Mitsubishi Pajero (1987-)

words - Allan Whiting
Although there have been three Pajero body changes since the box-shaped machines of the late 1980s, there are still plenty of the old ones running around - and they still represent good value if you can find a lightly used one

4x4 Magazine
May, 2005

Let's kick off in 1987 when the popular box-shaped ND Pajero scored larger front seats, an automatic transmission option and a slightly larger 2477cc turbo-diesel engine.

For 1988, the NE model came with the Aussie-built 2.6-litre petrol donk from the Magna sedan.

Model year 1989 NF and 1990 NG Pajeros saw the last revamp of the box-body vehicle, before the next body shape was introduced in 1991. For the first time, the NF had a 2972cc fuel-injected V6 power option, in addition to the four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines.

The V6 sported a new three-link rear suspension, with coils replacing the leaf springs. The NG diesel sprouted an intercooler, which upped its power and torque and added to its versatility.

The range was topped by EXE luxury versions in both two- and four-door bodies, while at the commerical end of the range, a five-seat two-door wagon was introduced.

The V6-powered NG wagon was actually a better-performing vehicle than the new-shape NH model that followed it in 1991. The 1991 three-litre was revamped to produce more power and torque, but the newer engine had to rev much harder to achieve its maxima. Where the NG's V6 would slog along happily below 3000rpm, the NH powerplant needed a boot-full to achieve its best.

Off road, the older model outperformed the new one due to its better low-down lugging ability.

We remember being impressed with the performance, comfort and indeed the note of the NG when it was first released. And to this day, it's still by no means a bad vehicle on the road

Box-shaped Pajeros suffered mainly from transmission problems, which were largely rectified in V6 and turbo-diesel models from 1988, with the introduction of a new five-speed.

Mitsubishi engines are very reliable, but there are servicing tricks, such as the need to adjust the balance shaft drive chain on four-cylinder donks.

Beware of any Pajero with an LPG kit, because the Mitsubishi four-cylinder and V6 engines of the time weren't designed to operate on gaseous fuels. Exhaust valves and valve seat materials were not intended to tolerate the higher combustion temperature of LPG, and valve seat recession and/or valve failure are virtually certain.

Box-shaped Pajeros have front suspension and steering wear spots, including the idler arm bushes and the anti-sway bar bushes. The lower control arm bolts can loosen, producing a groaning noise. At the back, the coil-spring suspension can suffer from loose trailing arm bolts and bushes.

Pajero fuel tanks are vulnerable and the void between the bash plate and the tank can fill with small stones. Impact on the bash plate then hammers the stones into the tank, causing cracks.

Inside, Pajeros with suspension seats can suffer cracked frames.

The Pajero NH was launched in April 1991 with new bodywork, sitting on top of largely the same chassis and engines that the box-shaped NG model used.

The V6 engine had slightly higher power, offering 109kW compared to the previous model's 105kW. However, its peak torque of 234Nm was way up the rev range at 4000rpm compared to the previous model's much more useful 228Nm at 2500rpm.

Also retained was independent front suspension by wishbones and torsion bars.

In addition to a much more stylish and comfortable body, the NH featured Super Select transmissions on the GLX and GLS versions, giving the driver a choice of part-time or full-time four-wheel-drive operation.

Inside, the ergonomics were refined and the interior took on a much more modern look, with a smoother and more rounded dash and more sensible switchgear. Apart from minor trim changes, the bodywork remained the same until the NL model was released in late 1997.

The 1991 NH lineup started at GL level with drum rear brakes and leaf-spring suspension in two-door and four-door variants, powered by either a carburetted 4G54 2.6-litre petrol engine or a 4D56 2.5-litre turbo-diesel, with a five-speed manual transmission and part-time 4x4, using manual free-wheeling front hubs and steel split-rim wheels. The GL's performance was no improvement over its predecessor.

GLX models with four-wheel discs and coil-spring rear suspension came in four-door guise only, powered by either the 6G72 V6 or the 4D56, with a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission (on the V6 model only).

The Super Select transmission allowed full-time or part-time 4x4 operation, so dirt and wet-road handling was very good.

GLS models were available in two-door and four-door models, with petrol or diesel power, and sported fat, cast-aluminium wheels and integrated door trims, bumpers and wheel arch flares.

The next model designation, the NJ, came in November 1993, with the introduction of a new 2.8-litre diesel engine across the range and a top-of-the-line Exceed model, powered by a new quad-cam 3.5-litre petrol V6. The 2.6-litre petrol four was dropped.

The new 4M40 diesel was naturally aspirated in the GL models, for outputs of 71kW at 4000rpm and 198Nm at 2000rpm. The motor was turbocharged and intercooled in the GLX and GLS models for outputs of 92kW at 4000rpm and 292Nm at 2000rpm. The Exceed's 6G74 four-cam V6 was good for 153kW at 5000rpm and 300Nm at 3000rpm.

Other mechanical changes were revised manual and automatic transmissions, plus improved ground clearance and roll stability at the front end.

The turbo-diesel performed very well, but couldn't match the fuel economy of the direct-injection Land Rover Discovery diesel.

The four-cam Exceed went like hell on road, but was very 'cammy' and needed to be fed a great deal of wellie. Off road the diesel was the pick with its good low-down torque.

The V6 needed revs to get going, and this often translated into wheelspin in low-range situations. It also needed to be run on premium unleaded.

The next Pajero upgrade came in September 1995, when the 3.5-litre engine was made standard in the GLS models and optional in the GLX. In February 1996, the Escape GLX was released, with a power equipment pack - some 500 vehicles were produced.

Equipment levels vary widely across the Pajero range, because Mitsubishi played the options game to keep base pricing below the luxury car tax ceiling.

Used GLX and GLS vehicles may or may not have extras such as air conditioning, rear diff locks, sunroofs, power windows, central locking and variable-rate dampers.

NH and NJ Pajeros are reliable machines with no serious problems, provided they're serviced regularly. Ground clearance has always been a problem, so bash-plate damage at the front and dented fuel tanks at the rear are quite common. Tank dents can lead to cracks, so be cautious in that area.

The torsion-bar front suspension can't accommodate large-capacity shock absorbers, so the little units wear out fairly quickly - around 40,000km is average for on/off-road vehicles.

Pajeros with a fair bit of off-road use often suffer from worn trailing arm bushes at the back-end, and early NHs given severe service have been known to pull out the axle tubes from their diff cases.

Later production NHs and NJs have stronger rear axles, but they'll still bend if given a hiding.

No pre-NL 1998 Mitsubishi petrol engine is suitable for LPG conversion, because the valves and seats won't stand the combustion chamber heat given off by gas.

We've heard of some problems with the NJ's 2.8-litre intercooled diesel - namely sucking sump oil into the inlet manifold, draining the oil supply and frying the engine. It seems that there can be a breathing problem in the rocker cover.

Off-road Pajeros are hard on engine mounts, prone to cracking around the oil cooler union, and likely to have sagging rear door hinges.

Used Pajeros hold their value quite well, and the most popular variant is the more expensive GLS spec', so there are very few low-priced vehicles in the market. Those that are below the going rate are likely to be hard-worked or high-mileage machines.

Long wheelbase GLs are mostly ex-government vehicles, and while some have been given a hard life, others are relatively unworked. A low-mileage four-cylinder petrol GL can be easily made to produce as much grunt as the V6, with a camshaft and other induction changes.

The GLX is the pick of the Pajero lineup, because it has the same performance as the more expensive GLS model. The narrower tyres fitted to the GLX are quite adequate for most buyers' needs.

The Exceed was always too expensive for what you got, so it's not surprising to find used values well down on retail.




Published : Sunday, 1 May 2005
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