I'VE thought long and hard about the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and have come to the conclusion that it’s the Preston Meyers of the automotive world. Preston, for those of you not familiar with the teen comedy genre, is the main male character in a cult-classic movie called Can’t Hardly Wait.
The film itself is basically about a few random guys competing for the affections of the film’s recently single central female character, Amanda Becket. Unfortunately for Preston, Amanda has no idea he even exists. You see, Preston is your typical high school loser – easily forgotten amongst the plethora of masculine athletes and overachieving brainiacs.
In my adaptation of this famous story Amanda is represented by anyone looking to buy a seven seat SUV with real off-road ability. This means the men joining Preston/Pajero in contending for her attention are represented by the Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer and Ford Everest. I’m sure you’ll agree with my assessment that the Pajero is definitely the perceived loser in this esteemed company.
A quick trip through Snor City revealed the tough battle the Pajero Sport is facing. When it comes to seven-seat off-road SUVs, the Fortuner is South Africa’s firm favourite. Around 1 000 are sold each month, leaving the rest of the competitors to eke out a miserable existence from the scraps left over by Toyota. Pretoria, for the record, is overflowing with South Africa’s favourite SUV. It almost seems as if you have to have a Fortuner and a luscious snor before you’re allowed entry to Waterkloof.
My default choice in this particular segment has therefore always been the Fortuner as so many people can’t be wrong. But, I’m a big fan of an underdog. There’s something romantic about driving a car that’s so easily dismissed by so many people.
I don’t really understand the phenomenon, because in my opinion the Pajero Sport has always been a decent enough car. The uprated, and yes it is uprated despite it looking exactly the same as before, is even better.
The biggest change to the new Pajero Sport is in the engine department. The old-school 3.2-litre four cylinder turbocharged diesel (120kW/343Nm) has been replaced with a smaller, yet more powerful 2.5-litre turbocharged oil burner. The new engine produces 131kW and 400Nm when mated to a five-speed manual, and 350Nm mated to a five-speed automatic.
The new 2.5-litre diesel automatic (only model available at the launch) highlighted the main difference between the uprated Pajero Sport and the model that came before. We tested an old unit a while ago and it felt slightly unrefined and rather rough for something costing more than R400 000.
Engine noises are now less intrusive and nasty vibrations are kept to the bare minimum. The engine, while not being the most powerful in the business, does an adequate job of powering the Pajero’s bulky body. Suffice it to say that the revamped model is much easier to live with as a daily drive.
Most of the interior luxuries have been carried over. As standard you get leather seats, automatic climate control, audio controls on the steering wheel, rain sensing wipers, dusk sensing headlamps and a host of active and passive safety features. The nicest upgrade to the cabin is a new touch screen infotainment system with a USB jack and Bluetooth audio streaming. All of these elements combined give the Pajero Sport a nice upmarket feel that’s more in tune with its retail price.
The above refinement has had no effect on the Pajero’s legendary off-road ability. The renowned Super Select shift-on-the-fly 4x4 system allows you to change from two to four-wheel drive at speeds up to 80km/h. When the going gets tough, Super Select also gives you the option of engaging low range and locking the centre and rear differentials. My driving partner and I tackled a few tough obstacles, which turned out to be no match for the Pajero Sport.
These upgrades do their part in elevating the Pajero’s stance in the automotive world. Previously it didn’t feature on the prospective customer’s radar, but maybe now people will be convinced to have a look at it before they buy.
Can it beat the mighty Fortuner in the sales game? No, but then again, few things can. Will it steal a few sales away? Yes, I think so. It’s a capable SUV with an underdog charm and it retails at around R40 000 less than its main competitors. If that doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will.