Monday, 26 March 2012


Since July 2011, Mitsubishi South Africa has been officially divorced from Daimler South Africa. It’s now part of the Imperial Group and is determined to punch well above its weight. Unfortunately several pit stops have to be made before then, including sourcing new and attractive product. Possibly the best-known nameplate in the Mitsubishi stable is Pajero, and the Pajero Sport is its latest sub-brand.

Launched in 2009 as an automatic-only model, Thailand-built Pajero Sport is now available with a manual gearbox. Tough yet comfy, it competes directly with the ruling Toyota Fortuner as an everyday 7-seater SUV with serious off-road capability. It’s this capability that we put to the test on a short excursion within the 4x4-friendly Thaba Nkwe farm out in North West.

Tucked beneath the Magalisberg range, Thaba Nkwe is a private farm of course, whose owner saw serious value in converting some of the land into 4x4topia. Various off-road trails, rivers, mountain climbs and forest stops make up the range of challenges faced by budding Dakar heroes.

Of course Mitsu has previously won the famous gruelling Dakar a record 11 times using the usual Pajero as its base. This Sport version with its new 5-speed manual gearbox makes one look like a Dakar star. With its Super Select 4WD system, the car is able to transform from an everyday SUV into a mud-slinging all-terrainer. While some of the latest SUVs prefer using buttons to engage the different off-road gears, Mitsu has stuck to the old and trusted smaller low-range second gear lever to do the job. And it’s really easy. For normal driving we would put the stubby lever into 2H, which sends all power and torque to the rear wheels for smooth, uninterrupted driving.

But for the rough stuff you have to engage other assistants. The 4H level for instance, puts torque split in the 33:67 realm, meaning all wheels are on alert but the rear ones still take precedence for enhanced on-road dynamics as well as higher-speed driving on gravel for example. Only for a few minutes during three hours on the course did I go over the 80km/h mark in this mode. With 4H in place, you still retain good car control on treacherous surfaces like loose sand.

The third mode, called 4HLc, distributes torque to all four wheels in equal does, meaning a 50:50 split between the front and rear axles. In addition though, this mode locks the centre differential. Often on the Thaba Nkwe course we’d have to engage 4HLc during steep hill climbs on slippery and uneven, stony surfaces. The Pajero Sport never once got stuck or complained too much, despite some of the trails being overrun by flash floods the previous night.

For the real rugged guy who sees not a canyon but a mere back road, 4LLc is the ultimate truck puller mode. Instead of going as fast as possible, here you go as fast as necessary and as slow as needed. One trail had to be walked first to ascertain its evilness. It looked like a road only ever travelled by the Voortrekkers. Despite this, the car, following good off-road sense and instruction, managed to go up this badass steep convincingly and without once flinching an inch. Or rolling backwards for a restart.

One of the main reasons the Pajero Sport does so well off-road is the strong 3.2-litre turbo diesel engine with Direct Injection technology. It delivers 120kW at 3500rpm, and 343Nm of torque at a low 2000rpm. Another is the 36° approach angle, helped by the 25° departure angle. That it stands a tall 215mm off the ground also comes in very handy in these situations.

One might read all this and wonder what kind of uncivilised truck I was driving. No, this is an SUV. A family SUV with enough space to swallow 7 passengers. And in addition to the usual customer-demanded amenities like power steering and climate control, Mitsubishi also saw it fit to install other niceties like a full leather interior, side steps for easy boarding, park distance control, a multi-information display (tells you how many kilometres are left in your tank for instance) and others.

Having put the Pajero Sport through some real off-road challenges, and watching it go past them with no qualms whatsoever, I can safely say it’s one of the best off-road/ on-road combination SUVs out in the market today. Now Mitsubishi SA and its parent Imperial just have to convince Fortuner fans of that.

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Pricing
3.2 Di-D GLS manual (R435 900)
3.2 Di-D GLS auto (R445 900)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I didn't realise the Pajero sport was so good