The Mitsubishi Pajero has been around for so long (in automotive terms) it's certainly nearing retirement age - but it seems that 2014 is the earliest it might get the gold watch.
Look at it in the same light as baby-boomers thinking twice about retirement post-GFC. Now classified as a large SUV, the largely-unchanged Pajero has been a staple of the SUV segment for almost a decade and still manages a steady 500 a month, albeit in a segment that is topped by vehicles selling nearly three times that.
We're in the top-spec Exceed turbodiesel flagship, a $77,690 proposition that is reasonably well-featured. The test car was fitted with a cargo barrier which kept it as a five-seater (the third row folds into the floor). The infotainment side of things is all controlled via a 7in colour touchscreen, which contains the satnav, sound and DVD system, Bluetooth phone link and displays the reversing camera image.
There's an integrated iPod cable (although it wouldn't charge an iPhone) to connect to the excellent Rockford Fosgate 12-speaker sound system, the only bug-bear being lacklustre FM radio reception. Rear passengers can be kept occupied (and quiet, thankfully) by the DVD player with infra-red headphones (plus DVDs can be watched on the front screen when the car is stationary).
The features list also includes leather trim, power-adjustable and folding mirrors, automatic wipers and headlights, a leather/wood steering wheel, power-adjustable front seats, climate control (single zone with separate rear fan and control) and parking sensors.
Given the car has been around with only minor changes for the best part of a decade, cutting-edge technology is not its forte, but it's not been left completely behind either. The Exceed is powered by the 3.2-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder, which uses common-rail direct-injection fuel delivery to produce 147kW and 441Nm - adequate numbers but down on much of its immediate competition packing 500-plus Newton metres as well as a decent hike in power.
The Pajero is one of the few SUVs running a part-time 4WD system, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It can run in rear (which will possibly save a bit of fuel) or four-wheel drive on the tarmac and can be slipped between the two modes at speeds up to 100km/h.
The driveline also has a rear diff lock which - when teamed with lock centre diff and the electronic traction and stability control bits - means most off-road work is child's play.
The look has been given a few nips and tucks over the years but there's no mistaking the big wagon for anything other than the Pajero. The tall five door's rear door has the full-size spare on the outside, which makes life easier for keeping a decent cargo space, with the third row of seats tucked beneath the boot floor.
Cabin space is good without being great - rear seat space is adequate but the front occupants are placed too close to the doors. The driver is also hemmed in a bit by the dashboard and there's tilt-only adjustment for the steering, again a sign of the car's age.
It wears a five-star ANCAP rating and has the ability to run in 4WD on sealed surfaces - something of an advantage when the weather turns nasty. There's also six airbags (dual front, front-side and curtain airbags), as well as stability and traction control and anti-lock brake systems.
The Pajero is old-school off-roader in many ways - its drivetrain and vital statistics reflect that - so if you drove it on the school run and never got it dirty it would be a waste. It's no soft-roader. The daily grind in traffic reveals a relatively quiet cabin, but you still know it's a chuggy four-cylinder diesel providing the horsepower - the drivetrain is smooth but leisurely.
The cabin is comfortable (but not cavernous) and can be filled with noise from the 12-speaker sound system, while the rugrats are placated by by the rear DVD player. The test car had a Milford cargo barrier fitted, which is excellent for occupant safety but makes the third row of seats redundant, unless you moonlight in the prisoner transport industry.
The cargo space isn't bad but the sub-woofer looks a little vulnerable on the left-hand wall of the boot. The big Mitsubishi needs to be leisurely through the bends too - an X5 it is not - but it becomes far more comfortable as the road surface changes.
Find a rough, loose back-track and the Pajero laps it up; select low-range and lock the rear diff lock in and ity clambers over rutted, rocky tracks with a minimum of fuss. With 225mm of ground clearance, a fording depth claim of 700mm and useful approach and departure angles, the Pajero has maintained its off-road abilities, although the Dunlop Grandtrek rubber on the test car is a jack-of-all trades tyre and was not great on any surface.
Asking not much change out of $80,000 is a big ask for the Pajero, in light of its more modern competition. It's got some good features and can complete all commuter duties without making life difficult and the retention of off-road ability means it is a versatile machine, but it's long overdue for replacement.
MITSUBISHI PAJERO EXCEED
Warranty: 5 years, 130,000km
Resale: 57% Source: Glass's Guide
Service Interval: 15,000km or 12-months
Economy: 9l/100km, on test 12l/100km, tank 88 litres; 239g/km CO2
Safety Equipment: six airbags, ABS, EBD, stability and traction control.
Crash rating: 5 star
Engine: 147kW/441Nm 3.2-litre common-rail direct-injection intercooled turbodiesel DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder
Transmission: five-speed auto
Body: 4-door, 5 seats
Dimensions: 4900mm (L); 1875mm (W); 1900mm (H); 2780mm (WB)
Weight: 2347kg 3-tonne braked
Tyre size: 265/60R18
Spare tyre: full-spare