4x4Car Reviews

2016 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport review – first drive

Robert Pepper’s first drive 2016 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport review with specs, ride and handling, verdict and rating.

In a nutshell: If first impressions pan out with more time behind the wheel, Mitsubishi will retain their offroad fans and win new ones.

Editor's Rating

Our first thoughts of the Pajero Sport
Practical Motoring Says: As you'd expect from a Mitsubishi with its long 4X4 history, the Pajero Sport is every inch the serious offroad vehicle, and leaves very few reasons to buy a Pajero instead. The Pajero Sport has a reasonably well-appointed interior, CarPlay/Auto fixes Mitsubishi's infotainment unit woes, offroad performance is up there with the best, no concerns about bushability. Anyone looking for an off-road-capable wagon should definitely shortlist it.
UPDATE: we have now published a full onroad and offroad test that you can read here.
 
PRACTICAL MOTORING had the chance to drive the new Pajero Sport in Japan, ahead of its Australian launch in December. The Pajero Sport is the new Challenger, a name that will be dropped in the markets where it was used. Mitsubishi is in the process of finalising pricing and exact trim specs for Australia, so our cars were Thai-spec and “close to Australian spec”. We do know that all of the technical capabilities will be offered in some shape or form on the Australian models, and that the sole engine/transmission will be diesel with an 8-speed auto.
 
So how does Pajero Sport compare with Pajero?  Here’s a table to compare specifications:
 

 Pajero SportPajeroDifference
Engine2.4L 4cyl diesel3.2L 4cyl dieselDoesn’t matter
Power133 kW @ 3500rpm147kW @ 3800rpm-14
Torque430Nm @ 2500rpm441Nm @ 2000rpm-11
Transmission8-speed auto5-speed auto3
Torque split40/60 f/r40/60 f/r 
4WD systemSuper Select IISuper Select II
SuspensionIFS, rear beam, 4 coilsIFS / IRS, 4 coils
ParkbrakeElectronicManual (hand) 
    
Fuel consumption (combined)89-1
Fuel capacity (l)6888-20
Estimated range (km) (1)658765-107
    
Length / width / height (2)4785 / 1815 / 18004900 / 1875 / 1900-115 / 60 / -100
Ground clearance (mm)218235-17
Turning circle (m)11.211.4-0.2
Wading depth (mm)7007000
Kerb weight (kg, approx)20002255-255
GVM (kg)27103030-320
Payload (kg)710775-65
Towing (braked)3100kg2500kg / 3000kg (3)100
App / ramp / dep30 / 23 / 2437 / 22.5 / 25 
Power/weight (kg per kW)15.015.3-0.3
    
Rear difflockStandard across the rangeAvailable on some models, TBA 
Terrain managementYesNo 
    
Seats57-2
SafetyTBA (expect 5*)5 
Active safetyBWS, UMS, AEBNone 
Camera systemSurround (some models)Reversing only 
    
(1) Added 20% to fuel consumption figure, allowed 100km reserve range. 
(2) Pajero has a spare wheel on the rear door which increases length. 
(3) 2500kg with 250kg TBM, 3000kg with 180kg TBM.  
 
IMG_3240
 
The Pajero Sport is ahead of Pajero in most aspects. It is safer, offering all the usual airbags plus some of the latest active safety features, like AEB and blind-spot warning. It is less powerful but 250kg lighter, so it has pretty much the same power to weight as Pajero, but should feel quicker as it has an extra three gear ratios and no doubt a smarter, more efficient transmission. It’s able to tow more, and has the same Super Select II 4WD transmission system (explanation here).
 
During the technical briefing Mitsubishi claimed the 2WD mode of Super Select saves fuel, but when asked were unable to provide any statistics or testing to back up this claim. So I’m sticking to my position the 2WD mode is entirely pointless. Finally, the Sport has a terrain management system called Off Road Mode Selector.
 
However, Pajero beats its new little brother Pajero Sport in a few areas. Pajero is larger but then only just, considering the Pajero’s length accounts for its rear door-mounted spare wheel, and has better ground clearance thanks to its fully-independent suspension. Pajero also offers seven seats, and while Mitsubishi aren’t saying, it looks likely the Pajero Sport will launch with five. That said, if you wanted a 7-seater SUV Pajero probably wouldn’t be your first pick in a sea of brand-new seven-seat metal, so I guess that’s no great loss.
 
In theory, the Pajero should handle better than the Pajero Sport given its fully independent suspension, but in practice we suspect the differences won’t be significant enough to worry most buyers – if you really want handling look at a BMW X car or similar and forget about driving off-road. Let’s just say the Pajero Sport, from our limited time with it isn’t exactly a slouch, so, if you’re holding up traffic in it, well, it is not the car that is the problem.
 
The Sport has a 68-litre fuel tank, too small for our liking as touring off-roaders, so Pajero has better range even though its consumption is higher. However, you can expect the aftermarket will relocate the spare tyre from underneath to a carrier (an expense you need not worry about with Pajero) and that will leave plenty of space for an additional fuel tank.  
 
IMG_3431
 
Aussie Pajero Sports look like they’ll be offered with 18-inch rims (although this is still to be confirmed), which would be a bad choice for off-roaders as not only is it too high a profile to be ideal, but it will limit your tyre options. From what we can see it looks likely that 17s will fit, and I did ask if I could pull a wheel off a Triton for a quick test to check front brake caliper clearance, but I think that was stretching the friendship a bit…  Mitsubishi were unable to confirm one way or the other. 
 
The parkbrake is electronic, which for off-roaders will bring up unpleasant memories of the Discovery 3’s terrible unit which was prone to filling with dust or mud and failing horribly when off-road. Happily, there is a manual override. Mitsubishi provides a special tool found next to the tyre changing equipment, and you just undo a cap secured by two bolts and you’re away.
 
The parkbrake applies the correct amount of force for the gradient. As the Sport has, sensibly, an actual centre differential lock (as opposed to a neurotic computer doing its own thing) then locking the rear wheels in effect locks all four wheels, so it works on steep gradients. Good move, Mitsubishi.
 
At the front are two recovery points, and we confirmed that these are indeed for recovery. There’s one at the back too.
 
IMG_3244
 
Under the bonnet we find… space on the driver’s side next to the firewall! Yes, an actual gap big enough for a compressor and a second battery. Sad that, these days, that’s notable, but it’s a tick for the new Pajero Sport. Also sad is the fact that the alternator is in Mitsubishi’s favourite spot, low down. I have too many memories of switching them out on my 1996 NJ Pajero to not mention this. The battery is accessible too… you’d be surprised how many are getting hidden away in difficult to access spots. No gas struts for the bonnet, but that’s liveable.
 
IMG_3255
 
Pajero Sport should do pretty well on safety. ANCAP is in the process of testing it, and Mitsubishi is hopeful of a 5-star rating. There are two ISOFIX mounts on the rear outer seats. The Sport also offers an array of active safety features, which in this segment makes it class leading. Here’s one:
 
FMS
 
The FCM (Forward Collision Mitigation) system is an AEB.  It will stop the car completely from around 30-40km/h if it detects an impending collision, subject to traction and detecting the problem early enough.   There’s more on safety in our Pajero Sport technical analysis.
 
Pajero Sport also has something called ETACS, or Electronic Time and Alarm Control System. This is a pack comprising a welcome light, coming home light, auto folding mirrors, and the rear wiper activates when you put the car into reverse if the front wipers are also on. Small, but useful additions.
 
Off Road Mode
Ever since Land Rover invented Terrain Response and debuted it on the Discovery 3 in 2005 everyone else has been playing catch-up. Mitsubishi is finally here and its terrain management system is called Off Road Mode, which is perhaps the least inventive name for such a system. There are four modes:
  • Gravel
  • Mud/Snow
  • Sand
  • Rock
These modes adjust the traction control, stability control (the two are not the same, read more here), gearshift settings and throttle response to set the vehicle up to best effect for different terrains.  Notably, the Mud/Snow mode is for deep, loose surfaces as distinct from say Land Rover’s Grass/Gravel/Snow which is for hard, slippery surfaces. The official documentation refers to a “limited slip differential effect”, but to be clear, that’s replicating the effect of an LSD through electronic traction control, the vehicle does not have a mechanical LSD.
 
IMG_3263
Hill descent control button on the left, Offroad Mode Select, and below that is the dial for Super Select – 2WD, 4H, 4H locked centre diff, 4 low locked centre diff. Parkbrake is next, and it lights up orange when engaged.
 
Mitsubishi tell us that much of the Off Road Mode calibration was done in Australia, and specifically South Australia on our sand and rocky, shaley climbs. The local team told the engineers what Aussies prefer in terms of handling and calibration, and apparently that was factored in.  
 

Drive impressions

We had the opportunity to drive Pajero Sport on a preset off-road course. These courses are never a great indication of true bush capability as they are invariably easy to drive, but nevertheless we can draw a few conclusions.
 
IMG_3371
 
The traction control system is excellent, and right up there with the best on the market. It is smooth, kicks in almost at idle and is very effective. Light years ahead of the current Mitsubishi Challenger which is on the ordinary side of hopeless, so much so that some owners query whether it works at all (it does… eventually).
 
The terrain management system, Offroad Mode, isn’t as easy to use as others on the market, and the terrain didn’t test it. However, it makes a difference, but wasn’t significant on the course which the Pajero Sport easily handled. We’ll need to do some more testing across different terrains, particularly sand.
 
MMC_5299
 
The inclusion of a cross-axle rear differential lock is welcome. The fact you need to be almost stopped to engage it is not, and the car whinges at you if you try to engage it much above a standstill (apparently 5km/h is the limit). Mitsubishi cite safety as the reason but were unable to explain any further. Shame. The locker works in high as well as low range. Unfortunately, Mitsubishi tell us that traction control is disabled on the front axle when the rear locker is in. That’s a real shame, but given how effective traction control is that is less of a problem than you might think.
 
IMG_3344
Had to use a really slow shutter speed to catch wheelspin. This new Pajero Sport is far, far more capable than its predecessor Challenger.
 
Suspension design and tuning looks like a job well done, at least on first impressions. Our cars were lightly loaded, but even so they flexed well and the ride was nicely pliant. There is no specific Australian suspension tune. You can expect the aftermarket to be all over this vehicle and provide options; it’s always hard to tell, but a quick inspection didn’t reveal any reason why it couldn’t be raised by the usual 50mm at the rear and 30-40mm at the front.
 
At the end of our session a rally driver took us for a hotlap. Notably, his car had all electronics disabled so he was able to flick into corners in a way which you couldn’t with a standard car, but nevertheless it was an impressive demonstration in several ways – firstly the inherent capability of the car without electronics (are you listening, other automakers?), the way the suspension handled the abuse which involved a front-wheel jump, the power and the handling. I rather suspect the driver would have preferred a normal handbrake but he did well enough on the flicks regardless. Not all manufacturers would have dared try this sort of demonstration, and it says a lot about the Pajero Sport that Mitsubishi did so.
 
The seating position works well, even for tall people (thanks Mike!). The paddle shifts are good because they are fixed in position and do not turn with the steering wheel, just like other Mitsubishis. This means you won’t get confused with which one is which when you need to change gears with a lot of lock on the steering, although you can also change gears using the gearshift itself.
 
The hill descent control is superb, working down to 2km/h, and speed-variable simply by accelerating or braking – when you finish doing that the car will remain at that set speed. This is an improvement over older systems which are operated by cruise control.
 
The engine and transmission works well; there is plenty of power on tap, the auto is intelligent, and it is possible to manovure very slowly under inch-perfect control as the throttle is nicely tractable. It is possible to start the car in second-gear low-range, which is handy for slippery conditions. Clearance is 218mm, and the lowest point is the rear differential. That’s not a bad figure, but another 10-15mm would be perfect. Fitting slightly taller tyres looks to be no problem.
 
The rear seats are comfortable and well appointed. The Pajero Sport is not a massive vehicle, but uses its space well. The rear seat is a 40:60 split and tumbles forwards. This is far from market leading, but the Pajero Sport isn’t trying to be the ultimate family suburban SUV. If that’s your game consider one of the many plastic-fantastic softroaders, or if you want something that can handle a bit of dirt, check out the Outlander.  One disappointment is that the centre second row seat has its seatbelt point in the roof, which will interfere with loads in the back and a cargo barrier. 
 
Rear visibility is not a strong point because of the rather high rear window and small side windows in the cargo area.  That will however be fixed with reversing cameras standard across the range. Loadspace is not bad, but the roofline slopes a little too much downwards to be ideal… carmakers really need to lock up their designers when it comes to touring offroaders and let engineers have more of a say.  Particularly given the tail lights on the Pajero Sport, which Mitsubishi are inexplicably proud of.  Anyway, there will be other wagons with greater room in the back. However, the lack of a 7-seat option will free up a bit of room relative to some other vehicles. 

There aren’t too many “oh no” moments with this car, but one was the location of the spare wheel winch which is inconveniently central in the cargo system… what were they thinking? This is one more reason to fit the car with a spare wheel carrier. The tiedowns are also a bit too far inboard to be ideal.  The tailgate is one-piece lift up, and there is a cargo blind as pictured below.

IMG_3250

Aussie-spec cars will have the Android Auto/Apple CarPlay system which is excellent news, even if a team of three Mitsubishi reps couldn’t get my Samsung S5 Android to play with the car. This means nobody needs to wrestle with Mitsubishi’s 1990s-spec infotainment units, and it’ll leapfrog them ahead of the competition.  Build quality seems pretty good, certainly compared to the Triton Exceed we just tested.

 
IMG_3265
 
Bottom line – Aussie off-roaders have an interesting new choice for their next vehicle. I wouldn’t hesitate to load this car with the family and drive it anywhere in Australia.
 
DG1P5356

What might be the future of Pajero?

We asked Mitsubishi’s head of design and president about the future of Pajero, and you can read the full interview here. But in short, they will continue with the current model for what appears to be a few years yet, and couldn’t say what developments might be coming when. Could that be the end of the Pajero as we know it?  Possibly, possibly not… but don’t expect any major updates for a while yet. Personally, I would have sunk the Pajero Sport development dollars into Pajero and let Challenger as we know it die, but that’s just me. I hope Pajero comes back bigger and better than ever.
 

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/