For some R30 000 less than the 4x4 version, does this rear-wheel-drive Pajero Sport strike the perfect family-car balance?

"The key question is whether brand-loyal South Africans will be swayed from their trusted Fortuners and Everests." The answer to this somewhat prophetic statement from our earlier test of the Pajero Sport 2,4 D4 4x4 is a definitive … not yet. Every month, while more than a thousand Fortuners leave Toyota showrooms, Mitsubishi struggles to sell 50 Sports.

That trend will hopefully change as more buyers become familiar with the Triton-based SUV’s attributes because, as we found in that road test, the Pajero Sport is really rather good. From a class-leading drivetrain setup – the 2,4-litre turbodiesel is a refined, strong unit complemented by an intuitive eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission that’s streets ahead of rival units in terms of sophistication – to nicely resolved road manners, the Mitsubishi is a class act.

To discover whether that level of talent has filtered through the entire Pajero Sport range, tested here is the second model in a two-model range (perhaps part of the reason for those sluggish sales?). The 4x2 has identical spec to the 4x4 but for the omission of headlamp washers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, plus a different alloy-wheel design. Of course, it also lacks the R30 000-pricier flagship’s selectable four-wheel-drive system with its Torsen centre differential and low-range transfer ratio (plus a rear-sited diff lock).

The benefits of two-wheel drive are, of course, lower mass – to the tune of 106 kg on the Pajero Sport – less drag on the drivetrain (which is beneficial to fuel consumption; this 4x2 was 0,9 L/100 km more frugal on our standardised fuel route) and improved performance; it’s 0,37 seconds quicker to 100 km/h and needs 0,91 seconds less to reach 120 km/h from 80. This test vehicle also braked better than the 4x4.

Of the tangible benefits to the reduction in mass is that the Pajero Sport – already one of the nimblest vehicles in the class – is even easier to place in traffic thanks to direct steering, eager throttle response and a firm brake pedal underfoot. It feels light on its feet, an agreeable contrast to the Fortuner’s – and especially the Everest’s – smidgeon unwieldiness.

Where the Pajero Sport succeeds, too, is in concealing its live rear axle. Certainly, there’s some of the characteristic shimmy that all vehicles built on a ladder-frame chassis share but, thanks to the fitment of coil springs aft instead of leaf springs, the body is commendably composed. The secondary ride is especially good, managing to absorb most impacts before they ripple through to the cabin. The steering, uncorrupted by power having to be fed through the front wheels, is slow but satisfyingly direct and devoid of kickback, making it ideal for gravel-roading.

And that’s pretty much the extent to which the Pajero Sport will dirty its Dunlops. Peculiarly, this 4x2 does not offer a diff lock, so any off-road sojourns must be tackled with care. Approach and departure angles are class-competitive, as is the 218 mm of ground clearance, but traction is an issue on smooth gravel and rocky surfaces.

Another spec anomaly noted by a CAR tester is the lack of Isofix baby-seat attachment points on the second-row bench seat. Aside from that omission, the Pajero Sport has a generous list of safety features, including six airbags, stability and traction control and brake assist supplementing the ABS with EBD. It does, however, lack its main rivals’ trailer-sway control.

What it doesn’t want for is modern convenience items. LED headlamps are standard, as are auto lights and wipers, a rear-view camera plus park-distance control aft (but, oddly, not at the front), leather trim and powered adjustment of the driver’s seat.

From that pew, vision outward is generally excellent – although that stylish kick in the shoulder lines does create large over-the-shoulder blind spots – and the seats are comfy in all three rows, even for a brace of adults relegated to the back. Packing space is slightly less satisfactory, with poor oddments stowage in front and a luggage bay that’s marginally smaller than those of the Ford and Toyota. Perceived fit and finish throughout is excellent but the materials are more bakkie-basic than family-SUV plush, and the touchscreen infotainment lacks the clarity and features richness of the Everest’s Sync3 setup.



TEST SUMMARY

The question whether buyers should opt for the Pajero Sport over an Everest or Fortuner (or the Isuzu MU-X) feels rather futile because, such is the nameplate appeal of those two vehicles, they sell on reputation alone. That they happen to both be very good family SUVs further muddles the argument.

Here's the thing, however: four out of the nine CAR testers voted in favour of the Pajero Sport above its direct rivals. We relish driving the Mitsubishi and that's down mainly to its excellent drivetrain and uncompromised on-road manners.

The bigger question is, then, whether we'd choose this 4x2 over its 4x4 range mate? Probably not. For an insubstantial R30 000 extra, the latter offers a wider operating scope covering weekly commutes and weekend wandering to isolated spots. If you're in the market for a seven-seater SUV, and neither Ford nor Toyota seem like a good fit, we'd sign on the dotted line for a Pajero Sport 4x4.  

*From the June 2018 issue of CAR magazine