Now in its fourth generation the Mitsubishi Pajero has established itself as a true bruiser in the 4WD market. Never afraid to roll around in the mud the Pajero has taken top-honours in the Paris-Dakar Rally an epic eleven times (even though its namesake bears little resemblance to the on-road version). But durability and off-road prowess really isn’t enough anymore in a highly competitive market segment. Four-wheel-drives are now expected to offer refinement, fuel-economy and driving dynamics that can compete with increasingly popular crossover vehicles. The Pajero has been face-lifted for 2009, and is ready to go to work. Is the bullyboy still capable of beating off the competition or does off-road muscle still come at the cost of on-road manners?
A quick walk around reveals that although the classic SUV 2-box design has been retained the Pajero has been rounded and modernised but not at the cost of hardy good-looks. Elements of the Mitsubishi corporate face are reflected in the imposing front end dominated by the chrome slats that extend across the front grille. Bespoke front lights transition well into a raised bonnet. The Pajero’s side panels are rich with feature lines courtesy of thick body-coloured trim. With the facelift comes new side steps and mud guards. Wide wheel arches house 18-inch rims cloaked in 265/60R18 rubber. Out the back, Mitsubishi has continued with attaching the spare wheel to the swinging tailgate when many competitors now stow it under the body. The spare makes the tailgate heavier to deal with, but it is well secured and only slightly hinders rear-visibility. Overall the Pajero is a top looking 4WD with styling that reflects an awareness of both Mitsubishi’s current design language and its own model bloodlines.
Shift inside and the sharp design work continues with a dashboard that’s symmetrical and well laid out. Durable dark plastics mix together with chrome-like accents in a combination that’s neither too boring nor too busy. The plastics feel hardy, the centre storage bucket is large and deep, but not all storage compartments are well backed with one unable to hide the wires sitting behind it. The centre control stack has a high digital display that has dated looks but has some tricks to impress friends like a digital compass and an elevation reading, alongside trip computer functions.
The Rockford audio system sounds superb, is MP3 capable, has an in-dash 6-disc stacker, and with a rear-mounted subwoofer it’s easy to announce your arrival. Stereo controls take some getting used to but are repeated with steering wheel audio controls. Upholstery is generally soft and comfortable, but the front seats could benefit from greater lateral support. In the rear lays a third row of part-time seating that is pulled up from the floor – it’s an effort to set it up but has sash-seatbelts and is very useful for smaller passengers or children. The Exceed variant has a DVD player for the rear passengers and automatic lights and wipers added to the equipment list.
The Pajero has some smarts, but when the lunch bell rings and its time to get out into the playground, how does it go? Packed under the bonnet is an upgraded version of the 3.2L Direct Injection Common Rail Turbo Diesel power plant. Power has been kicked up from 127kW to 150kW, with torque boosted to 448Nm from 364Nm. Despite the extra power, fuel economy has also been improved with the Pajero only burning 9.2 litres per 100km combined. Towing capacity is still an impressive 3,300kg, though be aware that with the Pajero’s 3-tonne weight, if you pull anything over 1500kg you’ll need a class 2 license.
During acceleration the performance through the 5-speed automatic transmission was fair if not breathtaking. The engine offers healthy doses of mid-range torque, which are too often followed by turbo-lag before the measure is repeated. This makes the Pajero slightly jerky in its power delivery. That said, it’s still easy to drive and can keep up with general urban traffic.
The biggest disappointment from the Pajero motor isn’t in its performance (which is acceptable) but in its volume. The pre-facelift Pajero received stern criticism for this fault and Mitsubishi is quick to point out that cabin soundproofing had been improved for the 2009 model. Unfortunately it’s still too loud under normal driving conditions, when driving alone the quality stereo can drown it out, but with passengers it can be intrusive to conversations. The excessive noise serves to highlight the tranquillity of a rural destination once the engine is stopped, but it does negate the other areas of comfort that Pajero offers. Ride quality is impressive, on the firm side but generally very car-like with only serious dips and bumps being felt in the cabin. While handling is reasonable for a 3-tonne 4WD, the excellent ride quality promises a level of grip that isn’t quite delivered, and therefore care is required not to arrive at a corner 15-20kph faster than the Pajero is comfortable with. Active stability control mitigates chassis movement, but some body roll can be felt when changing direction.
Leave tarmac behind, hit the trail and any on-road roughness is traded for total mixed-terrain competence. Mitusbishi’s Super Select system makes the changes offering shifts between 2WD (rear) and 4WD high at speeds up to 100kph. Sitting underneath is one of the most comprehensive 4WD packages on the market with four-wheel independent suspension and a monocoque chassis. The Pajero is equipped with (for the acronym lovers) ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Engine Brake Assist Control (EBAC), Active Stability Control (ASC), Active Traction Control (ATC), Hill Hold Assist and a Rear Diff Lock.
The Pajero has a solid chunky feel, but if things go wrong there’s a bevy of airbags prepared for deployment. Side and front dual-stage driver and passenger airbags are fitted, plus curtain airbags.
One of the main criticisms we had with the previous model (read the review here) was the extremely intrusive traction control. This has been fixed in the current model.
There is no doubt the Pajero is an all round tough-guy in the 4WD market and styling is excellent inside and out. Smoother suspension and a more rigid body has sharpened up handling and definitely improved the ride. But the Pajero still has an old school feel, caused largely by a raucous diesel motor and inadequate soundproofing. For this reason it doesn’t feel as road focused as some of its competitors like the Ford Territory or BMW X5. There is no doubt the Pajero’s an accomplished off-roader and while it is a comfortable and usable daily driver, leaving the tarmac is the only way to really reveal its complete value.
Click through to the next page for a list of specifications
What we like:
- Exterior and interior styling
What we don’t like:
- Could be even more road-focused
Words and Photos, Adam Mamo
Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed (LWB) (2009) — Specifications
Displacement – cc 3,200
Bore and stroke – mm 98.5 x 105.0
Compression ratio 16.0:1
Max power (DIN) (kW/rpm) 150 @ 3,800
Max torque (DIN) (Nm/rpm) 448 @ 2,000
Fuel consumption – l/100km 9.2
CO2 – g/km 240
Dimension / weights
Overall length – mm 4,900
Overall width – mm 1,875
Overall height – mm 1,900
Cargo load space 2nd/3rd row flat (litres VDO) 1,758
Cargo load space 3rd row flat (litres VDO) 1,050
Wheel base – mm 2,780
Track front & rear – mm 1,570
Ground clearance – mm 235
Turning circle – m 11.4
Kerb weight – kg 2,345
Gross vehicle weight – kg 3,030
Towing unbraked – kg 750
Towing braked – kg 3,300
Fuel tank size – litres 88
Fuel type diesel
Approach angle – degree 36.6
Departure angle – degree 25.0
Ramp breakover angle – degree 22.5
5 Speed automatic with sports mode
Super select 4WD with 2 speed transfer
Final gear ratio 3.917
Rear differential lock
Front suspension – double wish bone with coil spring & stabiliser bar
Rear suspension – multi link coil spring with stabiliser bar