Mitsubishi Pajero Sport review & buyer's guide
The 2016 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is an engineering adaptation of the Triton ute >>. A decent sized wagon with heavy tow capacity and serious off-road ability. (And a face that only a Mitsubishi Outlander >> could love.) For this assessment, I drove one for 10 days ... and I had a complete 'love/hate' relationship with it: I loved to hate some things about the Pajero Sport, and I hated that I loved some of its other attributes. If you're thinking about buying one, it really depends on what you want, and what you need, and how well those two things line up.
For this review, I lived with the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport for 10 days. The Pajero Sport was supplied by Mitsubishi Motors Australia - but no money changed hands. The views expressed are entirely my own independent assessment of the vehicle - good and bad.
I'm not here to sugar-coat the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. I want you to make an informed decision about whether or not the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is right for you. If you found this page be searching Mitsubishi Pajero Sport review in Google, and you're reading other reviews, you might also want to look at this post:
Can you really trust a car review? >>
This review is for you if you’re seriously considering buying a Pajero Sport. If you’re seriously in the market, this is a frank, honest and detailed appraisal - some would say harsh - and guaranteed to be 100 per cent bullshit free. (My jihad on bullshit guarantee...)
What is Pajero Sport?
One of the neatest, most pragmatic tricks in the automotive engineering expediency playbook is turning the ute you’re already selling, into an SUV. Eighty per cent of the work is already done - all you need to do is put a box on the back, instead of a bucket … and then tweak the hair and makeup.
Above: Twins under the skin - Pajero Sport (top row, in silver) and Triton (bottom row, in blue)
When you do that, you get to amortise all that grass roots research and development across two products, instead of just one. And that’s exactly what Mitsubishi has done with the Triton ute, turning it into the Pajero Sport. Relationship to the real Pajero? Cue the crickets...
Pajero Sport strengths & weaknesses
It never ceases to amaze me how so many people decide rational thought really is superfluous when it comes to buying a vehicle. It’s like: ‘Won’t be needing that.’ I’ve done a lot of first-hand research on that. I get about 1000 e-mails a month from people who either want a new car cheap, which is what I organise, here in Australia, and it’s not a scam, or else they’re stalled on the grid, confronted by choice, and they can’t decide which new vehicle they want. Or they’re down to two, and they’ve clearly made the shortlist in the complete absence of rational thought.
Since the explosion of Pajero Sport, Ford Everest and Toyota Fortuner in the market, along with the Colorado 7 and Isuzu MU-X, I’m getting a significant chunk of enquiries from people who are down to ‘Kia Sorento >> or Ford Everest’. Or else it’s Toyota Kluger, Hyundai Santa Fe >> or Pajero Sport. The classic question is: Which one is better? How people get there is absolutely beyond me. Better at what? It’s like: Creme brulee or chook shit? I guess it really depends if you want dessert or fertilizer. I mean, I know they look similar - the SUVs, not the creme brulee and the pullet poo (unless you made a terrible mistake in the kitchen - all those SUVs have similar overall dimensions, similar overall boxy shape, they’re similar overall in many ways. But they are fundamentally different. So let’s identify the elephant in the room here. It’s a big one.
It’s ‘compromise’. Automotive engineering is all about compromise - Pajero Sport is a classic. Compared with the softer SUVs - like Santa Fe or Sorento - Pajero Sport has two fundamental strengths. One: It can tow massive loads - 3.1 tonnes. The softies max out at two tonnes - which is not an insignificant load - but 3.1 tonnes is hardcore. And so is the Pajero Sport’s off-road envelope. And I know a lot of people think ‘off road’ means anything not made of bitumen or concrete - but that’s bullshit. I mean ‘proper off road’. I mean ‘serious’ off road: water up past your knees, slippery mud, or heavily broken terrain - deep ruts; rock-hopping - stuff that requires a low range gearset and a transmission you can lock up tighter than Charlie Manson. Pajero Sport is designed to revel in that stuff. And the thing to realise here is: Compromise. You simply cannot deliver that kind of rugged performance without beefing up the suspension and the driveline and the chassis, and expect there to be no negative consequences.
The feedback - the casualty of that hardcore capability - is overall refinement. So the question: Which one is best? Is really all about you. What do you want, and what do you need? If you’ve got a heavy boat, a sizeable caravan, a trailer full of highly enriched uranium, then hallelujah - because the Pajero Sport will embrace that. If you’ve made serious plans to cross the Simpson Desert, drive down the Gibb River Road, or head up to Cape York - perfect. Solid choice. But if instead you might, vaguely, possibly talk about doing such a thing, one day, subject to it being at best a firm possibility of a definite maybe, and what you really need is a big family wagon to drive around town and occasionally - at your most adventurous - to head off on a basic touring holiday to the beach - or even go camping and drive down some very easy dirt tracks - then the Pajero Sport is simply not the right objective choice. What you want for that is a softer SUV - because it will be much nicer to drive on a daily basis. So, hit pause in a sec, go stand face to face with a mirror, and take a good, hard look at yourself, and what you’re really going to do with the vehicle. And then, when you get back, we’ll drill right down into the nuts and bolts of the Pajero Sport.
Pajero Sport is, objectively, very safe. ANCAP awarded it five stars, and the official score was 36.22 out of a possible 37 points in what is, effectively, the most demanding, independent safety assessment available. (That's 97.9 per cent...)
Importantly, ANCAP's assessment of the Pajero Sport is simply a transposition of the result for the Triton ute. In validating the score for the Pajero Sport in this way, ANCAP says:
"This ANCAP safety rating is based on ANCAP tests of the Mitsubishi Triton utility. ANCAP was provided with evidence showing that the results apply to the Pajero Sport SUV, which is based on the Triton."
Driving the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
Note that I did not just say the Pajero Sport is an unrefined shitbox around town. It’s certainly not that. It’s just, for around-town conveying of this and that, it’s not as refined as a Santa Fe or Sorento. But it’s actually a lot better than the nastier ute-to-wagon conversions from the past. The first thing I noticed when I picked it up and drove off was: I turned the wheel and not all that much turning actually took place. At slow speeds, you need a lot of steering wheel input to get the desired ‘yawing’/turning response from the vehicle. Mediocre bumps in the road aren’t attenuated as well as in a well sorted softer SUV, and the transmission - which is an eight-speed auto - is comparatively harsh at times as well. Overall, it feels like a bit of a truck, which it is.
If you want to go seriously off-road and you're concerned about getting the right tyres for 18-inch rims (which Pajero Sport runs across the range) I've had some interesting feedback on that issue here >>
Subjectively, that eight speed auto doesn’t deliver a tangibly better or smoother result than six speeds might in other vehicles - but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deliver on the objective front - the Pajero Sport is certainly an economical machine, and those extra ratios might be a real plus there, as well as off-road and/or while heavy towing. The rear end’s been re-jigged comprehensively as well. Gone are the Triton’s elliptical leaf springs and they’re replaced by coils. The axle’s held in place by two longitudinal links and a panhard rod - and it’s quite well sorted. Across all kinds of terrain the rear end remains pretty well behaved.
It really helps if you drive around all the time in 4WD ‘high’ with the centre diff unlocked - which the Pajero Sport will happily accommodate. The Super Select II 4WD system is well thought out and easy to use - you get four modes: rear-drive in high range, four-wheel-drive in high range (centre diff unlocked) - both for on-road driving - plus four high with the centre diff locked, and four low with the centre diff locked - both for severe off-road terrain where traction is otherwise compromised. In the range-topping ‘Exceed’ variant, and the mid-spec GLS, you also get a rear diff lock, for even more traction-enhancing grip and forward progress.
Engine performance from the 2.4 diesel is excellent - 133 kilowatts and 430 Newton-metres - which is well inside the ballpark for a modern diesel of two-and-a-bit litres. It feels really strong in the low to middle rev range. As you’d expect.
One of the things that did really impress me was the Pajero Sport started to feel a lot more at home when you got out on the freeway, then onto some backroads, and even onto some moderate tracks - the sense of ponderous handling and poor refinement takes a back seat as you leave the city behind.
Inside the Pajero Sport
Frankly, though, I’m a little underwhelmed by the Pajero Sport’s interior - and it’s not that they haven’t tried. It’s really that this is a case of primping a ute - and you’re kinda stuck with the ute fundamentals. The seat is quite low, relative to the floor, so your legs poke forwards rather than down, and the driving position is reasonably cramped - the top of the screen is close to your head, and the cockpit itself is a bit squeezy, side to side. If you like bracing yourself with your knees during cornering, it’s pretty much all hard edges there. So that could be better. Another throwback to the lower grades of ute is the blank on the steering column shroud for an ignition key … which the Pajero Sport doesn’t need because it has a proximity key across the range. That looks a bit cheap.
But they have done a nice job on the leather and the interior generally, except for the silver highlights - which are everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot nicer to look at than that outdated Asian fascination with plastic wood - but the silver reflects the sun right back into your face from seemingly every angle, and as such it constitutes something of an ergonomic failure. And it scratches easily - the Pajero Sport I tested had just 4000km on the odo and that silver next to the console was already starting to look a bit rough. At least the instruments are nice and clear - even if the car does need to tell you (twice) on startup that it’s a Mitsubishi, with a big, red, three-diamond logo. That might be useful if you have dementia, but for everyone else … does it really help? Car companies can’t help themselves.
The other thing I had to laugh at was the eco coach. This is a nice Nipponese idea that gets lost in translation. I’m picturing two Mitsubishi engineers named - perhaps - Hiro-san and Toshi-san - deciding to do their save-the-planet bit by designing some software that flashes up on shutdown, to tell you how ‘green’ you just drove. And encourage you to do better next time. A five -segmented digital leaf comes up, and the greener you drive, the more segments are coloured in green. I never got higher than three, which explains why I’m a journalist and not a neurobiologist. Of course, if you ever ran into a tough-love eco coach - the Gunnery Sergeant Hartman of eco-coaches - he’d just harangue the shit out of you for driving a two-tonne CO2-belching four-wheel drive. Instead of a more planet-friendly car...
The centre LCD is also a little underwhelming - powered by Apple CarPlay or Android Auto if you want anything decent to pop up - such as GPS sat-nav. So, apps are a DIY thing now - powered by your phone or - literally - nothing. But at least there’s no more dealership $1200 map upgrades, so that’s good.
The steering wheel feels great even though it’s a little confusing. There’s real estate for no less than 14 buttons on that wheel - fourteen - although two of them are unused. There’s also two up/down toggle switches for volume and cruise control, and some reasonably obtuse icons on some of those buttons. Just saying - it’s going to take you a while until you’re familiar enough with it to play that wheel like a Stradivarius in the cut and thrust of city traffic.
The HVAC - heating, ventilation and air conditioning - controls are excellent, and classy, and the 4WD selector dial thingy plus electric park brake, ditto. The transmission selector is chunky but upmarket, which is in keeping with the vehicle’s character - but forward of that, the rear diff lock switch and the seat heater switches just scream ‘afterthought’ - and they look a whole lot more DIY than the rest of the cabin.
The passenger’s seat is quite comfortable - and the rear seats are OK too. I’m not so sure I’d want to sit three abreast right across the nation, but for short commutes it would be OK. Folding them is a breeze, and when you do that, the already spacious cargo area gets cavernous. Mitsubishi Down Under says seven-seater Pajero Sport is in the wings for Australia: “Sooner rather than later; it’s already onsale in other markets” is how they put it to me. And certainly the rear cargo bay is big enough to accommodate a competitive third row of seating. Meaning, you wouldn’t want to sit in that all the way back across the nation, but for short trips it would be OK.
Pajero Sport model grades & equipment
There’s only three grades of Pajero Sport: GLX, GLS and Exceed. Same body, same powertrain, same wheels and same suspension across the board. You’ll get a GLX on the road for under $50,000 - and it is packed with standard features like paddle shifters (even if they don’t rotate with the wheel) plus 18-inch alloys, privacy glass, climate control air conditioning, a proximity key, reversing camera, and electric park brake. GLX is hardly stripped out. I like it. It makes a lot of sense and it’s pretty good value.
The mid-spec GLS adds about $3500 to the price, and for that, the headline extras are a better sound system, the rear diff lock, a splash of leather, electric adjustment on the front seats, auto wipers and headlamps, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a cargo blind. GLS is also pretty good value.
And, if you want to go all the way, another four grand - for about $57,000 drive-away - will get you into the Exceed. You’ll add the surround camera system Mitsubishi disingenuously calls the ‘Multi Around Monitor’ - a great name except if English is your first language - plus all the hi-tech crash prevention voodoo: Forward collision mitigation (warning and autonomous braking) system, blind spot warning, an Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation System (for all those times you’ve inadvertently ultrasonically misaccelerated) and a rear DVD entertainment system - for anyone in the third world, whose kids don’t have an iPad yet. And you get seat heaters and another two tweeters of high frequency twitter-ness.
You know, it’s got me stuffed why they put all that autonomous braking hardware in the Pajero Sport Exceed, and neglected to add adaptive cruise control. Surely that’s just a matter of a few lines of extra software code, given all the radar hardware is already in place. Hyundai did the same thing with Tucson Highlander. Go figure. GLS is the smart buy here, at least that;s the Pajero Sport I’d buy. Great value for money, and you’ll just have to man up and be accountable, next time you ultrasonically misaccelerate. Have a concrete sandwich and harden up. You can do it.
Of course, every Pajero Sport comes with Mitsubishi’s outstanding five-year warranty - best of the Japanese - at five years or 100,000km, plus annual servicing (or 15,000km). Both pretty serious money savers in the long run. Just remember - if the heavy towing and/or hardcore off-road driving is a tangible activity for you in the near future, that makes the Pajero Sport’s concessions to civility and refinement more than worthwhile. But if you’re really just dreaming about the blue singlet stuff - you’ll be better off in a more civilised SUV. If you want to save thousands on a Pajero Sport - or any other vehicle - here in Australia - contact me here >>
Comment by e-mail from John:
WHY I WON'T BUY A PAJERO SPORT
12 April 2016: You tested the Pajero Sport and came to much the same conclusion as myself; it is at the top of my short list for value and function. However I will not buy it.
After research I found there are no LT (light truck) construction 70 or 75 cross section tyres, true off road tyres, available for the 18" rims. Cooper tyres reps emphasised to me the AT tyre they make in that size is not suitable for 'real' off road work [I agree].
I asked a Mitsubishi dealer if their 17" rims, as found on the Triton, would fit [Assuming rim/tyre combination matches the standard rolling radius or comes legally close.]. I was told by one city dealership any deviation from what is on the vehicle will void the warranty. A country dealership, told me the city folks don't know anything about the real world of bush driving and that they see no problem with fitting after-market rims and tyres within the parameters suggested. A third dealership, again country, told me I will have to wait a year or two until the after-market industry catches up.
But the small print on the brochure tells us the front discs are seventeen inch. Does this mean that with callipers they are even bigger? I've asked the three dealers if they know the answer or if we could just offer up the 17" rims to see if they fit but no one wants to help.
Tyre outlets I've asked have no experience with this vehicle and the dealerships do not want to know... I certainly am not spending $50K unless I am sure I can fit tyres safe for purpose, safe for the sort of driving your to which your article says the vehicle is suited.
It seems, in a situation where purpose appropriate tyres cannot be fitted to the vehicle, Mitsubishi is by example, action shots of the vehicle performing, encouraging unsafe four wheel driving practices and also may be misrepresenting what it is safe to do with its product. In essence it is not a relatively hard core 4x4 but a soft roader by default! The worst case scenario is that Mitsubishi is using this ploy to avoid possible warranty claims.
What is going on?
Please find out and let the public know.
I am a huge fan of two things:
- Buying a vehicle that is exactly right for the use you intend in standard condition. Spending $50k on a vehicle that has yet to be modified to do what you want is nuts, in all but the most extreme or peculiar circumstances.
- Not voiding the warranty by modifying the vehicle if this can be avoided.
Clearly, you have a particularly hardcore off-road application in mind for your next vehicle, and the Pajero Sport would need to be modified to different wheels and tyres (at least), subject to the ability of the wheels to fit over the front brake rotors and calipers. I wouldn't bother with this pain/warranty risk.
Regarding your question of fitment with the 17-inch Triton wheels, why not simply measure the Triton brake rotor and calipers, and compare with the Pajero Sport. I suspect the hardware would be identical.
Perhaps you should consider instead a dual-cab ute. I would suggest, however, that the towing and load specs on the Pajero Sport and the Triton ute are very similar (if not identical in some cases) and therefore if I were you I'd want to establish that the standard wheel/tyre package was absolutely incompatible with your intended application before you rule it out, categorically.
There's no evidence that driving off-road in the standard wheel/tyre package is in any way unsafe - so we'll have to respectfully disagree there. Also, I do not agree with your claim that the vehicle is a "soft roader by default". Clearly it is not soft in any meaningful sense of the term.
Thanks for your interest in the website. - JC
COMMENT BY E-MAIL FROM SHANE PARKER ON OFF-ROAD TYRES & 18-INCH RIMS ON PAJERO SPORT
Love your work. Good articles, lots of information and every-day-man practical observation and assessment. I particularly enjoy your caustic humour where fun deserves to be poked. With a family and all that entails, I don't often get to have a laugh! The British J.C. (Jeremy Clarkson) would be proud of your work.
In your recent (rather good) article on the new Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, mention was made of the difficulty in obtaining decent off-road capable tyres to fit the 18-inch wheel rims the Pajero Sport comes equipped with. The current Mitsubishi Pajero wagon has a similar sized wheel & tyre; at 265/60R18.
I have a Pajero Exceed that runs this sized tyre, and unlike most 4WD owners, I do use my 4WD for actual real world off-road and no-road driving. I place great demand and expectations on tyre performance. Tyres are the key to the ability of any vehicle to excel at the task expected of it - crap tyres don't do the job, simple as that.
I have done much research and asking of questions of tyre retailers, distributors and manufacturers, and I came to the conclusion that LT or "Light Truck" tyres differ from "Passenger "type tyres primarily in the construction of the carcass or "framework" of the tyre. This gives a higher load capacity by design through greater strength. Due to higher strength and better materials, benefits often include superior puncture resistance, less tyre flex giving better control, and a wider margin of safety for a heavy vehicle. The downsides are: usually a (much) harsher ride, and often limited choice in sizing, as you have mentioned in your article.
BUT, there is another option to LT Light Truck tyres for regular 4WD vehicles.
Many manufacturers build EXTRA LOAD models in "Passenger" type tyres. Many of these are at least Mud & Snow (M&S) capable, some are true off-road tyres. Because of the Extra Load construction, they are superior to other regular tyres. These Extra Load tyres have much heavier sidewall construction, stronger wider and thicker steel belts, extra nylon / polyester reinforcement belts, and extra layers of rubber under the tread for puncture resistance and strength. Often the tread rubber compound is of a higher quality. As such, being designed and built to a higher standard, these tyres are labelled "EXTRA LOAD" or "XL" in the size designator markings: i.e. - 265/60R18 114T XL.
After more research, I chose the South Korean built Hankook DynaPro AT-M [model RF10], in the 265/60R18 size - this particular tyre comes in a big range of sizes, many of which are "XL" construction. The size I have are available as an XL, and they have an EXTRA LOAD rating of 114 (1180 kg), and a speed rating of "T" (190 km/h). So the size markings read "265/60R18 114T XL".
At a load capacity of 1180 kg per tyre, that equals 4720kg of load capacity. When my 4WD is at her designed maximum legal load, my GVM is 2920kg. This gives a 38.1% over-rating (or a safety margin of 76.2%) at maximum legal loaded weight - more than adequate.
These Hankook DynaPro AT-M tyres have outstanding off-road ability in dirt, deep sand, over sharp or slippery rocks, and through slimy mud and slop, they are amazingly good on wet and snowy roads - sealed or dirt, they are almost as quiet as normal highway tyres, and comfortable to drive on.
Handling is very good, always predictable, and braking capacity is first rate. They easily cope with my 4WD wagon at maximum loaded weight (3 tonnes) with a 2 tonne caravan in tow, even over shonky stony chewed up gravel or highway speeds over 40 degree tarmac.
The amazing thing is, despite most 18-inch tyres in this size costing around AUS$350 each or more, these Hankook DynaPro AT-M's retail for around AUS$260 each, and they are an absolutely first rate product - I believe that it would be hard to beat them at any price - and I have tried!
I have done over 50,000 km of (often) punishing driving on my Hankook AT-M's, and 3 millimeters of the original 10+ millimeter tread depth has worn away. I have never had a single puncture, leak, or other tyre problems (such as balance / out-of-roundness, or cracking / delamination issues) in over 185,000 kilometers of driving on Hankook DynaPro tyres.
So, other than the previously mentioned criteria of weight capacity and strength and puncture resistance, why would you need to specify LT Light Truck tyres for a 4WD that isn't actually a truck, when an appropriately well-designed and constructed EXTRA LOAD passenger 4WD tyre is more than adequate? The GVM (maximum legal loaded weight, or "Gross Vehicle Mass") on most 4WD passenger vehicles and utilities is usually around 3 tonnes. Some 4WD so-called "passenger" vehicles (like the Ford F150) are heavier of course, but they would also have much larger tyres to carry that weight. An actual truck by definition, would weigh at least 5 tonnes, and would naturally be required to run truck-rated tyres.. but that isn't the issue here.
BTW, I am not employed by Hankook Tyre in any capacity, nor do I receive any form of sponsorship / product supply from Hankook Tyre. I just believe they make a good product, I am impressed with the products performance in real world conditions, and other car drivers / owners / consumers deserve to know about good products.
Thanks very much for your kind words and also for sharing your valuable experience here - hopefully your experience will steer bona-fide off-roaders in the right direction in relation to choosing the right rubber in their Pajero Sport.
I condusted the Wheels Magazine tyre tests for many years, when I was a freelancer. We did all kinds of car-based controlled handling tests on the skidpans at Oran Park and later at Eastern Creek. What became clearly evident there was that the premium brands - Dunlop, Goodyear, Pirelli, Bridgestone, etc., (it's a long list) - were all very close in terms of performance. The brands nobody had ever heard of were all awful - big difference.
At the time (and this must be 5-10 years ago) there were two surprises: Hankook and Kumho - both South Korean, both regarded as poor-to-mid-range performers (in terms of market perception). The surprise was: even back then, when we measured the performance of these tyres, they were right up there with the premium brands. And they weren't outrageously cheap - as in, not 'too good to be true' cheap - but they were on sale at a very good discount compared with the established premium brands.
I owned two Subaru WRXs at the time, and I replaced the tyres with Hankooks. I put a directional set on one Rex and an asymmetric on the other Rex - and they were both excellent. (The directional set was noisier, which you'd expect. They tend to be noisier.)
There's no question in my mind that Hankook and Kumho have done in the tyre market what Hyundai and Kia have achieved in the vehicle market. Better value and objectively equivalent performance.
Thanks for writing in - excellent tip. I appreciate you being a part of the audience.