The SUV built for real family adventures
Not all high-riding SUVs are created equal.
There is a good reason most are called “soft-roaders”. While they possess all-wheel drive, the majority are not going to step foot off the bitumen.
Puddles at soccer training and the odd kerb hop is the most difficult terrain many modern-day SUVs face … and when some finally want to tackle something more challenging, they are sorely disappointed and left bogged to the axles.
When it comes to finding an SUV with true off-road ability the choices are limited. Throw the option of seven seats into the mix and it further refines the field.
Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport delivers one of the better value contenders in the segment. Refreshed early this year, it shares the engine and architecture with the Triton ute and base five-seater GLX models start from $45,990 drive-away.
Our experience was behind the wheel of the range-topping seven-seat Exceed variant which is about $60,000 drive-away.
Headline features include an eight-speaker stereo, satnav, eight-inch LCD screen for the driver’s instruments, leather trim, heated front seats, as well as an eight-inch central touchscreen with smartphone mirroring applications Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Exceed models can also be connected to a smartphone app which can synch to an Apple Watch and remotely operate the tailgate, monitor fuel consumption and even find your car if you forgot where it was parked.
Premium paint options of white, red, silver, blue, grey and black are all part of the Exceed deal, and only white diamond costs an additional $200.
Mitsubishi is extending the warranty from five to seven years (restricted to 150,000km), with roadside assist covered over four years.
Another latest deal sweetener is $1500 towards accessories, and there are two packs available ($2799 for the Signature and $6999 for the hardcore Expedition) as well as a host of individual options like tow bar, underbody protection, nudge bar and sports gear carriers.
Servicing is required annually or every 15,000km, with each maintenance visit costing $299 for the first three years.
While boasting a five-star safety rating, initial crash testing was undertaken in 2015 — and the rating came directly from the Triton ute.
Features have been upgraded since then, and the likes of autonomous emergency braking which can step in if the driver fails to act fast enough, along with radar cruise control to maintain preset distances from other vehicles, are standard.
Exceed models come with blind spot warning and lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, bird’s eye view monitor, and a misacceleration mitigation system to stop the driver accidentally jumping on the throttle at low speeds (all too often we hear about drivers using on the wrong pedal in car parks).
Feeling like a combination of old and new, the interior remains simplistic with modern touches.
Using the basic Mitsubishi functions through the touchscreen are fine but antiquated. Using the smartphone mirroring functionality offers the latest technical wizardry at your fingertips.
Smart use of space provides ample area for phones, keys and other items in front of the shifter, along with a good centre console, dual cup holders as well as door bottle accommodation.
The Pajero Sport is long, but skinny, meaning three across the back seat can be a stretch for adults. Those in the second row will find the seat well padded with access to a pair of USB chargers, an AC power outlet and air vents in the roof.
Raising and collapsing the third row is a relatively simply process, and gaining access is equally easy courtesy of the drop and roll middle row functions.
During a dinner journey two adults managed to fit in the rearmost positions, but limited legroom means they are best left to children and shorter journeys.
Smoother than the Triton, the Pajero Sport has the benefit of a coil-spring rear as opposed to leaf. Bitumen travels are cushy courtesy of big absorbent tyres and ample suspension travel.
But compared to the Triton, the Pajero Sport doesn’t feel as nimble.
Unladen, the ute is quick off the mark and fleet-footed whereas the SUV doesn’t possess the same urgency.
That can be attributed to carrying an extra 105kg of kerb weight and the eight-speed automatic transmission.
The Triton runs a six-speed, but the benefit of extra cogs is improved fuel consumption. On average, the Pajero should return about eight litres for every 100km (which is 0.6 litres better than the Triton).
Handling is a step above the ute, there is still some lean in the corners when there is a full load aboard, but it possesses a tight turning circle, strong brakes and also maintains impressive off-road ability.
Shifting between off-road driving modes is as simple as moving the console dial, and it will make mince meat of beach work or challenging rural tracks.
Those looking at longer travels should take note of the smallish 68-litre tank.
While towing capacity is rated at 3100kg, the maximum you would want to haul is 2790kg if you made use of the maximum 665kg payload. Towball capacity is up to 310kg.
Who cares about looks? Soft-roader sounds like a combination of ice-cream and rocky road. I need real four-wheel drive ability without killing the budget.
The urban jungle doesn’t float my boat. I want to conquer the beaten track with the kids and then inflate my raft on a real river and experience something more than the virtual world.
ISUZU MU-X 4X4 LS-T 7-SEAT, $54,990 D/A
New models are coming soon, so there are some sharp deals on the ageing MU-X which doesn’t have the dynamics of the Pajero Sport. Tows 3000kg but has 5750kg gross combination mass. Powered by an underworked 130kW/430Nm 3.0-litre turbo diesel. Currently comes with a six-year warranty and roadside assist, along with two years of free schedule servicing.
FORD EVEREST TREND 4WD 3.2, $65,490 d/a
Powered by a 143kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder and more generous 80L fuel tank — but it’s thirstier at 8.5L/100km and pricier. Can tow 3000kg with a hefty 5800kg gross combination mass. Doesn’t have the same bang for buck as the Mitsubishi.
Sharp lines may remind some of the Luna Park entrance, but there is no doubting the Pajero Sport’s ability on and off the road. With capacity for seven, it’s one of the best value vehicles around for those wanting to take the family on serious adventures.
AT A GLANCE
MITSUBISHI PAJERO SPORT EXCEED
PRICE $59,990 drive-away (good value proposition)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 7yr/150,000km w’ty, services $897 3 years (excellent)
ENGINE 2.4-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 133kW/430Nm (pedestrian)
SAFETY 5-star ANCAP (2015), AEB, blind-spot monitoring, misacceleration system, 7 airbags (solid)
THIRST 8.0L/100km (reasonable)
SPARE Full-size (good as it gets)
TOWING 3100kg (lighter end)