What we liked
>> Strong engine
>> Good auto/engine match
>> Easy to drive off-road
Not so much
>> Seats lack upper back support
>> Throttle oversensitive in low range
>> Gauges look dated
The Medium SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) market, where you'll find the Pajero and Toyota Prado, is an interesting place. For one, the sector has been growing rapidly since 1994. Back then the volume was about 3800 units a year; now it's about 12,000. Several factors explain the growth spurt. One is that more manufacturers are battling it out in this lucrative market.
Another is that the increased model availability is giving buyers more choice and therefore stimulating more interest, to the extent that SUVs now comprise 50 percent of the commercial vehicle market.
The majority of people who buy expensive four-wheel drives seldom take them off-road or anywhere they're likely to encounter airborne grit. Mitsubishi's market research confirms this, and more: the overwhelming majority of Pajeros are bought for private use; the typical Pajero owner is male, married, about 45 years old; he expects a high level of customer service; and is white collar rather than blue collar. In other words, he's more likely to be a gynaecologist than a gas fitter.
The '04 Pajero isn't so much a "new model" as a revamp on the existing one, with the addition of a new petrol V6 and a welter of passive safety features which, we have to say, are fighting for breath under an avalanche of acronyms: ETC, ATC, ASC, INVECS, MATT, RISE, ABAC, EBD and ABS - they're all in there somewhere.
There are no body styling changes; we got those last year, unless you count the new '3.8' badge as a styling change. The model lineup is essentially the same. There's the GLX and GLS in petrol or diesel/manual or auto; or the flagship Exceed, in petrol or diesel, but only with the five-speed auto. The only external update apart from the badging is the switch to 16" x 7" wheels on the GLX.
The GLS gets a 6-CD stacker as standard equipment. Corrosion resistance has been improved, and premium roadside assistance is now given to anyone buying the Exceed.
The multi-function display screen on GLS and Exceed models now has a blue background. It also has a compass, altimeter and barometer, among other things. To its credit, the device is very easy to use. However, since the Pajero is more or less a 4x4 town car for 46 percent of the drivers who buy one, it must be for that small percentage of the population who can't find their front gate from their garage and who fret incessantly about their height above sea level.
There's very little to moan about, even for the habitually uncomfortable. The lack of space under the front seats for rear passengers to stow their feet might be one. So might the lack of upper back support in the front seats. The Holden Crewman had much better front seats, and for less money. The rear seats do recline though, an unusual feature, and the front seats are electronically adjusted to every angle imaginable.
The primary instruments are large and easy to read, although these days the little square cubby houses for the minor gauges look dated. The Pajero sits on 265/70 road biased Yokohama Geolanders which transmit negligible road noise to the cab and make the vehicle feel very stable on bitumen at maximum legal speeds. They're predictable on gravel too.
The large windscreen, rear and side windows promote excellent visibility. Once underway the Pajero definitely feels more like a medium than a large vehicle and is very manageable, even for those unfamiliar with a 4x4s idiosyncrasies. It's a relaxing car to drive, on or off-road.
The '04 Pajero embodies a proliferation of passive safety devices, proving again that safety is a prime concern, if not an obsession, among SUV buyers. The electronic infrastructure necessary to support all this stuff must be amazing, although it has to be said that much of it is derived from passenger cars.
Mitsubishi has pulled the plug on conservatism with this model, and all those acronyms need explaining. RISE (Realised Impact Safety Evolution) is Pajero's energy absorbing cab. ABS (Antilock Brake System) is now fitted to every model and incorporates EBD or Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. ASC (Active Stability Control) is also standard on all models. Its purpose is to correct understeer and it does this by applying braking force to the appropriate wheel. ATC (Active Traction Control) is part of the ASC package and standard on all 3.5 litre manual models. ATC promotes traction by braking the wheels that would otherwise spin through lack of traction. EBAC (Engine Brake Assist Control) is a form of descent control and now standard on all models.
Seatbelt pre-tensioners are standard on all models fitted with dual airbags. Dual airbags are optional on the GLX for an extra $500, and side airbags optional on the GLS for the same amount. The Exceed has both as standard equipment.
The SOHC, 3.8 litre V6, which replaces the 3.5 litre engine on auto models, pumps out 150Kw at 5000 rpm and 314Nm of torque at 3250rpm. That's 7 percent more power at the same engine speed and 3 percent more torque. It's also LPG compatible. Manual models retain the 3.5 litre V6. All engines, including the 3.2 litre diesel, comply with Euro Step 2 emission standards. Transmissions are the five-speed manual or the five-speed INVECS automatic, with sequential shifting. The transmission package is hooked up to Mitsubishi's Super Select system that uses a central viscous coupling, now without the rear LSD, rendered obsolete by Active Traction Control.
Mitsubishi's biggest opponent in the medium SUV market is Toyota's Land Cruiser Prado. Secondary opponents include Nissan's Patrol, the Land Rover Discovery and Jeep's Cherokee. Prado is dominant, but given Pajero's pricing, and the high level of standard features, the Mitsubishi now has a real chance to steal some of Toyota's lemon tart. Here's the new pricing:
GLX: 3.5 litre petrol/manual - $46,390; 3.8 litre/auto - $49,390; 3.2 litre diesel/auto - $51,590; 3.2 litre diesel/manual - $48,590.
GLS: 3.5 litre/manual - $52,590; 3.8 litre/auto - $55,590; 3.2 litre/diesel auto - $56,990; 3.2 litre diesel/manual - $53,990.
Exceed: 3.8 litre auto - $62,990; 3.2 litre diesel/auto - $66,990.
A direct comparison with the Prado would read like this:
Exceed - $62,990;
Prado Grande - $71,990.
GLS - $55,990;
Prado GXL 54,960.
Pajero GLX - $49,390;
Prado GX V6 - $45,990.
ON THE ROAD
Mitsubishi's drive program took a bunch of Pajeros on a substantial test loop out from Dubbo (NSW). The route included sections of bitumen and long, steep, chopped-out trails in the highly unattractive Goobang National Park where a lot of surface rock had been moved about by recent dozing.
The new 3.8 litre petrol engine has plenty of urge and should make a reasonable tow vehicle as well as long distance people mover. The only criticism we had concerned the over-sensitive throttle which, combined with an engine that likes to rev, made it difficult to increase speed incrementally on broken terrain. It wanted to leap, not creep. The Pajero behaved well on the blacktop, but what doesn't?
Sequential shifting makes an auto box drive like a manual, and makes the most of the new V6's power characteristics. The ability to shift manually also provides better speed control on steep descents than an auto could give you in the 'D' slot. Use 'D' for going up; sequential in first or second for going down. Too easy! Yokohama's Geolander tyres are certainly road biased and on rock strewn hills are vulnerable to puncture and/or sidewall damage, in fact several tyres karked it during the launch program. However, given the type of person who buys a Pajero, and what he's likely to do with it, that shouldn't be a problem. And if he wants to get boofy about it he can always upgrade the rubber.
The Pajero is quiet, comfortable, gives spirited performance for a heavy vehicle, and is capable off-road until you poke its nose into extreme situations. Compared to my three-litre diesel HiLux, this thing's a spaceship. Mitsubishi hopes to increase it's share of the medium SUV market with the '04 model. Maybe they will, even if it means dragging a few gynaecologists out of their Toyota Prados.