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Still competitive, but showing its age

The current-shape Mitsubishi Pajero carries on and this monocoque, all-independent-suspension wagon is still reasonably competitive. Mitsubishi has kept the Pajero in step with the Japanese medium wagon competition and the 3.2-litre diesel is still a reliable performer.

It’s clear that there will be no Pajero replacement. The ute-based Pajero Sport will take over as Mitsubishi’s only large 4WD wagon, but the ageing Pajero is still with us. Here’s its recent history:

Mitsubishi upped the Pajero’s safety standards in late 2010, with the inclusion of side and curtain airbags in every vehicle in the Pajero line-up.  

Further upgrades across the popular SUV range included a reversing sensor and cargo blind on the GLS, while the VRX picked up a Rockford Acoustic Design 12 speaker premium audio package, high intensity discharge headlamps with auto levelling, headlamp washers, rain sensing wipers, dusk sensing headlamps and a cargo blind.

The side and curtain airbag package across the Pajero range joined safety features already standard: Active Stability Control (ASC), Active Traction Control (ATC), Engine Brake Assist Control (EBAC), Super Select 4WD II, Multi-mode Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), and Mitsubishi Body Optimised Suspension (MBOS).   

All Pajeros have coil-spring, all-independent suspension and selectable full-time 4WD, with the ability to operate in rear wheel drive only. The formerly optional rear differential lock is a worthwhile off-road addition and was made standard equipment in October 2012..

Pajeros are powered by a 3.2-litre common rail direct injection diesel delivering 147kW and 441Nm, or an optional (and thirsty) 3.8-litre V6 MIVEC engine offering 184kW and 329Nm torque could be ordered in the Exceed model until 2013, when it was phased out.

The NT-model’s powertrain was introduced in 2009 and delivered noise and economy improvements over the previous NS. Our first test was to start the new diesel and stand beside the vehicle at idle: we could speak and hear! The silencing package was claimed to reduce engine-related noise by around a decibel at cruising speed and the effect was even more marked at low revolutions.

The more powerful diesel engine was relaxed at cruising speeds and accelerated strongly in ‘D’ without any transmission jerking or engine response ‘lag’. The engine spun below 2000rpm at 100km/h and a shade over that figure at 110km/h, helping produce excellent economy.

On paper, engine braking should have suffered slightly from the gearing change, but we couldn’t pick the difference. The engine brake assist program intervened conveniently when one or more wheels lifted off the deck on steep descents and we know from experience that the EBAC system works even better in conjunction with the optional rear diff lock.

The Pajero has a maximum towing capacity of three-tonnes and a maximum tow ball download of 180kg; however, when towing at 2500kg or less the maximum tow ball download increases to 250kg. OTA’s testing of Pajeros with heavy trailers indicates that weight distribution bars or rear suspension modifications are necessary to prevent excessive rear suspension compression.

Also, towing Pajeros need a dealer-fitted slightly raised spare wheel mounting, behind the plastic cover strip. This trick allows ball receiver space under the spare.

All monocoque-body Pajeros can have their touring range extended by a ‘limpet’ 60-litre auxiliary tank.

Mitsubishi Pajero variants built from April 2013 were awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, following safety upgrades to reduce the risk of serious injury to the driver and passenger.

Launched in late June 2013, the 2014 Pajero range saw keyless entry, ISOFIX child restraints and a reversing camera fitted to all models. GLX and GLX-R variants came with voice-controlled Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, mobile hands-free and wireless audio streaming. VRX and Exceed receive Mitsubishi’s Multi Communications System, incorporating satellite navigation and rear-parking sensors.

The only engine on offer is the 3.2-litre, common rail turbo-diesel and towing capacity is three tonnes.

Pricing at launch ranged from $51,000 for a five-seat GLX manual up to $74,000 for an Exceed. Mitsubishi offers a five year / 130,000 km new vehicle warranty, five year roadside assist and capped price servicing for the first four years or 60,000 km of ownership.


2015 upgrades

pajero 2015 In September 2014 the 2015 model year Pajero was given styling updates, reduced pricing and more features.

The 2015 Pajero scored  a new front bumper, spare tyre cover design and a chromed radiator grille. Inside, there was a new centre panel design and chromed air conditioning dials. Seven seats were made standard across the range.

NVH upgrades included dash panel acoustic insulation and noise-absorbing material on the firewall, bonnet, top cowl, floor area, headlining, rear quarter trim and transmission tunnel.

Recommended retail prices were reduced across a new three-model structure, with the GLX manual starting from $50,990 and the Pajero Exceed available from $65,990.

The entry-level Pajero GLX picked up 18-inch aluminium wheels, High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, front LED daytime running lamps, privacy glass and chromed door handles and mirrors.

The mid-range Pajero GLS replaced the GLX-R and VRX models, at $58,990. The GLS gained a Mitsubishi Multi Communication System (MMCS) with satellite navigation. Also standard were reversing sensors, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, heated and powered front seats and partial leather seat trim.

The Pajero Exceed came with an electric sunroof with slide and tilt, sport pedals, chrome windscreen and side protection mouldings and a wood and leather four-spoke steering wheel.

Automatic high beam was added to the Pajero Exceed, using a camera located in the rear view mirror bracket to sense oncoming vehicle headlights.

The 2015 model year Pajero range had a five-year/100,000km warranty.


2019 upgrades

In July 2019 the GLX and GLS models were enhanced and the Exceed was discontinued. A Rockford Fosgate 12-speaker premium audio with subwoofer was added to the GLS model. Auto high-beam function was made standard and HID headlamps with auto-levelling and headlamp washers were added to the GLX model.


Previous Models

Although there have been four Pajero body changes since the box-shaped machines of the late 1980s there are still plenty of the old ones running around.

In 1987, the popular box-shaped ND Pajero scored larger front seats, an automatic transmission option and a slightly larger turbo-diesel engine – 2477cc.

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 a slightly more rounded body shape was introduced in 1991. 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.

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

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. 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 4WD operation.

The V6 engine had slightly higher power – 109kW, compared with 105kW – but its peak torque of 234Nm was way up at 4000rpm, compared with the previous model’s much more useful 228Nm at 2500rpm. The V6-powered NG wagon was a better performing vehicle than the new-shape NH model which 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 quite happily below 3000rpm, the NH powerplant needed a boot full to achieve its best. Off road, the older model outperformed the new one.

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 carburettored 4G54 2.6-litre petrol engine or a 4D56 2.5-litre turbo diesel, with a five-speed manual transmission and part-time 4WD, 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.

The Super Select transmission allowed full-time or part-time 4WD 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 – 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, and turbo-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 Exceed went like hell on road, but was very ‘cammy’ and needed to be fed a great deal of wellie. It 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. Apart from minor trim changes, the bodywork remained the same until the NM model release in 2000.

The NM Pajero broke new ground for a 4×4 wagon, offering a monocoque body and all-independent, coil-spring suspension.

There was a choice of 3.5-litre petrol V6 or 2.8-litre turbo diesel four engines. The 140-kilowatt and 303Nm petrol engine was by far the most popular choice, with around 90 percent of 2000-2002 Pajero sales. The diesel was a carry-over from the previous model and its 92kW and 292Nm didn’t appeal to many diesel wagon buyers.

The other carry-over componentry was the Super Select 4WD system that offered two-wheel-drive or full-time-4WD in high range. The lockable centre differential was fitted with a viscous coupling that apportioned drive in a 33:67 front:rear ratio in 4H. GL models made do with a part-time 4WD system.

The automatic box available on all but the GL featured electronic logic control and a tiptronic-style manual shift mode.

Equipment levels were quite high, with a single-CD player standard across the range and a six-stacker in the Exceed and optional in the GLS.

The seven-seat GLX, GLS and Exceed models featured a foldaway third-row seat that dropped into a well in the cargo floor when not in use.

Mitsubishi emphatically fixed the Pajero’s inadequate diesel situation in mid-2002, with the introduction of a new 3.2-litre, twin-cam, direct, high-pressure injection diesel, with turbocharging and intercooling. The new 4M41 diesel put out 121kW and 373Nm, which was enough grunt to put it ahead of all other wagon diesels except the turbo-diesel LandCruiser 100 Series.

The only downside of the new diesel was the high in-cab noise level. Later models had improved sound deadening that could be retro-fitted, but the diesel noise still permeated the cabin.

In late 2002 Mitsubishi launched the 2003 NP Pajero and the GL variant was discontinued.

Internally, the changes included a lap/sash seat belt for the middle position in the second row, as well as a 60:40 split seat layout; a height-adjustable driver’s seat on GLX models; side airbags in the Exceed, plus a power-adjustable front passenger seat.

However, the big news in the NP range was the introduction of Active Traction Control on all variants, with Active Stability Control on the diesel versions. ASC wasn’t available on the petrol versions until the introduction of the electronic-accelerator V6 engines in late 2003.

The traction control package was part of an ABS option that added $2300-$2800 to the retail price.

The next upgrade was the 2004 model, with ABS, stability control and traction control standard on all variants.

In 2007 Mitsubishi restyled the Pajero’s controversial bodywork, eradicating the front mudguard moulding and reintroducing three-door variants as part of the NS range. Climate control air conditioning was standard on all variants.

Euro 4 compliant petrol and diesel engines were available. The LPG compatible, 3.8-litre, 24-valve V6 produced 184kW at 6000rpm – up 23 percent on the previous engine – with peak torque of 329Nm at 2750 rpm.

The new diesel was a common-rail version of the ML Triton’s 3.2-litre, with 125kW at 3800rpm and 358Nm at 2000rpm.

In December 2008 the diesel was given a performance boost, to 147kW and 441Nm, with a corresponding lift in towing capacity to 3000kg, up from 2500kg.

Both engines could be mated to a five-speed manual or automatic transmission.

The big news for 2009 NT Pajero prospects was the significant development performed on the diesel powertrain. Also important was reintroduction of the GLS specification that was phased out in early 2007, in favour of a more up-market VRX equipment level. The GLS returned for 2009, positioned between GLX and VRX. With a price just under 60 grand it made inroads into Prado GXL sales.

Mechanical Issues

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

Beware of any pre-1998 Pajero with an LPG kit, because the Mitsubishi four-cylinder and V6 engines of the time weren’t designed to operate on gaseous fuels. Valve seat recession and/or valve failure are certain.

Underneath, 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.

NH and NJ Pajeros were reliable machines with no serious problems, provided they were 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.

The torsion bar front suspension couldn’t accommodate large-capacity shock absorbers, so the little units wore out fairly quickly – around 40,000km was average for on-off-road vehicles. Live-axled Pajeros used off-road often suffered 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 had stronger rear axles.

There were problems with the NJ’s 2.8-litre intercooled diesel, sucking sump oil into the inlet manifold, draining the oil supply and frying the engine.

Monocoque NM-onwards Pajeros have proved to be solid on- and off- road performers that have few in-service problems. The doubts about the strength of monocoque bodywork have been dispelled and there are suspension kits in the marketplace to beef up the independent back end for load carrying and towing.

On early monocoque Pajeros frontal bodywork isn’t strong enough to support a heavy auxiliary battery in the case of vehicles that are driven off-road, so a fridge battery is better placed in the cargo area. Later models – the ones without the distintive front mudguard moulding – have stronger front panels.

The Pajero is generally underrated as a 4WD touring and towing vehicle. Our testing over the years shows that it can make an excellent bush travel machine.


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