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First drive: Mitsubishi Pajero upgrades

Range-topper: Pajero Exceed has the most additional equipment and the biggest price rise.

Styling and safety are the key changes for the latest version of Mitsubishi's Pajero off-roader

16 Oct 2002

MITSUBISHI has announced an update of its popular Pajero off-road wagon with new styling and an emphasis on additional safety features - including electronic traction and stability control and front side airbags - but no change to its fundamental mechanicals.

On-sale in November, the NP range has been cut back a little with the base model petrol GL dropped, following on from the diesel's departure with the launch of the new generation Di-D engine back in May.

The range now comprises GLX, GLS and top-spec Exceed with pricing heading upwards, but not in a dramatic fashion.

Exceed is the hardest hit with a price rise around $100-$1500, but Mitsubishi says that is compensated for by an increase in value that totals as much as $3000. But if you want a manual gearbox with your petrol-engined Exceed, forget it. That's been dropped for NP due to a lack of demand.

The big change for Pajero is the availability of electronic traction and stability aids for the first time, either optional on the GLX and GLS or standard on the Exceed. It is a move away from traditional mechanical off-road aids into a new era personified by BMW's X5 and the Mercedes-Benz ML.

The only difference here is that the Pajero is still highly regarded as a serious off-road vehicle, despite the shift to a monocoque chassis with the introduction of the NM Pajero in May 2000. Neither the X5 or ML are much more than high-rise wagons with the ability to negotiate dirt tracks and snow roads on the way to the ski fields.

So why do it? Fundamentally because it can. Mitsubishi is proud of its engineering abilities and the Pajero is a cornerstone of that, hence it gets this sort of advancement.

It also ties in neatly with the company's desire to present itself generally as a sophisticated user of technology.

Active traction control is available on 3.5-litre V6 petrol GLX and GLS and replaces the limited slip differential if optioned, while it is standard on the Exceed petrol model.

ATC is a conventional traction control that applies the brake to a wheel losing traction and sends the torque to the opposite wheel on that axle. It also uses engine intervention but in high range only.

Incorporated into ATC is an engine brake assist control that prevents spinning wheels when descending a steep downhill. But unlike Land Rover's HDC system, it is not a constant speed control.

Active Stability Control, which incorporates traction control, is available as an option on GLX and GLS 3.2-litre turbo-diesel models and is standard on the oil burner Exceed. ASC is only available with the diesel because it has an electronic throttle.

ASC applies engine intervention and increased and decreased braking forces to diagonally opposed wheels, and is designed to prevent understeer or oversteer. The ASC does not work in low range so maximum traction can be gained.

Expect ASC to become available with petrol-engined Pajeros when the current 3.5 is replaced by a 3.8-litre V6 about this time next year.

You'll be able to pick the new Pajero by the overt use of the three-diamond symbol in the middle of the new single-bar grille, an attempt to line the car up with the company's new styling philosophy.

The look works okay on the Exceed where the grille surround is body colour (and there's also chrome inserts), but on the GLX and GLS where the surround is black it can look odd, particularly when mated to a lighter body colour.

There are new one-piece front and rear bumpers for all models, while the GLS and Exceed also get smoother side cladding without the fluting of the predecessor NM, integrated side steps and flatter wheel arch flares which have been incorporated into the body.

Other bits and pieces for train-spotters to look out for include cleaned up tail-lights for the range and the Exceed's projector foglights, new-design 16-inch alloy wheels, roof rails and rear roof deflector.

Heading inside and the changes are minimal - illumination for the lower glovebox and black faces for the instruments replacing the old dark purple look, the centre seat in the second row now has a lap-sash safety belt, the third row flip-up seat has tombstone headrests and all headrests are now see-through.

Model-by-model inside, the GLX gains cruise control, keyless entry, a 60:40 split-fold for the second row the GLS gains the option of side airbags, while the Exceed gains standard side airbags, powered front passenger seat, along with a splash of titanium-look interior trim and leather wrapping for the gearshift knob and park brake lever. Some of these changes had already flowed through on diesel models at Di-D launch.

Those additions are on top of a base level of equipment for the range which includes air-conditioning (dual zone for Exceed), CD audio (six disc for Exceed) and power steering and windows. Cloth trim is updated in GLX and GLS while Exceed continues with leather trim.

The GLX still misses out on a front passenger airbag or ABS and makes do with the less sexy 16-inch steel wheels. The GLS also still misses out on ABS brakes as well.

Mitsubishi is forecasting 710 sales per month for NP, which lines up virtually lineball with the 2002 sales rate so far.

Mitsubishi Pajero GLX V6 petrol manual $45,790
Mitsubishi Pajero GLX V6 petrol auto $48,790
Mitsubishi Pajero GLX turbo-diesel manual $50,290
Mitsubishi Pajero GLX turbo-diesel auto $53,290
Mitsubishi Pajero GLS V6 petrol manual $52,590
Mitsubishi Pajero GLS V6 petrol auto $55,590
Mitsubishi Pajero GLS turbo-diesel manual $56,410
Mitsubishi Pajero GLS turbo-diesel auto $59,410
Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed V6 petrol auto $60,990
Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed turbo-diesel manual $62,490
Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed turbo-diesel auto $65,490OPTIONS (est)
Petrol - ABS/passenger airbag/traction control $2500
Turbo-diesel - ABS/passenger airbag/stability control $3500
ABS/in-dash 6-CD stacker $2000
Petrol - ABS/in-dash 6-CD stacker/side airbags/traction control $3000
Turbo-diesel - ABS/in-dash 6-CD stacker/side airbags/stability control $3700
Electric sunroof - $2000


AS we said up-front, there has been no change to the core Pajero equation. The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine is still the single overhead camshaft 24-valve unit which produces 140kW at 5000rpm and 303Nm at 3500rpm.

The turbo-diesel four-cylinder 3.2-litre is unchanged from its introduction a few months ago, with 121kW at 3800rpm and 373Nm at a low 2000rpm.

Both engines continue to be mated to the choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or the excellent INVECS II five-speed auto with "Sports Mode" semi-manual function, with the added assistance of Mitsubishi's Super Select 4WD system.

Suspension is via independent double wishbones and coil springs up front and by a multi-link design at the rear. Steering is via power-assisted rack and pinion and braking via discs all-round. Weights and measures all stack up as before as well.

In terms of driving, the feeling is much as before too. In fact, the southern Queensland drive program last week really served to emphasise the excellence of the auto version of the turbo-diesel auto compared to the petrol version.

It really is a super combination - smooth, powerful and not too noisy by diesel standards. The five-speed auto's flexibility combined with the diesel's torque means progress is relatively effortless and impressive.

The petrol V6 feels revvy, slightly thrashy and more stressed hauling the NP's two-tonne kerb weight around, and does not have the same amount of engine compression available to assist downhill off-road work.

Having said all that, the manual version of the diesel, which relies on the driver to mate power and torque delivery with gear ratios, is nowhere near as cohesive in its feel as the autos.

The underpinnings remain among the best in the large wagon business, giving the Pajero an almost car-like feel, riding surprisingly flat on winding roads while retaining a comfortable long-legged ride.

Off-road it is an extremely competent device and we encountered no challenges the Pajero - with or without electronic assistance - could not deal with. In fact, it was hard to distinguish the traction or stability control kicking in. It was actually more noticeable from outside the car as the systems redirected drive away from spinning wheels.

Overall, the Pajero remains an impressive performer. Its new safety aids will most likely not be required by hardened off-roaders, but more likely provide an added level of assurance for suburban drivers.

And considering that's where most Pajeros see most of their action, that's no bad thing.

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