The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 3.2 Di-D 4x4 GLS arrives, with a manual 'box. Ryan Bubear drives it.
Use the scroll arrows to view the images
The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is great on all terrain — well, all except the terrain of frighteningly busy mall parking lots with bays designed for tiny urban hatches.
With seven people on board, this beast of an SUV could quite probably scale a small volcano, laugh off a patch of molten lava, and steadily make its way back down a muddy slope, whistling cheerfully to itself as it goes about its work. But it'd struggle to fit into today's average-sized parking bay, which is clearly far smaller than it once was.
Yes, the Pajero Sport is that large. In fact, it's probably a bit bigger still.
The chunky SUV owes much of its off-road ability to the Triton bakkie on which it is based. This new five-speed manual Pajero Sport, which undercuts the already established automatic version by R10k, features all the gearbox settings an avid off-roader could hope for, courtesy of Mitsubishi's rally gurus. There's two-wheel drive (power fed to the rear wheels) high range for everyday use; four-wheel drive high range should you need a bit more traction; four-wheel drive high range with centre differential locked for a spot of off-roading; and four-wheel drive low range with centre differential locked for the real rough stuff.
So, where does the power come from? Well, the 3.2-litre turbo-diesel found in the auto Pajero Sport, which in turn was lifted from the Triton, again does duty. It's not the most refined powerplant around — you definitely know you're driving a bakkie-based SUV rather than a "straight" SUV — but with 120kW and 343Nm on tap, it's certainly no slouch in terms of pulling power. Indeed, without all that torque the off-road settings would be about as much use as a paper umbrella during a hailstorm.
The manual gearbox is a breeze to use, although all that grunt low-down in the rev range means the gear lever doesn't need constant attention during city driving. However, highway cruising would undoubtedly be improved by the presence of a sixth gear.
Braked towing load capacity is rated at an impressive 1500kg, so even with all seven seats filled by people-shaped objects, there's the option of towing a packed-to-the-brim trailer should it be required. Did someone say "holiday"?
Bold 17-inch alloys wrapped in massive 265/65 rubber come as standard, boosting the SUV's overall height (including roof rails) to 1840mm — yes, that's over six-foot. A ground clearance of 215mm means that even enthusiastic off-roaders attempting to emulate their Dakar heroes shouldn't run into too much trouble over rocky surfaces.
The interior is a pretty pleasant place to spend your time, and has in fact benefitted from a bit of a redesign. The plastics used on the dashboard and door trims are both visually and tactilely pleasing, and the full leather trim does a great job of supressing the Pajero Sport's bakkie heritage. A number of other car-like features come as standard too, such as automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, multifunctional steering wheel, cruise control, headlamp washers, and auxiliary and USB ports.
A screen housed in the centre of the dash displays all sorts of useful information, including readings from a built-in compass, barometer and altimeter, as well as exterior temperature and typical trip computer material. Thankfully, rear parking distance control is standard, although considering the size of the Pajero Sport, a reversing camera wouldn't have been a bad idea either.
Take a look towards the back of the cabin, and it will soon become apparent that this is a true seven-seater — it can accommodate seven full-sized humans. Space? We have plenty of it. Sure, the third row takes up much of what would otherwise be an enormous luggage compartment, but these two seats fold into the floor with a minimum of fuss. In fact, push a couple of levers and pull a few tabs and the entire second and third rows pretty much disappear. In the people-moving game, versatility is vital, and the Pajero Sport has versatility in spades.
Other than the vast space, rear passengers will also appreciate the fact that they can control the fan-speed of their dedicated ventilation outlets (mounted in the roof-lining) themselves, meaning front and rear occupants can tweak their air-con settings without upsetting each other. A temperature-controlled passenger is a happy passenger.
Offering a manual Pajero Sport was a bit of a no-brainer for the folks at Mitsubishi. And offering it with a few cosmetic tweaks and a slightly smaller pricetag was just as good an idea.
However, if you're looking for a soft-roader, the Pajero Sport isn't for you. There are more comfortable, more refined options out there — and they're all capable of the odd spot of weekend pavement-scaling.
But if you're in the hunt for something that is accomplished enough for everyday on-road use, yet comes into its own during enthusiastic explorations off the beaten path — with the whole family in tow — the manual version makes a pretty strong case for itself.
Now, if only we could find an old-fashioned parking bay...
Follow @Ryan_Bubear on Twitter to see what he's currently driving.
See page 2 for specs and pricing.