Ask any hard core off-roader to list his favourite SUVs, be it in India or anywhere else in the world, and chances are that Mitsubishi's Pajero would find mention in the top 5. Such has been the popularity of the nameplate that is now a 3-decade old brand, and is arguably Mitsubishi's best known vehicle.
Sadly, though, due to some unimaginative and lazy marketing by the Japanese auto maker, its icon has fallen on bad days, and has been reduced to an also-ran in a market flooded by new entrants in the recent past.
So, when the company launches a new-generation Pajero, one cannot help but think that it may be too late. But the brand is simply too strong to ignore; we cannot but sit up and take notice.
Is it as rugged?
Ruggedness has been the hallmark of the Pajero, but somewhere down the line, its design became dated and archaic. Look around and you would either find muscular butches like the Fortuner or sophisticated soft roaders like BMW X1 and Honda CRV. The Pajero had lost its way and was meandering in between. It desperately needed a new face.The new Pajero Sports, then, is seemingly more sophisticated and suave and a curious in-between of another kind - a Samurai in a tuxedo aka the CRV, and a beefcake in a sleeveless, the Fortuner.
The Pajero Sport is bigger and burlier than the earlier version, and has one of the largest wheelbases in the business. It also sits very high at 1,840 mm, marginally shorter than the Fortuner. The boxiness of the front is gone. In its place is a triangular grille with generous dollops of chrome and wraparound headlamps. It does not raise the bar in terms of sex appeal, though it does appear more contemporary. Critics may however pine for the character of the old rugged Pajero.
Is there a cockpit inside?
The interiors of the old Pajero were its biggest problem, and it is here that the new vehicle takes a quantum leap. The introduction of beige is welcome, though it may contradict with the vehicle's overall positioning as a serious offroader. It is equipped well now though not to the gills like Hyundai's Santa Fe. The new car is now a cushy place to be in when doing the city rounds. The seats have better padding, the dashboard is more sorted and the instrument panel more inviting. Does it sound like we are touting the interiors as its USP? Reality check: everything inside looks good only because the old edition was pathetic. It is an honest attempt at upgrading, but that does not make the Sport a class leader yet.
Does the icon still live?
A resounding yes to this one - and boy! are we glad. On paper this is the heaviest vehicle in its class and has a big 2.5-litre engine powering it. Only the Fortuner has a bigger heart, but it is still lighter. So the Sport is slow off the block, and does not sprint even when kept on the boil. With 178 horses pulling the cart and 400 Nm torque kicking in at a decent 2,000 rpm, it is bang in the middle of the SUV league as far as performance is concerned.
It is the Sport's offroading capabilities that steal the show. Like the old Pajero, this one too loves to play in the dirt. There is a nonchalance about the way it gobbles up terrain - or whatever you throw at it. Take away concrete or tarmac, and it is in its elements. After two hours of hectic offroading in a humid Delhi, the engine groaned - but it was not the sound of a tired athlete, but more of one that has just warmed up and wanted more.