Flinders Ranges, SA
What we liked
>> Fresh new look
>> Intuitive ergonomics
Not so much
>> Steering kickback
>> Unrefined suspension
>> Static electric shocks
The fourth generation Pajero in over 20 years, brings the iconic 4x4 into the 21st century and into a much more crowded marketplace than faced its predecessors. However, the latest incarnation of one of Australia's enduring seven-seater favourites is thoroughly modern in both substance and ability.
All-new sheetmetal encompasses uprated 3.8 litre V6 petrol and 3.2 litre common-rail direct-injection four-cylinder turbodiesel engines, both of which are cleaner, more powerful and less thirsty than their forebears.
Freshened interiors, extensive lists of features and options and the return of the three-door model put Pajero back on the front line of the heavyweight four-wheel-drive battleground.
Visually, the nose is all-new -- gone are the butch front wheelarch flares that looked like a gridiron footballer's jumper, replaced by smooth sides and a more appealing grille; the waist line is now flatter too -- meaning bigger windows for occupants of the third row of seats.
Priced from $40,990 (three-door V6 petrol R-model) to $70,990 (five-door 3.2 diesel auto Exceed), the new Pajero range now spans $30,000, two engines, two body styles, nine colours and 14 model variants. The 3.8 litre V6 petrol manual and automatic, and 3.2 litre diesel manual five-door models are available from early October, while the 3.2 litre diesel automatic five-door and the two three-door models will become available in November.
Mitsubishi expects that 60 per cent of new Pajeros will stop at the diesel pump, and anticipate that the cute three-door will account for just 7 per cent of sales.
Pajero includes features you'd expect in an upmarket family sedan: power steering, power windows, power exterior mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry with encrypted immobiliser and cupholders. In addition, all models have a trip computer which records weather information, altitude and compass.
Standard across all models are ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Engine Brake Assist Control (EBAC), Active Stability Control (ASC), Active Traction Control (ATC), Hill Hold Assist (on automatics only) and a Rear Diff Lock is available for use on poor surfaces.
The five-door Pajero continues to be a seven-seater, in a 2-3-2 layout. Heated front seats are standard on the VRX and Exceed models, and a powered driver's seat is standard on VRX and Exceed. The second row offers a 60:40 split and folds flat.
Automatic air-conditioning is standard and rear air-conditioning is an option on VRX and standard on Exceed. Steering wheel-mounted audio controls are standard on the R and X (three-door), VRX (five-door) and Exceed (five-door) models. A $2000 electronic tilt/slide power sunroof option has returned, thanks to consumer demand. It is available on R and X three-door, VRX and Exceed five-door models but cannot be supplied with the factory-fitted rear seat entertainment system which is standard on Exceed.
An optional $3000 Family Pack adds side and curtain airbags, rear seat entertainment, rear air conditioning control and rear park assist.
Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone connectivity will become available across the entire range: standard equipment on Exceed and as a dealer-fitted accessory on other models.
The 3.8 litre 24-valve V6 variable valve timing petrol engine is LPG compatible and produces 184kW, up 23.5 per cent on the previous engine and 329Nm, up 6 per cent on the previous Pajero.
The new diesel is a version of the 3.2 litre oil-burner first seen in the Triton, launched in July. This 3.2L CDi DOHC 16-valve common rail intercooled turbodiesel gives 125kW and 358Nm. The turbo has variable vane geometry, vanes closing at lower speeds for improved efficiency Both engines are Euro IV emission compliant -- although the diesel particulate filter is already Euro V compliant.
They are mated to either a five-speed manual transmission, or a five-speed automatic with sequential shifting. Mitsubishi was the first manufacturer with an automatic with sequential shifting into 4WDs.
The 4WD system can be engaged on the move at up to 100 km/h, and includes 2WD, 4WD high and low ranges, and 4WD high and low ranges with locked transfer. A rear axle diff lock is a $1000 option on all models, but can only be used at under 12km/h.
The front-to-rear power bias is normally 33/67, but will shift seamlessly to 50/50 on demand and the Pajero can accommodate a 700mm fording depth. The approach angles are 36 degrees for both three and five-door models, but the shorter wheelbase sees an improvement in ramp-over angles -- 22 versus 25 degrees, and a much-improved departure angle fort the stubby-tailed three-door -- 35 degrees versus just 25 on the five-door.
There are some diehards who say that leather upholstery has no place in a 4x4; others will say that a 4x4 has no place in suburbia, but the fact is, we are blessed with both. Happily, the Pajero's furniture and fittings are well designed, well-made and clearly intended to cosset at least the 98th percentile Aussie male -- the seats are wide and supportive with a wide range of adjustment, and the tilt-only adjustable steering column means that probably, even Quasimodo could get comfortable. There's not a vast amount of footspace, but it's sufficient to accommodate all three pedals in the manual and with enough space to park both size 11s.
And it's probably just a combination of fabrics, but the Pajero gave me some healthy static electric shocks when getting out -- one sizzler was visible in daylight and audible to bystanders on the footpath -- ouch!
With the impressive list of technological acronyms in the braking and traction control departments, Pajero lays claim to some top-drawer active and passive safety designs.
Features like the indicators in the large exterior mirrors will make the Pajero driver's intentions clearer, while new ADR compliancing means that the factory-fitted tail-lamps no longer need to be replaced by some tacky add-ons in the rear bumper-bar, as they have in the past. A reversing camera is also a welcome option.
Active safety, the art of avoiding a collision, is assisted by the hi-tech grip and braking systems; passive safety -- surviving the collision once it's occurred -- is helped by six airbags in the basic model, plus optional curtain bags. The two front bags are dual-stage.
Mitsubishi's reinforced impact safety evolution (RISE) body and three-point lap/sash seatbelts are fitted to all seating positions. The height-adjustable front row belts include pre-tensioners and force limiters.
Despite the fact that it's the same vehicle, Pajero's foreign 3300kg towing rating is reduced to 2500kg for Australia.
Mitsubishi Australia's launch briefing included only one rival: Toyota's Prado -- yet in reality, Mitsubishi is asking the new Pajero to fight for its parking space against virtually every other manufacturer, as most of them now have an entrant in the lucrative recreational 4x4 market.
Against Prado, the Pajero diesel is claimed to have 30 per cent more power, 11 per cent more torque and 20 per cent better fuel efficiency.
From Audi's up-market Q7 to Honda's MDX, Ford's Territory, sundry Toyotas, to some increasingly good Korean offerings and Land Rovers -- and even Suzuki's Grand Vitara, the Pajero will have to convince prospective buyers that it's no longer only a rough, tough and rugged off-roader, but is also a competent street-car too.
One key area where Mitsubishi thumps its rivals is with its industry-leading five-year/130,000km bumper-to-bumper, 10 year/160,000km drive-train warranty, added to five years of roadside assistance which is standard across the Pajero range.
With the new range, Mitsubishi Australia hopes to reclaim some of the ground lost to Toyota and the Koreans and put 9000 Pajeros into new homes each year.
ON THE ROAD
The launch venue included about a hundred metres of bitumen, so on-road assessments will have to wait for a more local evaluation. However, there was ample opportunity to raise some Outback dust and while both short and long wheelbase Pajeros found grip where there seemingly was none, the suspension lacked finesse and did a poor job of smoothing out the lumps and bumps.
Similarly, there was a lot of kick-back through the steering wheel as the big vehicle inched up and down some dirt tracks that might have had mountain goats looking for easier routes.
Perhaps this was as a result of getting into the cars cold -- a long-term owner will know intuitively where the front wheels are and place them with more care.
To be fair, this must be seen in context -- with the electronics finding grip and modulating power, and low-range first gear looking after descents where the rear wheels were often off the ground, all the variants of Pajero clambered almost effortlessly up and over every obstacle in their paths.
One minor niggle centres on the disconnection of the Anti Skid Control system while in low gear -- it was possible to get the vehicles slithering sideways while descending in the loose rocks -- exactly the circumstances where a brief pinch from the ASC on one or two brakes would have set us straight.
Under these conditions, fuel consumption was academic, although a couple of cars were showing 5km per litre -- that's 20 to the hundred, but in conditions that few would face except on the annual family bush trip.
With the less-than-successful 380 languishing in the sales volume side-streets, Mitsubishi Australia is no doubt hoping that the significantly-improved Pajero will lure cash-up professionals back into dealer's showrooms. If the marketing men can just get prospective customers through the Pajero's doors, the thoughtful engineering and clever design will speak volumes.