Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 3,2 Di-D GLS Auto (2009) Driving Impression

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2009

Following the smash-hit success of Toyota’s Fortuner, it was always only going to be a matter of time before some serious rivals arrived on the scene. Now, in a matter of months, two important competitors have made their appearance, Ford’s Everest, and the subject of this test, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. Ignore the confusing Pajero badging as this vehicle is clearly based on the brand’s curvy (for a bakkie) Triton pick-up. Currently only available as a four-wheel drive automatic, and at a relatively high price, is it good enough to worry the Toyota dealers?

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is big and rugged

Standing tall and mighty on its 16-inch alloy wheels and plump 265/70 tyres, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is an imposing machine that also manages to look a fair bit more sophisticated and upmarket than its arch enemy from Toyota. Overall, the Triton’s smooth lines appear to have assisted in an easy morphing into a fully fledged SUV. In fact, one senses that an SUV version was part of the plan right from the start.

What is also clear from its design is that off-roading was pretty high on the agenda. The ground clearance is a quoted 215 mm, but looks even higher. The approach and departure angles are both impressive, at 36,7% and 34,8% respectively, and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport boasts a 700 mm wading depth, too.

The cabin continues with the excellent first impressions, being noticeably more upmarket in appearance than the Fortuner’s. The cool backlighting and light grey finishes combine well to lend the cabin a sophisticated ambience that belies the vehicle’s utilitarian underpinnings. And although the fittings are obviously of the hard-to-the-touch variety, the fit and finish is as excellent as we have come to expect from Mitsubishi.

You sit high in the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, and even though the seat and steering wheel are adjustable, it is not possible to escape the reality of the vehicle’s high floor, which does impact the seating position to some extent, even for those passengers in the rear. Speaking of which, the middle row of seats offers very good legroom, but those in the third row will have to be of small stature to be comfortable – at least they have their own ventilation outlets. The latter criticism is shared with many other seven-seat vehicles, the Fortuner included. Where the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport comprehensively trounces its rival is in the folding arrangement of the third row. Whereas the Toyota’s seats flip up and are latched onto the sides of the cabin walls, where they impinge on packing space and can end up rattling, the Pajero Sport’s rear seats fold flat into the floor, as does the middle row, which results in a long, wide and very useful load area. In the likely primary configuration of a five-seater with massive boot, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is certainly an appealing family vehicle from a packaging point of view.

Given the relatively high price a comprehensive standard specification is a prerequisite, and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport largely complies. Included in the package are; park-distance control, climate control, a comprehensive radio/CD system, leather upholstery, cruise control and no fewer than six airbags.

Bakkie-like drive

It would be unfair to expect anything but a bakkie-like driving experience from the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, as that is what lies underneath. Based on the ladder-frame chassis of the Triton, tipping the scales at over two tonnes, and having been developed with some serious off-road use in mind, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is no urban sophisticate. The steering is vague and the turning circle large (more than 12 m), while the ride is quite firm at low speeds. Not the best car for city use, then…

But show it the open road, or even some gravel, and matters improve markedly. Once up to speed, the suspension feels significantly suppler, and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport feels reassuringly stable and solid on the road, as long as you don’t attempt to corner too fast. The drivetrain, too, appears to be happier outside of the confines of the city. The big four-cylinder engine delivers the same power as the Fortuner’s 3,0 D-4D unit (120 kW/343 Nm), and is mated with a four-speed automatic transmission. It sounds very agricultural at idle, and sends its vibrations through the gearlever (as well as the low-range lever that is positioned close to the driver’s knee), but as is often the case smoothes out considerably at higher engine speeds and when warmed up. The performance is certainly acceptable for such a heavy SUV with a four-speed ‘box, but the transmission is possibly a little over-sensitive to throttle inputs, often shifting at unexpected times with seemingly no provocation. Still, this is a powerful, potentially even economical long-distance tourer.

Off-road the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport also puts in an impressive performance, as it should given Mitsubishi’s Dakar pedigree. Low-range is activated via a secondary lever, and there’s a rear diff-lock, too. As mentioned before the ground clearance is excellent, and the combination of a torquey diesel and automatic transmission takes much of the thinking out of off-roading. It really feels unstoppable when the going gets tough. And that’s where much of these types’ of vehicles appeal rests – yes, soft-roaders at the same price are more comfortable on the road, but they simply can’t compete if you really want to be adventurous…

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport - Verdict

Although the price initially appears high, keep in mind that Toyota does not currently offer a 4x4 automatic version of its Fortuner. Were it available, it would probably be similarly priced to this Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. We like the ruggedness of this vehicle and the ease with which it deals with pretty nasty off-road obstacles. The cabin, too, seems better packaged than the Toyota’s, and the engine provides similar power and good economy. Downsides? It’s not particularly easy to drive around town, but that would be missing the point in the first place. This is a more competitive product than expected…

We like:

  • Attractive design
  • Standard features list
  • Vast cabin
  • Build quality
  • Off-road ability
We don’t like:
  • Driving experience too agricultural
  • Pricey
Fast facts

Engine: 3,2-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel

Power: 120 kW @ 3 500 rpm

Torque: 343 Nm @ 2 000 rpm

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Wheels: 16-inch alloy

Top speed: 178 km/h

0-100 km/h: n/a seconds

Fuel economy: 10,1 litres/100 km


Also consider:

  • Toyota Fortuner 3,0 D-4D 4x2 Auto : There is no four-wheel drive, automatic-transmission Fortuner (yet), but if extreme off-roading is not on the cards, the Toyota represents a significant saving and similarly rugged appeal. The rear-seat arrangement is not as clever as the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, however.
  • Ford Everest 3,0 TDCI LTD 4x4 Auto: Recently launched, the Ford can’t match the Mitsubishi’s power, luxury features and is even more agricultural in its on-road demeanour. Good off-road, but so is the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe 2,2 CRDi 4x4 7-Seater Auto: Keep in mind that the Santa Fe is more car-like and therefore not for serious off-roading, and it may represent a very good alternative. It offers a good standard specification level, impressive refinement and is vastly less cumbersome to drive.