The Mitsubishi Pajero comfortably inhabits a space in the 4WD market that could generously be described as "a niche within a niche". It's that ever-shrinking space for traditional-type off-roaders – no-nonsense, no-frills, seven-seater, genuine 4WD wagons – with plenty of substance but little in the way of contemporary styling or updated safety tech. Those factors are not necessarily insurmountable negatives; in fact, some buyers may find the Pajero's absolute lack of pretence a real bonus in a market awash with gentrified vehicles that are sometimes difficult to differentiate between.
We took the 2018 Pajero out bush to gauge its Adventure capabilities and to see if it still retains its long-held appeal in a world full of increasingly sophisticated off-roaders.
On the outside, the Pajero is old-school ugly – chunky and boxy and straight-edged – and in this day and age that's a big plus in its favour. It hasn't really changed too much in the looks department for more than a decade – beyond a few facelift-type tweaks here and there. I like it; it's not pretty but it has an unfussed, functional look about it.
The interior continues that theme and it's on the right side of basic: simple clean lines, no-mucking-around detailing, hard-wearing and workmanlike.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
This is where, despite its lack of a comprehensively competitive suite of active and passive driver aids, the $58,990 Pajero GLS holds its own against its more expensive rivals and actually becomes a serious contender for your bucks, especially if you're in the market for an unashamedly value-for-money proposition.
You get a stack of nice-touch goodies thrown in for your cash – think heated front leather seats, leather-topped steering wheel, 7.0-inch colour touchscreen media unit with Apple Car Play, Android Auto and Bluetooth, as well as Mitsubishi's proven 4WD system, Super Select II, and Pajero's nod to off-road challenges, centre and rear diff-locks.
The interior is on the right side of basic: simple clean lines, no-mucking-around detailing, hard-wearing and workmanlike.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The Pajero has a 3.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (141kW@3800rpm and 441Nm@2000rpm), teamed with a five-speed automatic transmission, and even though that powerplant has been around for more than five years and it can be noisy and gruff when you give the Paj a boot it remains a gutsy and reliable unit.
The Super Select II 4WD system is, as mentioned, tried and tested – but more about it later. (Scroll down to "What's it like for touring?" now if you can't wait.)
The Pajero has a 3.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (141kW@3800rpm and 441Nm@2000rpm).
How practical is the space inside?
For starters, it is supremely easy to get in and out of, even if you're determined to wedge yourself into the third row of seats.
Front-row seats are supportive enough, without being too plush and friendly. Surfaces elsewhere are tough plastic or sturdy cloth so spillages aren't a major concern.
it is supremely easy to get in and out of, even if you're determined to wedge yourself into the third row of seats.
Dashboard controls remain seemingly stuck in the analogue age but, again, there's a refreshing simplicity to it all that is a bit charming.
The multi-media system is a bit more modern and simple to operate, although if there was a satnav app in our tester I could't find it. Another niggle: the USB ports are quite awkwardly located inside the glovebox.
The second row is a 60/40 split-fold arrangement, offers plenty of passenger room all-round and is easy enough to fold and push forward or lock into place and slide forwards or backwards.
This is a seven-seater, which like so many other of its ilk, is really a five-seater with two seats at the very back.
This is a seven-seater, which like so many other of its ilk, is really a five-seater with two seats at the very back which resemble someone's idea of a cruel prank – well, the third row isn't quite that bad but it is a skinny firm bench with little to no cushioning. In its favour, though, it does fold away flat under the floor without too much strife.
Second- and third-row passengers get air vents.
General storage is a bit haphazard in the Pajero; the front-door moulds aren't big enough to cop a bottle and second-row doors don't even have any storage recess in them. Driver and front passenger get cupholders in between their seats, second-row passengers have a pull-down arm-rest with two cupholders built into it and third-row passengers get a cupholder each.
There is 1069 litres of space (second row up, third row folded away)
And 1798 litres (second and third row stowed away).
Otherwise the Pajero has quite a cavernous load space with room inside maximised all the way to the outer-reaches of the metal; there is 1069 litres of space (second row up, third row folded away) and 1798 litres (second and third row stowed away).
There are four tie-downs on the floor at each corner of the rear area, so you can strap your load down.
What's it like as a daily driver?
Pretty bloody good is the easy answer. The Pajero is 2255kg, 4900mm long (with a 2780mm-long wheelbase), 1845mm wide and 1900mm high. It has a turning circle measuring 11.4m. This Mitsu is a decent size for a seven-seater 4WD, but it never feels like a blocky behemoth to steer around town, through the suburbs, or out in the bush.
Driver vision in all directions is great – much like that afforded in any LandCruiser 70 Series, another old-school straight-up-and-down 4WD.
It rides on 18-inch Dunlop Grandtrek AT20 All-Terrain rubber.
The engine is a grunty unit around town and able to get the Pajero off the mark at a fair clip. While other 4WDs are heading for 10-speed auto territory, the Pajero does fine with just five gears.
The Super Select II systems offers four modes: 2H (two-wheel drive, rear), 4H (4WD high range but, in this, like all-wheel drive and safe to use at high speed on bitumen), 4H LC (4WD/all-wheel drive with locked centre diff; suitable for off-road driving at 30km/h or so) and 4L LC (4WD with locked centre diff and low-range gearing engaged; suitable only for low-speed 4WDing (below 30km/h).
It comes with a full size spare.
I drove it in 4H for most of the time (bitumen and gravel) for the added traction and peace of mind it provided. It's a solid system and works well.
Get it out of the city and this Pajero feels right at home. I only ever switched its Super Select II system from 4H to 4H LC or 4L LC when I faced tougher obstacles than the slippery gravel track and muddy sections we faced for most of our bush trip; the Pajero was never fazed, flustered or put off its game during any of it. You dial in the mode you want and go.
The Pajero makes for a lively confident drive as wheel to wheel, corner to corner, it is easy to point it, turn it and put it exactly where you want – and that applies as much for low-speed 4WDing as it does for high-speed dirt-road driving.
The Pajero has a maximum towing capacity of 3000kg (braked); 750kg unbraked.
At times it does feel a touch underpowered on open stretches of bitumen or dirt and long bends, but give it a bit more shoe and this Pajero answers the call readily enough.
Its off-road-relevant figures – 235mm ground clearance (unladen), 700mm wading depth, and approach (36.6 degrees), departure (25) and ramp-over (22.5) angles – don't give you a clear idea of its capabilities. It's only when you actually climb in the thing, point it at some rough stuff and get stuck into it that you gain a greater appreciation for what this Pajero is actually able to do with nothing more high-tech than good low-range gearing, engine braking and diff locks. With 4L LC engaged (centre and rear diffs locked), a steady hand, correct tyre pressures, a keen eye for wheel placement and some judicious driving, this Pajero can get to – and through – a lot of out-of-the-way places.
It's only when you actually get stuck into it that you gain a greater appreciation for what this Pajero is actually able to do.
How much fuel does it consume?
The Pajero has a 88-litre fuel tank and a claimed fuel consumption of 9.1 litres per 100km. Surprise, surprise, we never achieved that – however, it did do pretty well. We nudged 9.5L/100km over 150km of purely city and suburban driving. We then took the Paj on a two-day trip, with a full rear-end of camping gear, which it swallowed up with ease, and we recorded a dash-readout figure of 9.3L/100km and an actual figure of 11.08L/100km after 329km of highways, twisty back roads, gravel tracks and some low-speed 4WDing.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The Pajero is a nice, solid vehicle. Sure it lacks a fair bit of safety tech and it may be an unspectacular 4WD in the grand scheme of things but it is a sturdy, sure-footed and reliable tourer capable of tackling trips, large or small, tough or cruisy, and it does all of that and much more without the need to be showy about its under-the-radar achievements.
What do you think of the Pajero? Old-school cool or merely old? Let us know in the comments below