The ladder-on-frame SUV segment is a lucrative one for any manufacturer that also plays in yet another money spinning segment, that of the ubiquitous double cab bakkie.
Toyota has the Hilux, which spawned the Fortuner, while Ford has the Everest that is spun off the Ranger platform. Mitsubishi has the superb Triton, which is the basis of the Pajero Sport. In essence, all these SUVs are aimed at a similar segment.
Nissan is yet to see a replacement to the Pathfinder, while Volkswagen has always shot down any prospects of bringing an Amarok-based SUV to the market, but I won’t be surprised if it finally caves in to the pressure and joins the establishment.
We have sampled the Fortuner and Everest in their various guises and both are a marked improvement over their predecessors when it comes to overall refinement and drive polish. So when the Triton launched earlier this year and turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the team, particularly on refinement and ride quality, you can imagine how we anticipated its SUV sibling, the Pajero Sport, to be even better.
First we need to cast our attention to the styling which, from the front and side profile at least, arguably sits between the Fortuner and the Everest. There are sharper lines overall and chrome embellishments up front that give the model a more distinct design compared to the Triton. I like it, although things get rather uninspiring towards the rear as I feel the designer’s pen seemed to have run out of creative ink. It is rather slab-sided back there with too much metal expanse and too thin rear light clusters.
Thankfully, the cabin seems to have jogged some creativity back as the overall tactile and perceived quality feels more SUV than utilitarian with plush leather seats (electrically adjustable for the driver’s side) and enough headroom for all three rows of the seven-seat vehicle. However, I still find the actual floor of the vehicle is set a tad too high, which as a result means your legs as a driver are slightly more bent than in its rivals. It is something that also afflicted the previous model.
The trade-off, though, is that the model has very good ground clearance, which measures a sizeable 215mm, which is great for clearing obstacles during off-road excursions. In fact its prowess off-road is firmly in its DNA and with 30° and 20° approach and departure angles respectively, it can easily scale and descend some of the steepest inclines with relative ease.
The Super Select 4-II four-wheel drive system now utilises a much fancier, but easier to use, rotary dial instead of the previous model’s gear lever setup. Add features such as hill descent control and Off-road Mode Control and it remains capable and easily on a par with rivals.
If there is an area where the Pajero Sport seems to be lagging it is the low maximum towing capacity of 1,800kg (braked trailer), with most rivals having a maximum of 3,500kg. Luggage space measures a generous 813l with the rearmost seats folded and 193l when they are in use.
Then there is the aspect of doing the mundane, daily chore of commuting the family and the model for the most part ticks all the right boxes in terms of utility space and functionality. The engine copes well with the daily rigours of urban traffic and the transmission is generally great.
What was a little disconcerting was that the rear suspension tends to be incessantly bouncy, perhaps even more so than the Triton when it is unladen. Then there is the body sway over undulations, which makes for a rather unpleasant ride for those who easily get car sick.
Perhaps I was simply expecting a bit more from the Pajero Sport. I expected it to be a more polished product given that the Triton’s ride quality had thoroughly impressed me. I feel these issues could be addressed with a few suspension tweaks. Also, the steering wheel tends to not self-centre itself after initially following the road camber should you take your hands off it, which was rather bizarre.
Then there are the service intervals which are pegged at 10 000km, below par of the segment standard of 15 000km.
The Pajero Sport, minor flaws apart, remains a worthy inclusion in the segment and is worth a second look if you are in the market. – Lerato Matebese
Fast Facts: 2017 Mitsubishi Sport 4×4
Engine: 2442cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 133kW at 3500rpm
Torque: 430Nm at 2500rpm
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Top speed: N/A
Fuel: 8.1l/100km (claimed combined)
Price: From R599 995