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Driven: Mitsubishi Pajero Sport rises to challenge

Good sport: Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport replaces the ageing Challenger and arrives this month with a starting price that undercuts the Toyota Fortuner.

A new name for the Triton-based Pajero Sport holds sales hopes for Mitsubishi

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Mitsubishi logo4 Dec 2015

By STUART MARTIN

MITSUBISHI Motors Australia Limited will push the competitive pricing and bold styling of its Pajero Sport in a bid to head off key competitors in the burgeoning rugged four-wheel-drive wagon segment.

The renamed replacement for the Challenger, which now invokes stronger heritage links to its larger – and ageing – Pajero sibling, returns to a more populated market segment that it once largely had to itself.

The Japanese car-maker’s future is based on an SUV-led strategy and while not talking specific sales numbers, MMAL executive director of marketing Tony Principe said the company is well-placed to capitalise on continued SUV growth that is expected to top 400,000 within a record market this year.

“So far this year, it's tracking at 93,000 a month and heading for an all-time record,” he said. “We're expecting it (the overall market) will end up around 1.1 million.”

Mr Principe said the brand's Australian arm had grown 9.1 per cent (to the end of October) in a market that's up 3.7 per cent, although VFACTS figures released after the launch had a dent in that growth from a flat November.

“We're pretty comfortably in fifth, up from seventh at the same time last year.

It's been a pretty good period for us to grow in a difficult market environment.”

Mr Principe said the Pajero Sport – which goes on sale from December 7 – is the most advanced fully capable Mitsubishi 4x4 SUV to date.

“It adds another stylish and practical option to Mitsubishi’s SUV arsenal with stacks of appeal for active families, empty nesters and serious four-wheel drivers shopping for a comfortable, reliable and clever 4x4 SUV that is equally capable in Australian cities as it is off the beaten track,” he said.

Now faced with opposition from Toyota's HiLux-based Fortuner, the Holden Colorado 7, Isuzu MU-X and Ford's pricier Ranger-based Everest, the Pajero Sport comes to market with a stronger features list and a starting price almost $3000 cheaper than the base Fortuner and almost $10,000 below the Everest.

Pricing for the Challenger-replacing Pajero Sport starts with the GLX from $45,000 plus on-road costs, which is about lineball with the automatic version of the outgoing model there's no longer a manual on offer.

The new model's features list in entry level GLX guise includes an electric park brake, cloth seat trim, Off-road Terrain Control System, keyless entry with push button start, smartphone audio link, folding power-adjustable exterior mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, reach and rake adjustable steering and climate control.

The mid-spec GLS starts from $48,500, which is $1490 below the outgoing LS flagship.

Stepping up to the mid-spec GLS add dual-zone climate control, leather interior trim, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights and auto-dimming rearview mirror to the features list, as well as a rear diff lock.

It is now topped by the Exceed, which is priced from $52,750 and comes standard with ‘multi around monitor’ camera system, blind-spot warning, forward collision and ultrasonic mis-acceleration mitigation system, power-adjustable heated front seats, a rear DVD entertainment system and eight-speaker sound system.

The off-road ability of the superseded Challenger will be retained with the Pajero Sport, which has a part-time four-wheel-drive system that allows rear or 4WD on the bitumen, as well as a low range transfer case.

Measuring 90mm longer but 35mm lower in height and of similar weight to the outgoing two-tonne Challenger, the Pajero Sport is also equipped with the Off-road Mode terrain control system with four driving modes – gravel, mud/snow, rock and sand – and employs the brakes to individual wheels for a limited slip differential effect in off-road driving.

A minimum ground clearance of 218mm (2mm less than the outgoing car), a 700mm wading depth (up 100mm), a 30-degree approach, 23.1 degree rampover and 24.2 departure angle also speak to off-road potential, although the outgoing Challenger laid claim to a 36 degree approach angle.

The standard safety features list for the range includes a reversing camera and rear sensors, auto-locking doors, seven airbags, hill descent and hill start control, stability, traction and trailer sway control – enough to earn it a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating under the 2015 test regime.

The drivetrain highlight is the addition of the eight-speed automatic, which is teamed to the 133kW/430Nm 2.4-litre alloy Euro5 compliant turbo-diesel donated by the Triton.

This new transmission helps to achieve an official fuel use figure of 8.0 litres per 100km, a 17 per cent improvement, while delivering two extra kilowatts and 80 extra Newton metres over the outgoing auto.

Mitsubishi said a 10 per cent reduction to the rotating inertia of the variable geometry turbocharger has allowed the Pajero Sport to produce more torque lower in the rev range.

The Pajero Sport’s suspension has a double wishbone with coil spring set up at the front (also shared with the Triton but with a thicker anti-roll bar) and three-link rigid axle with coil spring suspension at the rear that's unique to the wagon, which has been rated for braked towing of 3.1 tonnes.

Four wheel disc brakes, a faster steering rack and LED headlights and tail-lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, Apple and Android music play functions, digital radio reception and an upgraded sound system with rear DVD player (in the Exceed) are among the other highlights.

Cargo space of 673 litres is available behind five occupants, rising to 1624 litres when two up and packed to the roof Mitsubishi staffers said a return to offering seven seats was likely but no firm timetable was in place.

2015 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport pricing*
GLX (a)$45,000
GLS (a)$48,500
Exceed (a)$52,750
*Excludes on-road costs

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