Mitsubishi Pajero changed the way the world thought of 4WD vehicles when launched in the mid 1980s. It showed 4WDs didn’t have to be truck-based, they could be refined station wagons. Sure, the Range Rover took a similar route in the early 1970, but it cost far more than the Mitsubishi.
Though very refined for its class, the Pajero still had a separate chassis until 2000, then it took the monocoque (one-piece body) route to provide even more on-road comfort. Cleverly it did so while retaining most of the overall strength of the previous body-on-chassis model.
Pajero is often seen as being a tough looking people mover rather than a real 4WD, which is a pity because it’s pretty competent off-road.
Mitsubishi Pajero comes as a station wagon with either two or four passenger doors. The two-door was never particularly popular and was discontinued, only to make a surprise re-appearance with the new model introduced at the start of 2007. Only to again, not sell and be again pulled off the Australian market, in 2010.
The early two-door Mitsubishi Pajeros are shorter, lighter and more nimble than the four-doors. They provide plenty of fun at the beach and in tight off-road work. However, they are noticeably less roomy in the back seat and boot. The later ones are better for space, but the usual problems of difficult access to and from the back seats in a high-ground-clearance vehicle are there.
All short-wheelbase Pajeros have five seats, the long-wheelbases have either five or seven. The rearmost two seats in the seven-seat models are better suited to kids than adults but with a bit of squeezing up the Pajero can handle seven grown-ups.
Mitsubishi’s Super Select 4WD system lets you use 2WD or 4WD under any circumstance. This can give the best of both worlds, for example, safe traction on wet sealed roads if you opt for 4WD, or lower fuel consumption on dry dirt roads if you go for 2WD.
A 2.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is related to the old Mitsubishi Magna and was once common in the Pajero. It was discontinued in 1993 and most are likely to be close to their use-by date. An honest enough performer, the four-cylinder was soon overshadowed by the V6s.
The older V6s are 3.0-litre units, a 3.5 twin-cam unit was introduced in the topline Pajero Exceed in November 1993 and later moved down to the rest of the petrol Pajero range. A 3.8-litre V6 was introduced in September 2003.
Diesel power is relatively common in the early Pajeros, but fell from favour for a while before bouncing back in the early 2000s. The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel has plenty of torque and is reasonably economical. The 3.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel from 2002 is an excellent unit.
Five-speed manuals are offered in all but the topline Pajero Exceed. It wasn’t until 1995 that a manual was sold with the 3.5-litre V6. A four-speed automatic transmission works well enough, but the new five-speed auto introduced in 2000 is significantly better. As well as having the added ratio they run a sophisticated sequential system to give you a good degree of manual control.
The Australian Mitsubishi dealer network is long established and well-organised. Spare parts are generally available for all but the oldest models. Prices can be relatively high, though no more so than for other Japanese 4WDs in this class.
Insurance premiums are moderate for this 4WD category but are still likely to be relatively expensive when compared with conventional cars.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Turbo-diesel engines with a whine from the turbo are likely to be due for expensive repairs. Poor engine maintenance is very hard on turbos and can lead to complete failure. Check the service book.
If you suspect a Pajero has been taken off-road into serious conditions check for damage to chassis rails, door sills and bumper corners.
Look at the underbody protection plates to see if they have been pushed up on the mechanical items they should be protecting.
Check out the cabin and boot carefully because carting bored kids about can be tough on any vehicle.
Petrol engines generally last very well. Bearing rumble and fumes from the exhaust are usually the first signs of them being worn. A full engine overhaul will be expensive but if the body in an old Pajero is in good condition it may be worth going to the trouble of having an engine overhaul. Obviously the vehicle’s price should be right.
Make sure all gears in a manual box engage easily and that the clutch is light and quiet in its action.
Automatics should go into Drive and Reverse promptly and easily. Slow engagement may mean a full overhaul could be getting close.
Listen for, and feel for, noises and roughness in the complete driveline. Check that the front freewheeling hubs, if installed, are easy to shift. Make sure the brakes pull the Pajero up evenly, even on dirt.
CAR BUYING TIP
Not many 4WDs ever go off road these days, and those that have can suffer from serious drops in resale value.