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So, you're in the market for a luxury SUV with proper off-road capability, a diesel powertrain and, most importantly, a short wheelbase. Locally, you have exactly one vehicle to choose from and it is the tried-and-tested Mitsubishi Pajero SWB, now in Legend II specification. As it was launched back in 2006, is it still relevant today?

Spacial constraints?

A surprise of the traditional, boxy design is available interior space, even in SWB body style configuration. Compared to the LWB version, the wheelbase is shortened by 235 mm and the total length falls from 4,9 metres to 4,4 metres. Interior dimensions up front are the same and second-row occupants will still enjoy ample leg- and head-room, although ingress and egress is hampered by the three-door configuration. The rear passengers also have to make do with pop-open windows only.

The boot is relatively tiny but still swallowed everything our family needed for a day in the dunes. The LWB is a better family vehicle but the SWB plus a roof box will go a long way in meeting most family's space requirements. When the rear seats are not utilised, they can easily fold forward to allow plenty of loading space.

Interior

Another plus is the large glass area surrounding the cabin which affords, especially the front occupants, un-spoilt views of nature or the urban jungle. The interior feels rugged and well put-together but the ageing design does not shout luxury in the same way some other vehicles in this price-range do. It still features electrically adjustable leather seats (with heaters), climate control, a touch-screen infotainment system, and cruise control, though.

Powertrain

The engine is the familiar 3,2-litre turbodiesel unit (500 ppm diesel compatible) that delivers 140 kW and 441 Nm (updated in 2010 from 121 kW and 373 N.m). In combination with the five-speed auto transmission, it provides adequate performance, although it is slightly noisy at times. Fuel consumption for the weekend hovered around the 10,5 L/100 km mark.

Drive modes

Although the Pajero can be used for the school run as the suspension set-up (fully independent front and rear) provides a comfortable ride and it has a tight turning circle, it is when the paved surface ends that the Mitsubishi really excels. Four drive modes are selectable via the stubby transfer case lever, including rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, four-wheel drive with centre differential locked and then the most hardcore mode of low-range with centre differential locked and traction control switched off. A rear diff lock is also provided for.

Dune driving

Its off-road prowess was put to the test in the Atlantis dunes and it shone. In four-wheel drive (high-range) with central differential locked and the traction control switched off, I had no problems negotiating the dunes. The auto transmission was left to its own devices and as long as the momentum was kept up, the Pajero sailed over the sand. I did not even deflate the tyres… The excellent approach and departure angles (36,7 and 34,8 degrees, respectively) meant that no bumpers were inadvertently removed during the fun.

Extra spec

In Legend II specification, the owner gets around R40 000 of added value, including vehicle protection in the form of running boards, engine and gearbox protection plates and a nudge bar. A heavy-duty tow bar is fitted, as are Yokohama Geolander dual-purpose tyres. A high-end Garmin nüviCam GPS with maps for Southern Africa rounds off the package.

Summary

The saying that "they do not make them like they used to" does not apply to the Pajero as it is a well-sorted recipe. It is still as robust and capable as ever with all the safety features expected of a modern vehicle. You do sacrifice on-road ability when compared to more modern offerings (for example, the steering is somewhat vague), but gain immense go-anywhere ability, especially in Legend II spec. The Pajero SWB has warranted niche appeal and this can be seen in the high second-hand values they command ... if you can find one for sale.

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