We take a retrospective look at the last-ever Mitsubishi Pajero to discover just how charming this veteran off-roader can be.

Across 39 years and four generations, the Mitsubishi Pajero – also known as the Montero or Shogun in other markets – has one of the most legendary names in the motoring industry, and not just because it’ll give you a giggle if you look up what it means in Spanish.

The Lancer Evolution may be the crown jewel from Mitsubishi’s motorsport heritage, but the Pajero is equally as legendary due to its involvement in the Dakar Rally which it won 12 times from 26 entries, including an unprecedented seven victories in a row. No wonder the name still graces the smaller Pajero Sport to let buyers know what pedigree it comes from.

That storied history all came to an end in March 2021, however, when Pajero production reached the end of the line. To commemorate the event, us Aussies were treated to a limited run of 800 Final Edition models, and the car you see here is one of those. Rather than a standalone trim level, it was a locally-fitted upgrade package included as standard across the entire three-tier range. This vehicle, kept as a part of Mitsubishi Motors Australia’s heritage fleet is the mid-spec GLS variant which had a retail price of $60,490 when new.

The story behind why Mitsubishi still has this car is an interesting one. Described to me as “a victim of lockdown”, its delivery during the pandemic period meant it sat around unused and collecting cobwebs at the company’s Adelaide office upon delivery, explaining the mere 3300km on the clock before I grabbed the keys. Thankfully, the public relations team thought to hang on to it for history’s sake, and they were more than glad to see me retrospectively put it through its paces. “We’re glad to see someone using it!” they told me before I took off for the week with not only the licence but the encouragement to give it a proper off-road test, rather than babying it around. That’s confidence in your product right there.

I’ve always thought this fourth-generation Pajero was a rather handsome vehicle, and it still looks it to this day. Unashamedly boxy and distinctively Japanese thanks to touches like the Altezza taillights, it hides its age fairly well on the outside thanks to this being its third facelift. Mind you, with this model entering production in 2006 and the platform it rides on dating back to 1999, you don’t have to look far to see signs elsewhere.

Take the interior, for instance. Both the instrument cluster which has no digital speed readout and needles too thick to see what speed you’re really doing, along with the pixelated trip computer perched atop the dashboard look like antiquated products of the 1990s. The lack of ergonomic consideration is another telltale sign – for such a big car, there’s not much room for taller drivers in the front, while the tacked-on protruding panel for the powered mirror controls became a literal sore spot after smacking my knee against it as I hopped back out of the car for the first time.

There are some signs of modernity and sophistication to be found, however, such as the 7.0-inch infotainment system with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the excellent Rockford audio system with a massive subwoofer in the boot, heated front seats despite the cloth upholstery in the GLS, and automatic climate control. While none of the materials felt especially premium, none feel offensive either, and the abundance of plastic actually makes sense considering it’ll be easier to clean after off-road adventures.

Where the aged design does offer a real benefit is when it comes to visibility, as the large greenhouse of this cabin not only lets in a lot of light but means there are no real blind spots, making manoeuvring easy whether in a carpark or on a tight trail.

In terms of the Final Edition upgrades, a lot of it is quite tokenistic. Beyond the requisite badge on the tailgate, the tinted bonnet protector, carpet floor mats, hard plastic boot liner, rear tailgate protector, and leather owner’s manual pouch were all fitted locally to distinguish this final batch of Pajeros to grace our roads. Mechanically, you’ll find no changes were made to this last run, but that’s no bad thing.

Just one engine was offered across the Pajero range during its latter years – the ‘4M41’ 3.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel which produces 141kW at 3800rpm and 441Nm at 2000rpm, with these outputs putting it against even current-model 4x4s such as the Isuzu MU-X, while it’s comparable to the Toyota Prado on sale at the same time before it received a power boost. Mind you, it was never quite a full-on rival for the likes of the 200 Series LandCruiser considering the lack of a V8, although a V6 petrol did exist in earlier model years, but the much lower price point excused this. This engine dates back to the third-generation model this largely shares its platform with, but power was increased incrementally over the years until it reached this level.

The only transmission on offer by this point was a five-speed automatic, although it does feature Mitsubishi’s Super-Select II 4WD system which offers both rear- and four-wheel drive settings on the road, along with high- and low-range four-wheel drive with a locked centre differential for off-road use. It might have a physical shifter rather than the rotary dial seen in the Triton and Pajero Sport, but it’s largely the same system still employed today.

Curiously, the Pajero has also sported a rather advanced monocoque chassis with independent front and rear suspension since the third-gen model. Most 4x4s today short of anything with a Land Rover badge still use a ladder frame chassis with a live rear axle to this day, so despite the antiquated interior design, the rest of this car is anything but.

The hydraulic power steering might be very heavy by today’s standards, but it’s communicative in a way no modern electric rack could be. As you wrench the wheel around, there’s a distinct certainty that the front wheels are pointed exactly where you want them. Unlike the excellent visibility, the heft of the tiller isn’t as appreciated in a tight carpark, but in all other circumstances it’s a real treat for those who love their car to give them some feedback.

Do also consider that the steering wheel is sculped perfectly for having your hands at 10 and 2 with your thumbs outside – exactly as they should be when you’re off-roading, rather than at 9 and 3 like on sealed roads – and with your hands in this position the weightiness feels far more pleasant.

Although I was reminded while being handed the keys that this older oiler would make more of a clatter than more modern diesel engines would, it never really crossed my mind during my time behind the wheel. Sure, you can feel a bit of vibration through the firewall from it, and it certainly gets a bit vocal in the upper half of the rev range, but it’s not even close to rattling your teeth out like some old diesels could.

The force it generates is actually very impressive, particularly with the 4WD system set to 4H to help it hook up no matter the conditions. As you lay on the throttle, it feels strong and meaty, serving as a clear reminder of the saying that ‘there’s no replacement for displacement’.

Thanks to the monocoque construction and independent suspension, the Pajero still drives and handles well for a vehicle in this class. Although you’ll still feel the odd bump, it rides remarkably well for such an old platform – certainly, it’s as good as most current 4x4s around the same price. While you can certainly feel the weight transfer through the corners – Khachaturian’s lumbering “Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia”, the first song Spotify played for me from my classical playlist after I hopped behind the wheel for the first time, felt like an appropriate soundtrack for this reason – it still handles quite confidently as well, particularly thanks to the traction on offer when all four wheels are being driven.

Of course, its off-road performance was the thing I was most keen to try out, and against the sands of Goolwa Beach and the gravel tracks of Kuitpo Forest, it performed admirably well. While the ride felt slightly more terse than modern 4x4s on these choppy, loose, and often corrugated surfaces, it still had a confident feeling to it from behind the wheel. It might not have felt quite as comfortable being pushed up to 80km/h which is as fast as you should ever go on gravel, but through deep rutted tracks, mud, and on loose sand it was as assured as you’d like.

Granted, the independent rear suspension does mean there’s not as much wheel articulation as you’d get with a live rear axle, but it’s not enough that I imagine it would ever be too noticeable. Between how confident it feels and how proficient its four-wheel drive system is, though, there’s no denying the Pajero’s off-road chops.

In terms of running costs, be prepared for fuel consumption to be one point to consider, as I only managed to eke out 11.8L/100km during my 432km of testing. However, a late model Pajero like this one will still have years of warranty coverage left thanks to the 10-year/200,000km warranty Mitsubishi introduced in October 2020. There will also still be a few more capped price services remaining, too, with the cost ranging between $499 and $999 per visit.

Despite, or perhaps because of the signs of its age, the Pajero was incredibly endearing to me during my time with it. With all of the charm of late 1990s and early 2000s cars that I love teamed with modern reliability and just enough in the way of mod cons, it’s easy to see why the Pajero has been so well loved in Australia.

A look at the online classifieds will tell you that Final Edition models like this are hard to come by, and when they do pop up they’re selling for close to the original price, but any 3.2-litre Pajero is going to embody all the positive characteristics on display here.

Despite the nameplate effectively retired for now, sources such as BestCar suggest Mitsubishi is developing a new, full-size Pajero due in 2027, while rumours of a resurrection have circulated for about as long as this fourth-gen model has been out of production. While I have no doubt that any potential replacement would be more refined and advanced like the company’s other current-gen models, one thing technology can’t yet do is replicate character.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Mitsubishi Motors Australia for one week with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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