Can the new Triton-based Pajero Sport challenge the status quo?
South African families love bakkie-based SUVs and we buy them in droves. Given our outdoor lifestyles, it’s hardly surprising considering these vehicles offer vast interior space (with seven-seat capability), rugged off-road potential and many of the mod-cons expected of a luxury vehicle. Kerb-side appeal and street cred certainly don’t hurt, either. The fact that this type of vehicle is less suited to the school run than a typical crossover is of little concern to buyers seeking one vehicle to “do it all”.
With the departure of General Motors and with it the Chevrolet Trailblazer, the choice of bakkie-based SUVs is now limited to the Toyota Fortuner (derived from the Hilux), Ford Everest (Ranger), the Mahindra Scorpio S10 (Pik-Up) and now the new Mitsubishi Pajero Sport (Triton). With the Triton bakkie placing second in our big double-cab shootout, we had high expectations for this SUV version, especially as it is fitted with an eight-speed automatic transmission (with low-range); a first in the segment.
Styling-wise, the Sport is certainly a leap forward from the previous generation. Unlike that vehicle’s relatively safe design, the Pajero Sport’s angular and futuristic frontal appearance is anything but, with strong Japanese styling influences that have been well integrated into a neat and purposeful package. It may not be to everyone’s tastes and one member of the CAR team disliked the vertical rear-light arrangement, but there is a carefully considered cohesion to these styling elements.
Inside, the facia echoes that of the current Triton, with the addition of a raised centre console which houses the transmission shift lever, off-road buttons and rotary dial that allows you to select between the two- and various four-wheel-drive modes (2H, 4H, 4HLc and 4LLc). Although soft-touch surfaces are rare, the fit and finish are of a high standard and the plush leather seats are comfortable. The interior does, however, lack easy-to-access storage spaces for items such as your smartphone or wallet. The infotainment system also has the whiff of an aftermarket option, with graphics and functionality that cannot compete with the likes of the Everest’s superb Sync3 system.
The driver’s pew affords an excellent driving position thanks to the wide range of adjustments on the seat and steering column.
The Pajero Sport is only marginally shorter than the opposition (10 mm trimmer than Fortuner and 7 mm than the Everest), but quite a bit narrower (40 mm deficit to the Fortuner and 45 mm to the Everest). Although this makes town driving slightly easier, it does impact interior space slightly. That said, occupants do not want for legroom and the neatly packaged third row of seats can easily accommodate children, although the visibility through the raised side windows is limited. Luggage space (392 litres) is slightly down compared with the others, but is still more than adequate for most families’ needs.
Under the bonnet is the new 2,4-litre turbodiesel that, as in the Triton, delivers 133 kW and 430 N.m. In this case, though, it is fitted to an Aisin-sourced, eight-speed automatic transmission, a combination that elevates it to the most impressive drivetrain in the segment with a slick-shifting gearbox that allows the refined engine to deliver its punch at exactly the right moment.
This was proven on our test strip where it posted a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 11,16 seconds, which is quicker than the more powerful (but 300 kg heavier) Everest tested in December 2015. Even during day-to-day driving, the transmission goes about its business with aplomb, with little of the perceived slip present that plagues the six-speed transmissions employed by its rivals. The large, fixed gearshift paddles are something of an oddity in an SUV-bakkie, but they work do well if you choose to use them.
The ride is comfortable, but the suspension “shimmy” – a trademark characteristic of all ladder-framed vehicles that have a solid rear axle – is still apparent. The hydraulic steering is slightly heavy at parking speeds, but accuracy at speed is good. Brake-testing performance from the all-disc arrangement garnered a good rating, but stopping times varied dramatically depending on the smoothness of the surface (best time of 2,85 seconds and a worst time of 3,40). The fuel consumption test on our route returned a respectable 9,2 L/100 km.
The Pajero name is, of course, synonymous with Dakar victories and off-road prowess, and in that vein the Sport is fitted with pukka off-road hardware. The selectable four-wheel-drive system now has a Torsen centre differential and the low-range transfer ratio has been increased compared with that of the previous Pajero Sport. In combination with the eight-speed ‘box, this results in the segment’s lowest total reduction ratio of 46:1 (36:1 for the Fortuner and 42:1 for the Everest). A rear differential lock is standard and, unlike before, it’s now magnetically rather than vacuum activated. In combination with the low gearing, this should provide excellent rock-crawling abilities.
Although we didn’t get an opportunity to verify that, we did put the Pajero Sport’s sand capabilities to the test. With tyre pressures lowered to 1,2 bar (still high enough to prevent a tyre sliding off the rim during dynamic manoeuvres) and four-wheel-drive in high-range with the centre differential lock (4HLc) selected, we headed off to the nearby Atlantis Dunes. The new drive-mode switch allows you to choose between various surface programmes with accompanying changes in the electronic stability control, engine and transmission mappings. With the sand mode selected, we completed all obstacles with ease, as the software allowed enough wheel slip and power not to get the vehicle stuck. It is therefore unnecessary to deactivate all electronic systems as is usually the case with sand driving.
The hill-descent control was equally impressive, as the speed can be adjusted on the fly by either braking or accelerating and then taking your foot off the pedals. This is more intuitive than adjusting the speed via other means (for example, using the cruise control buttons).