2003 Mitsubishi Pajero

The Good:
– Excellent offroader
– Large interior
– Comfortable ride
The Bad:
– Expensive fuel costs
– Not exactly quick
– No manual gearbox offered

The Mitsubishi Pajero is the vehicle of choice for many off-road enthusiasts and soccer moms alike. Best known for its victories in the grueling Dakar rallies, the Pajero has been evolving through the years and its toughness and reliability off-road is legendary. The Pajero is one of the most versatile 4x4s in the large 4WD segment. It offers serious off-road capability and a roomy interior. It’s an all-weather highway cruiser and a part-time wadi basher.

The Pajero was redesigned in 2001, and this generation is available with either a base 3.0-litre or the larger a 3.5-litre which was eventually replaced by the newer 3.8-litre V6 engine, in three-door short-wheelbase or five-door long-wheelbase form. Standard are an automatic transmission, part-time 4WD and a two-speed transfer case. The 3.0-litre got a four-speed automatic, while the 3.5-litre and 3.8-litre got a five-speed auto with manual shift capability and the intelligent Mitsubishi Active Stability Traction Control System. The 3.8-litre was introduced around 2003, in conjunction with a mild facelift, but the 3.5-litre continued alongside for a year or two longer. Options included a power sunroof, rear air conditioning, leather seat trim, an upgraded audio system with CD player, power antenna and limited-slip differential. The top models got rear air conditioning with mid-cabin controls and a power front passenger seat.

The Pajero’s rounded front end emulates the Paris-Dakar rally version. Bulging fenders and side cladding gives it a rugged and sporty look. This generation of Pajero does not look as tall and boxy appearance as earlier models while still managing to look like a tough 4WD. Unique features include a rear gate that opens out from the driver’s side like a door. The spare wheel is mounted on the outside of the rear door, conserving interior space. This also eliminates struggling underneath the truck for the spare if you have a flat tyre. A basic roof rack is standard. Though it can be classed as a mid-size 4WD, the Pajero has a massiveness that commands respect on the road. This apparent mass is no illusion. Redesigned for 2001, this generation of the Pajero is wider and longer, both in wheelbase and overall length, than the older generation model.

Built on a unit body chassis, step-in entry height is actually lower than older version. While the base Pajero makes do with a cloth interior and manually-operated seats, the top-of-the-range Pajero offers a fairly luxurious interior, with power front seats and pleated leather upholstery. Outward visibility is excellent. The steering wheel is very thick with leather grips. Power windows feature an auto-down for the driver only. The Pajero’s cruise control is mounted on the steering wheel for fingertip convenience. Instruments are bright and easy to read. The numerous gauges include fuel and water temperature. An indicator denotes whether the transfer case is in 2WD or 4WD, and whether the differential is locked for maximum traction. An LCD displays numerous trivial information. The third-row seat in the long-wheelbase five-door model brings the Pajero’s capacity to seven. The third row provides tight seating best suited to children and can be folded down or removed completely.

The Mitsubishi Pajero offered three V6 engines. The 190 hp 3.0-litre with 265 Nm of torque is just about adequate to move the heavy Pajero. The 3.5-litre is only slightly better at 200 hp and 312 Nm. So the newer 3.8-litre is a better choice. Rated at a lowly 230 hp but a decent 340 Nm of torque, Mitsubishi’s 3.8-litre 24-valve V6 engine is smooth and free of vibration, but noisy under hard throttle. While power is on the low side, the engine delivers tons of torque at under 4000 rpm, good for off-road driving and climbing steep grades. Responsiveness on the highway is typical of current 4WDs, being neither blisteringly fast nor annoyingly slow, but a bit more juice would be appreciated. The five-speed automatic transmission on the 3.5-litre and 3.8-litre features a Sportronic mode that allows the driver to manually select gears. But like most of these tiptronic-like systems, it mostly makes its own decisions about downshifting. The solid control of a real manual is missing, but there is no manual Pajero offered. Most buyers opt for a full-time automatic for bumper-to-bumper traffic driving anyway. Fuel economy on the 3.0-litre, the 3.5-litre and the 3.8-litre are all poor, but the smallest engine will save you a slight bit of money in the long run.

The Pajero’s soft suspension is generally forgiving and smooth on the highway. Road feel is never very lively in 4x4s, but the Pajero’s rack-and-pinion steering is a big improvement over the previous model’s setup. Road and wind noise make an appearance at moderate highway speeds. Cornering response is predictably ponderous, with pronounced side-to-side roll. Let’s just say cornering quickly with the Pajero is not a very good idea. The Pajero features big ventilated disc brakes front and rear, necessary to haul this truck down from highway speeds, and they work adequately well in conjunction with ABS.

On rippled gravel surfaces, the Pajero exhibited little bounce thanks to the Pajero’s fully independent suspension. Mitsubishi’s compliant springs and shocks soak up most of this motion, producing a very smooth ride during mild offroading. Mitsubishi also does away with the classic body-on-frame construction of most 4WDs and opts for a unit body construction. This generation of the Pajero is the first to be built on a unit body, ditching the older body-on-frame design while also leading to a stronger structure that does not rattle over bumps. On really steep descents and climbs, the Pajero’s torquey V6, low-range transfer case and brakes work together superbly, allowing good control when going downhill and providing plenty of torque for climbing back up. Even when tackling tall rocks in the middle of the desert, the Pajero chugged along with ease, proving that it can go where many lesser four-wheel drive vehicles would be exceeding their capabilities.

The Mitsubishi Pajero is a decent highway cruiser for those with large families. It is also a highly capable offroader with all the requisite go-anywhere gear built in. It costs less than the all-too-common Toyota Land Cruiser while being just as capable. Owners have have very few, if any, problems with this Japanese-built vehicle. A few have reported wheel alignment issues, which were probably caused by climbing footpaths in the first place. Otherwise the only worries with the Pajero are high petrol costs and cornering too fast. We would say the Pajero is among the best offroading four-wheel-drives available in the Middle East.

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