significant hills to put the engine under load when climbing and check engine compression on the way back down.

But if the new engine is the best of the current crop of turbo-diesels for engine performance and driving characteristics, with the Pajero competent if not class leading in off-road situations, then there is no reason to doubt the overall package as both a weekday commuter and a weekend off-roader.

A comprehensive on and off-road test at a later date will tell the full story, but for now the Pajero Di-D looks like being the new class benchmark.

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