2023 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Review: A Simple, Rugged, Old Off-Roader the US Doesn’t Need

The 2023 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is a vehicle that can serve multiple desires. By virtue of its size and stature, it makes a fine school chariot. By virtue of its pedigree, it’s also a capable off-roader. As the kids say, get you a rig that can do both. 

Not sold in the U.S., the Pajero Sport first hit the scene in 2015 in its current form. It’s the new name for what Mitsubishi once called the Challenger—the company’s mid-sized SUV based on the Triton pickup platform. With the full-fat, full-sized Pajero on a downward trajectory, the mid-sized truck took on the name and stood in its shadow, much as a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado does to the full-fat Land Cruiser.

The fact is that for many buyers, a so-called mid-sized SUV is a whole lot of car, without the price tag of a larger halo SUV. The Pajero Sport embodies that premise, with seven seats, plenty of cargo space, and proportions to match. The only problem Mitsubishi has is that every other automaker has identified the same juicy market segment, and is fighting tooth and nail for every sale.

2023 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Specs

  • Base price (GLS as tested): $47,740 AUD  ($61,775 AUD)
  • Powertrain: 2.4-liter turbocharged diesel inline-four | 8-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 178 @ 3500 rpm
  • Torque: 317 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
  • Seating capacity: 7
  • Curb weight: 4,610 pounds
  • Towing capacity: 6,600 pounds
  • Cargo volume: 4.6 cubic feet behind third row | 17.7 cubic feet behind second row | 52.5 cubic feet behind first row
  • Ground clearance: 8.6 inches
  • Off-road angles: 30° approach | 23° breakover | 24° departure
  • Fuel economy: 24 mpg city | 33 highway | 29 combined 
  • Quick take: It’s a capable kid hauler and a solid off-roader with four-wheel-drive, but two-wheel-drive models struggle to justify their price premium over lesser mallcrawler crossovers.
  • Score: 7/10

The Basics

The mid-sized Pajero Sport follows a common formula used by many automakers. It’s a road-going SUV that doesn’t shy away from the rough and tumble by virtue of being built on a ladder-frame pickup platform. Ford pursued the same strategy with the Everest. Toyota? The Fortuner. An SUV bodyshell and some suspension and drivetrain tweaks are all it takes to turn a work truck into something more family-friendly. Mitsubishi has been running the same formula since the Challenger debuted in 1996, later developing softer crossovers on unibody platforms.

Externally, the Pajero Sport wears a rough and rugged visage. It instills confidence that the vehicle is ready to tackle some trails. Of course, a big part of this is the optional bullbar, which quickly takes the front end from sweetcake to beefcake. Without the bar, it loses a lot of presence. It stands proud with its bulky haunches, but at times it looks confused. When it’s not dressed in off-road accessories, the chrome trimmings and rounded edges make it look like it couldn’t decide between being a desert rambler or an oversized grocery hauler.

Inside, the Pajero Sport offers largely what you’d expect. There’s a dated-feeling infotainment screen, as delivered in the 2020 facelift. The instrument cluster on lower models features a pair of analog gauges with a small screen, in a layout that’s actually refreshingly simple compared to the overblown digital gauges so in vogue right now.

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Overall, it seems built to last, with the plastic feel of a nice, stout pickup interior. The key touch points—steering wheel, shifter, and center console—are nicely trimmed, though, and the piano black treatments look nice when they’re not overly dusty or smudged.

As an engine, the 2.4-liter turbodiesel is best summed up with one word: adequate. That’s not a slight but a statement of how well it does its job. While it’s no dyno queen in the power stakes, it has plenty of low-down torque as a good diesel should. Combined with the smooth eight-speed auto, it never struggles to get moving. It’s also quite good when it comes to fuel economy, especially when you consider it’s a seven-seat SUV weighing over 4,600 pounds. My only regret is that I had the 2WD model, and that I didn’t get to sample its off-road prowess. 4WD models share the Super Select II full-time four-wheel-drive system of the Triton. With proper low-range and a locking center diff, they’re plenty capable in the rough stuff.

Driving the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

Right away, the Pajero Sport is an easy vehicle to live with. It has fewer annoying beeps and chimes than other cars, perhaps by virtue of the fact that the current model has been in production since 2015. Regardless, the GLS trim does everything that you’d expect of a mid-sized SUV. 

As a family car, the Pajero Sport has to handle all of the chores. It’s easy to get in and out of, and easy to load up with groceries. The steering is light but exhibits decent feel. It’s pretty easy to maneuver around all the mall parking lots and school pickup zones, barring those where its merely-average turning circle lets it down a little. That’s where the over-assisted steering really shines. It’s a cinch to spin the wheel when you need to bust out a three-point turn in a hurry.

Meanwhile, the healthy torque never leaves your foot writing checks that the engine can’t cash. Out on the highway, it’s a pleasant cruiser. Around town, you get the benefit of great sightlines from the high seating position, and you usually have enough grunt and size to take the initiative on any zip merge that comes your way. 

The Highs and Lows

The Pajero Sport has a lot to offer, particularly in 4WD trim. It has the ride height and four-wheel-drive system to handle your average trail without issues. The interior is comfortable and roomy with good seats for long highway drives. Plus, the rear two rows do all the usual folding tricks that give you plenty of seating or lots of cargo space to suit your particular errand. It’s a car you can just jump in and drive, on-road or off, thanks to the easy controls and comfortable ergonomics. Plus the fuel economy ain’t bad either.

The lows of the Pajero Sport are primarily due to the model’s age. The 2020 refresh wasn’t even enough to bring the car up to modern standards. The infotainment system may have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but both are via wired connection only. Meanwhile, the basic interface is slow and incredibly dated. Other headaches include the electronic parking brake, which is one of the few in the industry that doesn’t default to automatically switching off when you shift into drive. There’s also the question of who the 2WD models are aiming to please. Outside of towing duties, it feels like a cheaper softroader would be the obvious choice.

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Features, Options, and Competition

The base model Pajero Sport GLX starts at around $47,740 AUD (approximately $32,000 USD at the current exchange rate), and comes with five seats and two-wheel-drive. Stepping up from there, the as-tested GLS ($53,240 AUD) steps up to seven seats while adding dual-zone HVAC and a power tailgate. The range-topping GSR, at $65,490 AUD, adds larger 18” wheels, and a black roof and grille.  

The toughest challenge for the Pajero Sport in 2023 is its competition. It’s not so much that the Pajero Sport is overpriced; it’s just that other mid-sized SUVs feel like a better deal. Take away the towing and bullbar pack from this tester, and you’d spend around $53,240 AUD for a 2023 Pajero Sport GLS. Step up to the $60,000 AUD range, and you could be sitting in a Ford Everest instead with a similar spec. The Ford offers more power and a far more modern interior, including a gorgeous portrait infotainment display.

The Toyota Fortuner also comes into play here, which is again slightly more expensive than the Mitsubishi. You’re paying for the Toyota name, but you also get four-wheel-drive across the range. However, it’s not as fresh as the Ford. The Toyota and Mitsubishi both date back to 2015, while the new Everest landed in 2022. For diehard Mitsubishi fans, it might be worth waiting for the new Pajero Sport rumored to be on the way in 2024.

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is one area in which the Pajero Sport pleasantly surprises, scoring official Australian government ratings of 24 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. Ten years ago, there was no way a bulky SUV of this class could possibly achieve 24 mpg around town. However, the efficient diesel engine combines nicely with the eight-speed auto transmission to deliver both a pleasant driving experience and great fuel economy. It actually bests my own 1998 Mercedes E-Class in this regard, despite hauling around an extra 1,300 pounds. In that regard, Mitsubishi is to be applauded. Is it as clean as an EV, or a compact hybrid? No. But if people are going to keep driving oversized SUVs every day, it’s better if they’re leaning towards greater efficiency than yesteryear.

At the same time, the Pajero Sport isn’t the best performer in its class. Both the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest score better on fuel economy, particularly in the urban realm, at 28 and 26 mpg respectively. Official figures show it’s slightly worse than the average car in tailpipe emissions, too—which is no surprise for a big SUV. 

GreenVehicleGuide.gov.au

Value and Verdict

As far as mid-sized SUVs go, the 2023 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Some cars can stay on sale for decades nearly unchanged because they offer something unique. The Pajero Sport doesn’t, so Mitsubishi has to trim the price where it can. It’s a decent deal, not a great one, compared to its rivals and depending on your tastes. Those desiring a truly new-feeling car ultimately won’t be satisfied. 

It’s often tempting to brand foreign, forbidden fruit cars like this as more appealing than they are on the basis of the “grass always being greener on the other side” and whatnot. But in the case of this Mitsubishi, the U.S. SUV market ain’t missing much.

Overall, though, the Pajero Sport is a capable vehicle that delivers what the spec sheet promises. It’ll haul a trailer, haul the kids, and haul the groceries without complaint. It’ll do so with fuel economy we couldn’t dream of in the ‘90s. It’s also getting long in the tooth. If you can get one for a screaming deal, have at it. If not, consider the competition, or the next Pajero Sport that Mitsubishi already has in the pipeline.

Got a tip? Let the author know: lewin@thedrive.com

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