New Mitsubishi Pajero diesel driven

Although Mitsubishi’s legendary Dakar Rally raiding exploits have come to an end, there is no questioning the impeccably-engineered pedigree of the company’s Pajero - a vehicle that became synonymous with the Japanese carmaker's off-road racing success.

Despite South Africans having to wait nearly a decade after Mitsubishi’s debut Dakar victory in 1982 to access the brand’s Pajero, the mid-sized SUV has developed an exceedingly loyal following – around 80% of current Pajero customers repurchasers.

Born out of Mitsubishi’s experience assembling Jeeps under license in Japan, Pajero’s competition success had always ensured the vehicle’s core robustness (thanks to conceptual inspiration courtesy of the original Jeep) has remained undiluted. With Mitsubishi’s decision to discontinue its factory backing for a Pajero works team in the Dakar, doubters wonder how much of the ingrained rally raiding DNA remains.

Traditionalists will point out the latest Pajero’s monocoque construction and independent rear suspension as examples of how far it has depreciated into the role of an urban runabout with reduction ratio gearing. Is this really the case though?

Employing GARMAP navigation, the locally developed SatNav/infotainment unit is ace. Rear-view camera and tyre pressure/temperature monitoring system optional.

Significant digital update

The latest Pajero upgrades tally more athletic compression-ignition power and a quantum leap in digitisation with the fitment of a locally-developed integrated navigation/infotainment system.

Proportionally, the latest Pajero retains its chunky (some would say bulbous) form familiar to owners since the fourth-generation vehicle was launched locally in 2006. The bold grille and neat alloys cue the requisite SUV fashion styling finishes.

Clamber aboard the new Pajero and you’ll notice something residing in the fascia which local Pajero owners have been agitating for with intent since this model's 2006 debut – a proper integration navigation and infotainment solution called the Mitsubishi integrated communication system (MICS).

Instead of opting for the Japanese system (which would have ballooned the Pajero’s retail price too much), Mitsubishi South Africa commissioned local specialists Planet Electronics to provide a solution tailored specifically to local conditions.

The result is a tidy installation which offers GARMAP navigation and a comprehensive level of digital convergence – covering iPod integration, Bluetooth connectivity (with music playback file extraction) and optional rear-view camera operability.

Cabin well equipped and put together. Would be nice if the seats adjusted lower to accommodate taller drivers, though.

More fire, less smoke

Mechanically the changes to Pajero’s drivetrain extend solely to the 3.2 DI-DC. The largest capacity four-cylinder turbodiesel engine available in the 4x4 marketplace has been buoyed by a larger turbo (12% more volume), new cylinder head and an additional nozzle opening per injector.

Detail the constituent parts of the engine upgrade and you'll realise its increase in power (19kW) and peak rotational force (68Nm) are not the result of a simple control unit remapping.

In order to optimise flow paths the cylinder head has been ported for efficiency, whilst benefiting from a butterfly type valve actuation to create a swirl-type gas routing effect – optimising air extraction into the cylinders.

Considering the forces exerted by a common-rail injection system and the characteristically high-compression ratio diesel engines operate cylinder head, material fatigue is always an issue in terms if design. Accordingly, the new 3.2DI-DC engine’s double-overhead camshaft driven cylinder head has been strengthened.

Unpack the numbers and this new engine’s 141kW and 441Nm statistics are class competitive, falling midway between the Prado and Discovery 4 offerings. Hardcore overlanding types will be heartened to note the 3.2DI-DC engine, despite its sophisticated nature, is fully compatible with even 500ppm diesel fuel, which is pretty much all you get once you venture north of South Africa's borders.  

Despite revised gearing the five-speed automatic transmission (now supplied by Aisin instead of Jatco) retains Mitsubishi’s fabled Super-Select four-wheel drive system.

Super-Select four-wheel drive ensures entirely capable off-road performance. Only the GLX long-wheel base gets a rear locker.

Luxury cabin

Familiarising myself with the Pajero – I hadn’t driven one for years – was an effortless experience and around our Nelspruit test route, which included a short off-road sojourn, it proven quite capable.

The cabin (even in the short-wheel base model) is spacious and devoid of the usual Japanese interior design eccentricities, like elaborately-grained fake teak finishing (the Pajero’s faux wood inlays are of the darker, subtle variety). Perceived build quality is outstanding and ergonomics touch perfect.

I can’t say I was overwhelmed with the graphic interface of the MICS system yet its GARMAP coverage is impressive, covering the entire SADC region. The system is geared to stream digital television as soon as local broadcasters upgrade their signal technology accordingly and might soon be HSDPA on-line compatible, too.

Traditional off-road manners

As a driving machine the Pajero’s all-wheel independent suspension endows it with tidy road manners. Considering the 3.2DI-DC’s added verve, it would be nice to have adjustable dampers or air-suspension to counter some of the bodyroll when employing maximum power, features both Prado and Discovery 4 have.

Despite only the GLX LWB model boasting a rear differential lock, the Pajero range remain formidable off-road. The SuperSselect four-wheel drive system (which employs a proper centre-differential) allows for outstanding traction adjustability. In four-wheel drive you have three modes of axle interaction instead of the traditional high- or low-range.

Pajero’s Super-Select transfer case can apportion drive in two high-range torque splits, either a 50/50 front-to-rear centre differential lock-up or a 33/77 split ratio which allows for keener, more rear-wheel-biased responses and is ideal for swift driving with traction security in wet conditions. The reduction ratio crawler gear is the third four-wheel drive option within the Seuper-Select transfer case and suited for severe obstacle crossing.

All things considered the Pajero is a curious blend. The cabin features all the trinkets you’ll ever need and the drivetrain is strong, responsive and economical. Off-road though, it’s the only vehicle in class without the raft of electronic traction aids.

Unlike with Prado or Discovery 4, there are no drivetrain mapping parameter modes or ride height adjustments to assist you. This heightens the appeal for many off-road purists who consider the latest four-wheel drive systems fitted to Prado and Discovery 4 as electronic gremlins waiting to be humbled by the heat and dust of punishing sub-Saharan operating environments.

Although the Pajero 3.2 DI-DC eased though the off-road section of our evaluation, a hill-descent control system would not go amiss, especially as the entire range drives through a planetary geared five-speed automatic transmission, which does not provide the last word in compression-braking finesse.

It’s also a shame the short-wheel base Pajero 3.2DI-DC is not equipped with a rear locker, as this is the only proper 4x4 with a truncated wheelbase, a modern drivetrain and a bearable interior available on the local market.

The Dakar halo might be gone but with improved power, proper onboard navigation/infotainment and the absence of electronic ride-height control systems to go wrong in the bush, Pajero remains the thinking man’s luxury overlanding SUV.


Pajero 3.2 GLX DI-D LWB  (diff-lock)    R533 900
Pajero 3.2 GLS DI-D LWB                     R624 200
Pajero 3.2 GLS DI-D SWB                     R523 200
Pajero 3.8 GLS LWB                              R605 900
Pajero 3.8 GLS SWB                             R481 900

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