Happier than a pig in…
Mud-plugger par excellence, we get stuck in with a very old friend
1982 – What a time to be alive, right? Michael Jackson released his Thriller album which immediately went stratospheric with the colour red subsequently becoming a very viable palette for leather jackets. In Canada the Commodore-64 gaming computer was minted unto the world and in Japan, Sony had birthed the first compact disc. Also from the land of the rising sun, Mitsubishi launched the hardy Pajero 4×4. That’s a 34 year lineage then, nothing to be shy of – but would you believe the bodyshell doing duty in our test car has in fact been around for ten years already? Meet the Legend II, a decade-old car.
Aesthetically the car remains a familiar slab of metal, sort of white rhinoceros-sans-horn. Ours is finished in a dark metallic grey except for its overly polished, quasi-chrome visage made up of broad horizontal slats for its grille, incredibly large headlamps and bright work and completed with the obligatory polished nudge bar – subtle. In each corner Yokohama Geolander A/T-S tyres are shod over 18 inch alloy wheels, big enough on paper but just about holding their own in the Pajero’s cavernous arches. There’s an old school charm about it, a ruggedness that provides hints and clues to a 4×4 legacy that extends across among other things, 12 Dakar Rally victories, seven of which were done on the trot, a statistic proudly emblazoned on the rear hatch. But this isn’t the Dakar and this isn’t a roll-cage hero, rather a production car that must in 2016 be competent on Tarmac as well as gravel, as well as be competitive against rivals of a more modern ilk. I don’t mean to alarm you, and whilst they’re by no means direct rivals, at R759 900 the Pajero Legend II LWB is just less than R20k shy of the Jaguar F-Pace. “Hashtag, just saying.”
When I say the words; luxury SUV, your mind probably doesn’t immediately wander to the Mitsubishi Pajero, right? Sure it isn’t German, a nation that has cornered the premium market, but at R759 900 it’s certainly comparable to something like a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado which you’d have to agree is, despite its workhorse qualities. The similarities don’t end there, each is a full-sized SUV with seven seats whilst neither manufacturer is shy of brandishing steering wheels half crafted in high-polish wood. Ergonomics are typically Japanese, intuitive if uninspired featuring acres of grey plastic, mostly scratch-resistant but then there’s the piano-black finish around the multimedia screen and controls that I worry about. There’s more shiny plastic (now light grey) around the gear and drivetrain selectors, and on the dash a few strips of Velcro for when you require the navigation unit stowed in the glovebox – luxury SUV and all that. The leather pews are generous and comfortable, heated and electrically adjustable. Also generous are the columns of controls on the hide-and-tree helm. Above the HVAC controls you’ll find a sticker saying Rockford Acoustic Design naturally referring to the 6-speaker sound system which you’ll be glad to hear incorporates a massive subwoofer box in the boot. So even if your fellow gravel-travellers don’t see you coming they’ll at least be able to feel you in the pit of their stomachs, as will your third row occupants. That’s not road sickness you’re feeling, that’s intestinal trauma by bassline.
At the heart of this behemoth is Mitsubishi’s 3.2 litre DI-DC 16V diesel mill. It’s an electronically controlled common-rail inline-four good for 140kW and 441Nm, with access to the sum of its torque early at 2000rpm. It’s more juggernaut than sprinter, capable of a zero-to-hundred amble in 10.97 seconds but that’s to be expected in a crate this size. More relevant to you perhaps will be the fact that it can probably do so whilst hauling a small aircraft, with a braked towing capacity of 3500kg (750kg unbraked). Its road manners are better than I expected too, most notably an automatic transmission that surprised with creamy smooth transitions in bumper-to-bumper traffic and remaining buttery when the road cleared and allowed me to cruise at the national speed limit. You couldn’t accuse it of an agricultural drivetrain, yet it proved just as capable off the beaten track. Okay Mitsubishi, you’ve got our attention here.
Being the proponent of a fully independent rear suspension further fortifies Mitsubishi’s luxury claim – the Pajero genuinely exhibits the sort of car-like ride qualities that the marketing folks love to tout. It also benefits from class-leading ground clearance (235mm) and copious approach and departure angles for aggressive ingressing and egressing of the hole you’ve gotten yourself into. Add to that the sheer heft of the thing and you really get the impression as the driver that you could roll over just about any sort of terrain… or bush or beast. The surface transition from clay to grey is almost imperceptible, but stick it into a corner with any kind of menace and that pliant suspension robs the steering of any kind of feedback in the translation, favouring vagueness over precision, and generating the sort of lean you’d expect from a tallboy were it asked to perform this ‘dynamically’. You can also blame a helm with a larger than usual dead spot near the centre, a throwback to the thumbs-out off-roadin’ days when rough terrain could send the steering wheel spinning with enough would force to amputate your stubbiest digit. You youngsters wouldn’t believe…
The Pajero is ultimately the sum of its parts – its hard-edged, pragmatic and rugged parts. It’s a student of the old school with a rear differential that locks and axles you can opt in or out for duty. Add to that Japanese reliability and sensibility and a heritage cultivated in the most gruelling form of motorsport on the planet and its credentials become increasingly difficult to dispute. It shouldn’t have to defend itself against the soft SUVs that overrun our parking lots, so it doesn’t. Don’t mistake its premium aspirations for an attempt to appeal to the masses – there truly was a time when Mitsubishi’s Pajero was in fact a very desirable prospect to all people. But just as the niche luxury SUV segment has since gone mainstream, so too has the authentic off-road vehicle become niche. While the long-wheelbase (LWB) Pajero in Legend II trim is still an empirically accomplished 4×4, it’s also sadly a shogun blade that’s grown dull over time. To put it another way it’s no longer the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer. But if it’s your weapon of choice you probably won’t be disappointed.
PHOTOS BY Peet Mocke