Mitsubishi NT Pajero VRX diesel

words - Ken Gratton
Pajero: For when your heart says 'Defender' but your spouse says 'Kluger'

Local Launch
Wombat State Forest, Vic

What we liked
>> Easy running diesel power and torque
>> Smooth-shifting auto
>> Solidity, comfort and refinement offroad

Not so much
>> Packaging is not as commodious as we remembered it
>> Diesel powerplant is still not the quietest around
>> Minor ergonomic issues

Overall rating: 3.0/5.0
Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 3.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 2.5/5.0
Safety: 3.5/5.0
Behind the wheel: 3.0/5.0
X-factor: 3.5/5.0

About our ratings

OVERVIEW
The history of the Mitsubishi Pajero in Australia is a game in two halves, to quote a hackneyed expression from the world of football. When the NA Pajero arrived here in 1983 (before anyone even spoke of SUVs), it was ground-breaking and dynamic, but competitors throughout the 1980s and 90s gradually drew level.

With the introduction of the NM model in the late 1990s, Pajero's monocoque platform kicked some goals and once again led the pack. Despite predictions of doom from dedicated offroaders, the chassis-less Pajero found favour for its improved refinement and comfort as well as better on-road dynamics. All of this came without serious detriment to its offroad ability.

But there were some devious and dastardly doings behind play, as league big gun Toyota shook up the fixture with its Prado -- introduced here not long after the NM Pajero was launched.

The Prado remained built on a chassis, but adopted the tactics of earlier Pajeros and also brought to the competition the usual Toyota attributes of durability and low running costs. It was an immediate success and has been the premier in the medium SUV segment for a number of years (with Ford's Territory recently outflanking it in the 'under-19s' crossover division).

Mitsubishi has upgraded the Pajero for 2009 and is now in a position to field a full team against the Prado.


PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
Prices for the upgraded Pajero range from $43,990 for the Pajero R short-wheelbase variant powered by V6 and driving through an automatic transmission, to the $74,790 for the Pajero Exceed long-wheelbase with diesel powerplant and auto box. For full pricing details, see our news story here.

The new pricing structure shifts the balance of power in favour of the Pajero, according to Mitsubishi. That's based on comparing each Pajero variant and its respective features and specifications with its Prado counterpart.

Curiously, Mitsubishi officially released the new range from December 26, 2008, but the company doesn't anticipate reducing prices and clearing '08 stock. Nonetheless, there will technically be '08-built vehicles for the '09 upgrade. It ends up being a swings and roundabouts situation. Buy now to avoid the likelihood of a price rise around the end of the first quarter, 2009, or take your chances and reap a small resale benefit when it comes time to sell.

To combat the Prado, Mitsubishi has added a GL grade Pajero to the range, in the role of entry level model. This variant is only available on the long-wheelbase five-door platform and is a five-seater. Other long-wheelbase variants seat seven.

Mitsubishi is gambling on offroaders taking to the upgraded safety specification of the base-grade Pajero, which offers standard ABS and airbags. In earlier generations, the GL-grade Pajero was a niche seller only, but the safer Pajero GL for 2009 is hoped to attract more fleet and private buyers whose budget won't stretch to an upmarket variant.

Standard features across the range include: MP3-compatible CD audio system, multi-mode information and entertainment system (with integrated trip computer, compass, altimeter, barometer, external temperature and time and date functions), cruise control, height-adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, climate control, rear-seat heating, tilt-adjustable steering column, electric windows/mirrors, variable-dwell intermittent wipers and remote central locking.

The basic Pajero GL features as standard: 17x7.5 steel wheels, 265/65 R17 tyres, six speakers for the single-disc CD audio system, 'Dakar' fabric seat trim and six cupholders. In this level of trim, the updated 4M41 diesel engine is the only powertrain option available.

The Pajero GLX, a level above the GL, comes with the following added features as standard: 17x7.5 alloy wheels in a seven-spoke design, roof rails (finished in silver), six-disc in-dash CD audio system, leather-bound steering wheel with remote controls for audio, leather-bound gear knob and third-row seat.

Stepping in to part-fill the gap left by the Pajero VRX's move upmarket is the Pajero GLS, which, beyond the specification of the GLX grade gains body-colour mirrors and door handles, front fog lights, chrome grille, side steps and dual-zone climate control with roof-mounted ducts.

The VRX itself picks up a wide range of features over that of the Pajero GLS, features like: rear diff lock, 18x7.5 alloy wheels in a six-spoke design, 265/60 R18 tyres, side indicators integrated with the exterior mirrors, silver front skid-plate, darkened headlight clusters, aluminium decorative trim, titanium-look window switch bezels, high-contrast instrument binnacle, sports pedals, auto-dimming mirrors, heated exterior mirrors, reverse-parking sensors, leather seat trim, privacy glass, electrically-adjustable front seats and heated front seats.

Capping the range is the Pajero Exceed, featuring the following standard items not included in the specification for the Pajero VRX: 18x7.5 alloy wheels in a nine-spoke design, chrome door mirrors with integrated indicators, chrome door handles, HID headlights with auto-levelling and auto-on/off facility, rain-sensing wipers, Rockford Fosgate 12-speaker audio, rear entertainment system with headphones and auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation, wood-and-leather combination trim for steering wheel with remote audio controls, walnut decorative trim, matching carpet mats, reversing camera and a cargo blind.

A rear differential lock can be specified as part an option pack for the GL and GLX-grade Pajero variants. Alternatively, it can be purchased as a stand-alone extra-cost option for the Pajero GLS. As mentioned above, Pajeros equipped to the VRX and Exceed level are fitted with the rear diff lock as standard.

Short-wheelbase variants are largely aligned with two levels of trim in the long-wheelbase models. The SWB Pajero R is broadly equivalent to the mid-range GLS and the sporty shorty Pajero X is a counterpart to the LWB Pajero VRX grade, although the Pajero X is slightly better trimmed than the VRX.

Unlike the GLS, the Pajero R is not available in any circumstance with the rear diff lock and the Pajero X features two-tone wheelarch flares that cannot be ordered for any other variant.

HID headlights that are offered as part of the standard specification for the Pajero Exceed are also fitted to the Pajero X. Other Exceed accoutrements fitted to the Pajero X include rain-sensing wipers and auto-on/off headlights with auto-levelling and washers. Where the Pajero X falls short though, is the omission of the Exceed's electrically-adjustable front-passenger seat. Mitsubishi does kit the Pajero X with an electric tilt/slide sunroof that's only available as an option in the Exceed.

Continuing the theme of mix-and-match specs for the SWB variants, both Pajero R and X feature the same black roof rails fitted to the long-wheelbase Pajero GL -- all other LWB variants boast silver rails.

Of the entire range, only the Pajero X features the premium-spec Mitsubishi Power Sound System (MPSS) with eight speakers.


MECHANICAL
Mitsubishi offers two engines to power the Pajero. The 3.8-litre V6 is unchanged from the migration to the upgraded NT model, but the 3.2-litre direct-injected and turbocharged diesel has come in for considerable revision. Peak power for the upgraded engine is now 147kW and maximum torque is 441Nm. Both figures represent an 18 per cent jump over the corresponding figures for the NS Pajero, according to Mitsubishi.

Now Euro IV-compliant, the diesel has gone to a revised variable-geometry turbocharger and diesel-engined variants driving through the automatic transmission now benefit from a diesel particulate filter. As a consequence of these and other changes, the diesel Pajero returns city consumption figures of 8.8L/100km for the automatic SWB variants, 8.4L/100km for manual LWB variants and 9.2L/100km for auto LWB variants. According to the manufacturer, fuel use has been reduced by as much as 13 per cent, by comparison with equivalent-spec vehicles in the NS range.

Mitsubishi has turfed the former Jatco auto box formerly coupled to the diesel in the NS range, in favour of a new Aisin five-speed transmission. First-gear acceleration is improved with the adoption of the new transmission and Mitsubishi claims that diesel/auto Pajero variants are now 1.6 seconds faster accelerating to 100km/h from a standing start than the corresponding NS models.

Displacing 3.8 litres, the petrol V6 features a common Mitsubishi valvetrain of a single overhead cam driving four valves per cylinder. Peak power for this engine, is 175kW for manual transmission variants in the LWB guise. SWB variants powered by the same engine are equipped as standard with automatic transmission, but the power output is higher than for the LWB manual, variants -- 182kW. LWB variants with automatic are tuned to develop an extra 2kW of power, 184kW. All V6 variants produce torque at the same peak figure, 329Nm at 2750rpm.

The five-speed manual transmission is the default for GL, GLX and GLS grades, but these can be optioned with the five-speed automatic box. This transmission is standard for SWB, VRX and Exceed variants.

Mitsubishi's Super Select II drive system for the Pajero can work like a constant four-wheel-drive system when you want it to do so, in the sense that it employs a centre differential, but -- and this is clever -- it's a part-time system also, to save fuel, drivetrain binding and make the whole job of turning the vehicle much less oppressive in shopping centre car parks. So it's a part-time-constant-four-wheel drive.

In two-wheel drive mode, torque is sent directly from the transmission to the rear wheels, but in the four-wheel drive modes, the transfer case redirects the torque -- via a reduction gear -- to the centre differential, which outputs to both front and rear wheels. There are basically three four-wheel drive modes: high-range transfer with open centre differential, high range with locked centre diff and low range with locked diff. Both the high-range modes can be selected (and two-wheel drive too) at speeds up to 100km/h.

The system, which is basically an electronically-controlled version of the same set-up in the latest Triton, can operate with the five-speed manual transmission or either of the automatic transmissions, depending on which engine is chosen.

Front suspension for the Pajero is a double-wishbone independent system with coil springs, complemented by a multi-link independent system at the rear, also coil-sprung. A hydraulically-assisted rack-and-pinion system steers the Pajero around objects and ventilated disc brakes front and rear will pull the vehicle up short of an object too wide to be avoided by other means.

One of the significant elements of the upgrade from NS to NT Pajero is the towing capacity. Mitsubishi has upped the Pajero's ability to drag tandem trailers, caravans and half-cabin cruisers from 2500kg to 3000kg. This not only provides the Pajero with a respectable advantage over the Prado, but also sets the Mitsubishi up in toe-to-toe competition with the Nissan Patrol, a vehicle which is marketed as a larger vehicle than the Pajero but is beginning to show its age against the new kid.


PACKAGING
The Pajero offers plenty of headroom in both front and rear for adults (we didn't get to try the third-row seat for accommodation), but seated in the second row, acceptably good kneeroom was offset by a lack of wiggle room for toes under the front seats, preventing adult occupants from stretching out, particularly when the front seats were adjusted for taller occupants.

In the Pajero VRX the Carsales Network sampled, the steering wheel was bound in leather and was correctly sized, providing a nice grip. There was no reach adjustment for the steering column, but the Pajero's driving position was comfortable enough, even so.

The auto transmission gear LED was located in the lower right corner of the tachometer, where it didn't stand out, since both drivers were looking for it in a conventional location, between the tacho and speedo, but we got there in the end. Overall though, the Pajero's instrument layout and legibility, allied to the ease of use for switchgear and other controls makes the Mitsubishi ergonomically effective.

Fit, finish and materials certainly meet or exceed the required standard for most SUVs. The fabric inserts in the inner door moulds were pleasant to touch and the plastics were surprisingly soft. 

Our taller-than-average co-driver didn't like the legroom in the front, although it was more than adequate for those of average height. Another tall poppy found he couldn't open the glovebox fully while seated in the front-passenger seat, the glovebox lid being blocked by his knees.

The third-row seat was not particularly easy to use and we've seen similar facilities in people movers that were faster and easier to deploy. On the other hand, third-row seats that operate one-handed seem to be a fairly new concept to SUVs.

To raise the roost in the rear of the Pajero requires a folding section of floor be removed, before opening the leading edge seat mount upwards and pivoting the seat unit out of the floor. Then, as the piece de resistance, the seat backrest is hauled back into the correct position.

It's OK as far as ease of operation is concerned, but there are easier systems around and the Pajero's leaves not a lot of luggage space for what constitutes a fairly large vehicle. Indeed, the Pajero is a medium SUV as far as VFACTS is concerned, but its dimensions place it just 50mm shorter than a 200 Series LandCruiser.

With the third-row seat lowered, there's the appearance of considerable luggage volume and the rear of the vehicle is quite angular with deep sides. The tailgate opens outwards horizontally, hinged on the driver's side. Mitsubishi has designed it so that it won't close on you while loading the vehicle if the vehicle is on a grade.
 

SAFETY
In respect of crash safety, the Pajero continues to benefit from its monocoque construction, still a rarity in the medium SUV segment -- especially among those vehicles that can actually cope with harder offroad conditions.

Its passive safety is also enhanced with dual front airbags and three-point seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters. Only the GL and GLX variants are not equipped as standard with side-impact and side curtain airbags.

In respect of active safety, the Pajero is one of the more commendable SUVs of its type when it comes to cornering. On the road, it provides decent roadholding and handling. When cornering isn't enough, the Pajero features the four-wheel ventilated discs already mentioned and a series of electronic safety aids amounting to: ABS/EBD, brake assist, stability control and traction control. 


COMPETITORS
In respect of competitors, the upgraded Pajero is bracketed on one side by heavy-duty offroad SUVs and, on the other side, by softer 'crossover' SUVs. In the former camp you have the Hummer H3, Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover Defender. In the latter camp, there are the Ford Territory, Holden Captiva, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Tribeca and Toyota Kluger.

Closest to the Pajero in nature are Kia Sorento, Nissan Pathfinder, Ssangyong Rexton and -- unsurprisingly -- the Toyota Prado. All these vehicles offer diesel power in addition to petrol engines, and automatic transmissions to go with the diesel options. All are regarded as durable and convincingly capable offroad. Properly speaking, the Pathfinder is more a competitor to Mitsubishi's upcoming Challenger, but in the absence of that vehicle, the Pajero is Mitsu's counter-response to the Nissan.

On the subject of Nissan, Mitsubishi sees the Patrol as caught in the crosshairs of the Pajero, now that the latter has the towing capacity to match the larger Nissan's. If the Patrol is under fire from the Mitsubishi, then you could fairly say that the LandCruiser 200 Series might be also.

Medium SUV or not, the Pajero is only about 50mm shorter than the big Toyota -- albeit significantly narrower -- and could pose a real alternative to the LandCruiser for those who want a vehicle with offroad ability approaching the Toyota's, but without the price tag.


ON THE ROAD
On the road, the Pajero's steering was a bit slow and, left in high-range 4WD for the entire drive program, the SUV understeered consistently -- albeit predictably -- on dirt. This is a pattern of behaviour for Pajeros over the years and, giving the Mitsubishi the benefit of the doubt, it says much about the vehicle's very adept multi-link rear end.

Broader opportunities to explore the Pajero's dynamics didn't present themselves during the drive program and there's little doubt in the mind of the reviewer that a seven-day test would yield more information as to what can be done with a Pajero.

Given the Pajero's general composure on its independent suspension all around and its lack of drama on dirt, it represents a safe choice for offroading, although the drive program wouldn't have presented a major challenge to a front-wheel drive sedan, so we can't tell you about such things as ground clearance or approach and departure angles. Over some rough patches, the monocoque shell of the Pajero remained free of shake and shimmy, as we expected it would. This was blindingly apparent after driving the full-chassis Triton over the same roads.

The suspension was properly calibrated for secondary ride on the road and the Pajero made a good fist of dealing with larger bumps and thumps that might be encountered in the wild.

The automatic transmission was responsive when used in manual (sequential) shift mode, but provided clean and unfussed shifting when left in drive. Only on very rare occasions did the ratios feel not quite right -- usually on a downchange from a higher ratio. Even then, the upside was that there was plenty of engine braking available.

In lower gears the ratios matched the range of torque available from the engine quite well and the Pajero would happily slog away in a relatively higher gear than SUV owners would necessarily choose, based on experience with competitive vehicles. The engine, despite being markedly quieter than the unit in the NS models -- according to an impeccable source on the launch -- is still quite noisy, but there was none of the low-rev vibration and labouring that we've come to expect from commercial-based diesels.

The engine further redeemed itself with powerful performance and little turbo lag. During the drive, it averaged 13.4L/100km, over a route comprising a mix of open-road and some dirt sections. That's a long way shy of the official combined cycle figure, but the drive program was probably not typical of the benchmark for fuel consumption testing anyway. 

The Pajero's not quite the unsung hero of the medium SUV segment, but it certainly has played second fiddle to the Prado in recent years. With the latest enhancements, the highly-regarded Mitsubishi can rightly reassert its place on shopping lists for offroaders that spend most of their time dropping kids off at school -- but can actually be relied on to transport the family to and from the Bungle Bungles, the high country or Fraser Island.

 

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