Gone are the days where where a towbar signified a blanket ability to tow anything this side of a tractor.
The word 'Ute' usually underlined this offshoot of the great Aussie can-do attitude. Like most things these days, we've learned to be more careful, and if we're not we can get in big trouble.
Figures like the current benchmark 3.5 tonne or 3500kg capacity are still based on structural details like the load ratings of the tow hitch, chassis, axles and tyres. They therefore disregard accelerative or dynamic performance and how well a car keeps up with traffic or how safely it handles when towing - which I’m sure you’ll agree are pretty important details.
The Pajero Sport'sturbo-diesel engine may make decent output numbers, but that doesn’t mean the relatively little 2.4-litre can still manage decent performance and economy (or reliability) when pulling a decent load.
It's actually rated at 3100kg braked, but a recent opportunity to tow a 650kg car trailer over 563km and then an extra 1100ish kg of RA28 Celica over 503km in one long day trip provided a tale of two loads over decent distances.
See what we mean about doubling the length of the rig?
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
The Pajero Sport has been treated to a number of running changes since it first appeared in late 2015, but the most recent adjustment in April 2018 brought AEB and adaptive cruise control as standard across the range, among a few other detail additions.
The top-spec Exceed we used for this test also scored its tailgate spoiler, 150W/220V power outlet, dual USB power ports for the back seat, illuminated sunvisor vanity mirrors and softer console trim. Given the Pajero Sport’s ute cousin has just received a big birthday, we expect another update in the coming months.
The Pajero Sport’s edgy looks would have to be one of the most polarising designs on the market, but I’m in the fan camp given its overall cohesiveness and distinction from the Triton ute it shares much of its underpinnings with.
On the inside, it’s generally the same as the Triton, with a quality, hardwearing feel to the materials throughout. It’s not as cosy as a Prado, but also significantly cheaper.
At 4785mm long, 1815mm wide and 1805mm high, the Pajero Sport is slightly smaller in every dimension than all of its immediate rivals, which ultimately robs it of some interior space, but also should make it a smidge easier to place on off-road trails or tight city streets. Its 2800mm wheelbase is a full 200mm shorter than the Triton.
Aside from the 3100kg braked tow rating the other key towing-related stats include a 310kg towball download weight (inline with the 10% rule of thumb), 2710kg GVM and 2105kg kerb weight which means a 605kg payload, and 5400kg GCM. In other words, we’re nowhere near those figures with this test load and little more than two occupants in the cabin.
As with best practice, we're sticking well within the max tow rating.
As with best practice, we're sticking well within the max tow rating.
The maximum front axle load is 1350kg and the rear is 1600kg, and you might be interested to know the roof is rated to carry 80kg.
The current crop of ute-based SUVs are known for their general interior versatility, if not quite matching the more passenger-focused models like the Mazda CX-9 and Kia Sorento for outright interior space.
In the Pajero Sport’s case, the second and third rows of seats might leave some taller occupants looking for more headroom, but the seats are generally comfortable if you fit.
Like most seven seaters, the third row does lack child seat anchorage points, but the second row does offer ISOFIX mounts for the outboard positions and top tether for all three.
There’s two cup holders for each row of seats and a bottle holder in each door, in line with our expectations these days.
In terms of cargo space, all figures are measured in litres VDA and expand from 131 with all seats up (to the seat top) to 502 with the third row folded (to the seat top) and 1488 to the roof with all seats folded. If you’re looking to use the floor space to the max, there’s 1280mm of cargo space width, 1000mm between the wheel arches and 1687mm of total cargo floor length with all seats folded.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
If you’re tossing up between the Triton and Pajero Sport, this is one area where you need to pay attention.
While they both come with an identically specced 2.4-litre 133kW/430Nm turbo-diesel which reaches its peak outputs at 3500 and 2500rpm respectively, the Pajero Sport still keeps an upper hand with an extra two ratios to its eight-speed torque converter auto.
All Australian Pajero Sports are four-wheel drive with a low range transfer case activated by a rotary console knob.
Our first tank of diesel was entirely covered with the car trailer attached, and after 527km, we recorded 11.23L/100km at the pump.
With 527km down, it was time for a drink.
Most of our next tank was used with the Celica loaded on the trailer and therefore a total in the vicinity of 1750kg. Over very similar country highways to the first tank, we were very impressed to record a 13.17L/100km at the pump.
Adding the Celica didn't even add 2L/100km.
For context, I towed a Corona wagon of similar vintage and weight to the Celica over similar roads last year with a RAM 2500 and recorded 16.13L/100km, with an unladen trailer figure of 13.2L/100km.
So for the Pajero Sport’s little 2.4 to be less affected by the extra load than the big 6.7-litre Cummins, I’m mighty surprised.
Considering the Pajero Sport’s 68-litre fuel tank, these test figures suggest a decent range between fills of 606km with the car trailer in tow, and 516km with the Celica on top.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
ANCAP safety rating
The Pajero Sport carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, but be aware this was based on less stringent 2015 standards. Also note that the rating was based on testing the Triton ute, which shares much of its structure with the Pajero Sport, but is effectively a different car from the B-pillar back and rides on a 200mm longer wheelbase.
There’s driver and passenger front and side airbags, driver’s kneebag, and curtain airbags covering all three rows of seats.
The top-spec Exceed brings more advanced safety technology, such as blind-spot warning, and comes with a 360-degree camera.
Also, a reminder that like most seven seaters, those third-row seats don’t have child seat restraints. But you will find two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchor mounts in the second row. A full-sized spare tyre is mounted under the rear end.
Anyone who thinks that an appropriate tow rating is your ticket to maintaining your usual pace and agility on the road while towing is dreaming.
You can’t argue with physics, and even with just 650kg of trailer, the fact that it more than doubles the length of your combined rig and getting three axles worth of wheels to turn takes a lot more time, room and concentration.
And that’s regardless of vehicle, so don’t blame the Pajero Sport. Seasoned towing types will think I’m stating the obvious, but there’s no shortage of caravan-toting vehicles on the road that hold the speed limit around bends and keep the same distance behind following cars as without a load. You really shouldn’t.
Pulling a car trailer through the city is not the stuff dreams are made of.
That being said, I managed to slowly thread the back streets of Newtown on my way from collecting the trailer with the Exceed, so a little patience can achieve great things.
One point against the Pajero Sport though is that its reversing camera is offset, which skews your view of the towball as you’re reversing up to it to hitch, which is downright challenging and annoying.
No, you’re not looking sideways, the camera is offset.
See that black dot above the far top left of the plate, that’s the reversing camera.
Setting off for Tamworth and beyond from the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains via the Putty Road, the Pajero Sport was more than capable of maintaining the speed limit in a straight line without wringing its neck.
We knocked off about 30 per cent of our regular unladen speed through corners, and keeping that wide car trailer within the lane requires endless vigilance, but the the car handles the job in a pretty fuss-free fashion. It’s important to give the brakes a good few jabs and get the trailer brakes nicely dialled in before you need them though, as all that length makes such a difference to your stability under brakes, even though it’s just a 650kg load.
Country NSW, go see it.
For much of this 563km stretch we just set the cruise control to the speed limit and loped along though, but with the active cruise distance set to the furthest setting of course.
Once we’d collected the Celica and nearly tripled our overall load to around 1750kg, with a significantly altered centre of gravity, you could certainly feel the difference.
Over the same roads in reverse, but this time deviating to head for Orange for a 503km in total with the car on the back, we took things much more gingerly through the bends.
Once accustomed to the amount of intertia potential behind us though, we were back on the cruise control at the speed limit along straight sections with no apparent wind.
This was pretty impressive for the little 2.4, particularly given it isn’t capable of delivering max torque until a relatively late 2500rpm.
The eight-speed auto does tend to hold taller gears in the name of efficiency before dropping at least a couple of ratios, which is not ideal when your managing the momentum of the vehicle plus load.
The paddle shifters are an easy override for this, along with making the most of what little engine engine braking the 2.4’s capacity will allow. This is perhaps the small engine’s greatest compromise.
Our trailer’s triple axle no doubt helped counteract the potential stability compromise of the Pajero Sport’s relatively short wheelbase, but there’s also trailer sway control as a backup plan. We didn’t feel it intervening once during our test however.
As darkness fell on our epic day, it became apparent that even though the high and low beam headlights are LED units, we found neither of them to be particularly useful out there for spotting kangaroos at night. A good set of driving lights would be a wise addition in the long term.
For towing around 1750kg of car and trailer - and therefore a large camper trailer or decent caravan - long distances on country highways, the Pajero Sport is a fitting steed.
The fact that its fuel consumption didn’t skyrocket once we added the Celica to the back is mighty impressive, but be aware that all our findings could be vastly different as you approach its 3100kg limit.
If you can appreciate its looks, there’s a lot more to the Pajero Sport’s capability than meets the eye.
Would you have considered a Pajero Sport for towing? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.