While there’s no doubt that the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is incredibly popular here in Australia – along with in other markets such as Thailand, where it’s built – it has long played second-fiddle to the Isuzu MU-X, which has sold itself based off well-documented durability and reliability, along with simplicity, while the Mitsi has aimed more towards packing in clever technology and beating even the sharply-priced MU-X in terms of value for money.
With the arrival of a major facelift for 2020, however, Mitsubishi may finally have a Pajero Sport on its hands that can outclass the MU-X at least until an all-new version of the latter arrives in the coming couple of years.
Although little has changed mechanically, both inside and out, this revised Pajero Sport has been given a fairly thorough reworking so well-judged that it’s hard to remember the niggles of the old model as everything feels far more intuitive.
Thankfully, however, it wasn’t that long ago that we tested the old model, taking one for a spin back in August last year in anticipation of this updated model’s arrival, which provides a good basis for comparison.
Visually, the application of the latest iteration of Mitsubishi’s ‘dynamic shield’ corporate facia to help it look more like its twin-under-the-skin, the Triton, has given it a more aggressive look with a higher bonnet and redesigned lighting.
Perhaps one of the greatest criticisms of the pre-facelift model was the questionably tall upright taillights at the rear – I once, during a conversation with another journo, whose blushes I’ll spare, heard them describe these taillights as resembling “tears of blood” – which, rather thankfully, have now been shortened drastically to improve the rear end styling to no end.
Some more subtle changes that have been added as well include the height of the running boards now being raised to help with ground clearance, not that it was a massive issue previously, and new alloy wheel designs that do work well with the new styling.
With that all being said, it’s hard to call the Pajero Sport conventionally handsome, but I do think that it works what it’s got well. In an interesting colour like the Terra Rossa of my tester – which is a pretty fancy way of saying burgundy – I think it does work, particularly when you see it in the wild.
I do think that it’s a shame some of the little touches it had previously received such as the rear roof spoiler are no longer there though, as it really did make a big difference to its looks.
The improvements are clearly visible on the inside, too, with it packing more tech than before to put it on par with, if not ahead of its primary competition.
Namely, the same new-and-improved infotainment system which packs TomTom satellite navigation that we first sampled in the facelifted ASX is now fitted, along with, perhaps most prominently, a fantastic new digital instrument cluster with a big digital speedometer and an overall clear and well-laid-out appearance, which is so good that it makes you wonder why Mitsubishi only just got around to fitting it now. Worth noting, though, is that it does look a bit Renault-esque, so perhaps the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s recent acquisition of Mitsubishi may have something to do with it.
Also on the tech front, there’s also a new Mitsubishi Remote Control phone app that allows your phone or Apple Watch to connect to the car which will warn you if you’ve left your lights on, a window down, or door open after leaving the car, along with allowing you to remotely check how much fuel is in the car or turn the headlights on to find it in a carpark.
Unfortunately though, all of the aforementioned tech is only fitted to the range-topping Exceed tested here – as are many other features such as the heated front seats, automatic windows all-around, 360-degree camera, front parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and ultrasonic misacceleration mitigation system – meaning you will need to pay up to reap the biggest benefits of this update.
There are still a lot of features to like across the range, however, as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, digital radio, keyless entry, hill descent control, LED headlights, and autonomous emergency braking are standard across the range. On both the GLS and Exceed, a powered tailgate, automatic headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power-adjustable leather seats, and the addition of adaptive cruise control are also standard.
Plenty of other minor things have been improved for the better as well, such as the redesigned climate control unit and four-wheel drive mode selector, both of which look and feel more premium. In addition to its electric parking brake, an auto hold feature that allows you to take your foot off the brake when stopped without the car moving again until the throttle is depressed has also been added, which, while increasingly common in cars, is less often seen in body-on-frame ute-based SUVs like this.
Aside from some very helpful additional storage underneath the centre console and behind the shifter, there aren’t any other major changes to report on when it comes to the interior. The GLX remains five-seat-only and the Exceed exclusively a seven-seater, with the choice of either configuration on the middling GLS, and on seven-seat variants, even taller folks like myself can actually fit in all three rows, although not quite as comfortably in the rearmost as in the other two, especially given how supportive and comfortable the front seats are.
Worth noting as well is that all three rows are catered for with air conditioning vents, and there are plenty of cupholders and USB charging points throughout, and even a domestic socket on the back of the centre console. With all three rows in place, there’s not much luggage space behind the third-row seats, but with only two rows in place there’s far more room to play with.
While on paper, the 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine under the bonnet may look to be a carryover judging by its identical 133kW and 430Nm outputs, Mitsubishi claims to have made some fairly substantial changes to it, including using a new aluminium alloy block to save weight, and playing with the combustion chamber and fuel injectors to lower its compression ratio.
Does it feel any different as a result of these changes? No, not really, but that’s not a bad thing as it wasn’t a bad engine to begin with. While on the smaller side for the class, its power figures are on par with the majority, and while the MU-X is often recognised as being the class-leader for reliability, the sturdiness of the Pajero Sport’s engine, which is also fitted to the Triton, can also be backed up.
A big part of why it feels exactly the same as before comes down to its transmission, an eight-speed torque converter automatic which packs two more ratios than other rivals, although while previously class-leading, the Ford Everest does now outgun it with ten speeds on offer in 2.0-litre twin-turbo models.
It’s a fairly smooth and well-judged unit though, the Mitsi’s eight-speed, with it making the most of what power the smaller engine has to offer. Although it will occasionally try to hunt for gears during more spirited driving, you can take control using the column-mounted Evo X-style paddle shifters behind the steering wheel to override that minor gripe which stems from its lower displacement making it feel less healthy low down than it does higher up in the rev range.
The real star of the show, however, is the Super Select 4WD-II system which offers both rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive modes for on-road use – the latter, which splits the power 40:60 front-rear, being a big help when towing or driving in the wet – along with high-range and low-range four-wheel drive modes for off-road use which automatically lock the centre differential.
A rear diff-lock is also fitted for use in these modes, too, along with a set of drive modes that alter throttle, transmission, brake, and traction settings for driving on gravel, mud, sand, snow, and rocks.
Hitting the beach and getting a bit muddy in the forest for our photoshoot, along with doing plenty of driving on loose gravel roads as well, it’s pretty safe to say that the Pajero Sport struggles with little off-road.
The improved ground clearance certainly meant that crossing trickier dips and driving through big, water-filled ruts was an absolute doddle. It handled itself well on the sand and in the water, too, although on particularly loose patches of sand its rear-biased power delivery does lead to it feeling a bit tail-happy if you really lay into the throttle. Which you shouldn’t do, it perhaps goes without saying, although it is a lot of fun.
With so many bits of electronic assistance, it’s easy for novice off-roaders to get a real hang for it as well, as it simply feels confident through whatever you seem to throw at it.
The only real criticism with the way it drives is when it comes to how it performs on the road, as while it does handle better than many of its ute-based rivals, that’s because the suspension setup is stiffer which leads to an at-times busy ride on poorly maintained roads, although it’s never what you’d call uncomfortable and manages to ride well on other surfaces such as gravel to make up for its on-road stiffness.
Aside from that, though, there’s honestly very little to complain about here. If you’re looking to execute a facelift on a car, this is how you do it, as the Pajero Sport now looks much better, and feels more advanced and premium on the inside, while keeping its capable and pleasant driving experience in tact.
It’s a shame you have to spend big bucks and get the top model to see the biggest benefits of this update – which, it should be noted, has a significantly increased list price of $57,190 and a drive-away price of $59,990 – but there’s no doubt that you’re getting a much better car for that high price.
It’s a great family hauler and a great off-roader that continues to impress, and until the next-generation Isuzu MU-X eventually comes along in the next year or two, this is definitively the better car of the two right now.
2020 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed List Price: $57,190
Pros: New digital gauge cluster and updated infotainment are welcome additions, additional interior storage and improved switchgear also a notable step-up for its interior, significantly improved looks, clever four-wheel drive system
Cons: Most of the goodies you’ll want are only on the Exceed, at-times firm ride on the road, much pricier than before
In a nutshell: The updated Pajero Sport is not only better than its ever been before, but it’s quite possibly the best buy in the class right now.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Mitsubishi Motors Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.