Mitsubishi Montero GLS DI-D

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Description: IT IS fair to say that over the years Mitsubishi's SUVs have fallen victim to the success of their one-ton pick-up stablemates. If you were to play a word association game with the name

IT IS fair to say that over the years Mitsubishi's SUVs have fallen victim to the success of their one-ton pick-up stablemates.

If you were to play a word association game with the name Mitsubishi, ninety-nine per cent of the time the first response would be "Colt".

So in the same vein, uttering Pajero Sport will have the other person stammering something along the lines of "um… that's the three-door one isn't it?" Brandishing a picture of the Pajero Sport would then issue a response akin to "Oh, you mean Triton".

This response is understandable as the Pajero Sport shares much of its styling and componentry with Mitsubishi's distinctive pick-up. In fact, from the nose to the B-pillar they're practically the same vehicle – the only differences being a mild stylistic tweak of the grille and projector-style headlamps that make a nod to the Pajero.

This isn't a bad thing, as the Triton is a distinctive model that blends some passenger car panache with just a dash of the requisite toughness SUV buyers are after.

The main change comes in the shape of a passenger-friendly rear section sporting strong haunches, a distinctive v-shaped rear window and almost Alfaesque tail-light clusters.

Perched on the double-cab Triton's ladder frame chassis, possessed of the same high-riding suspension set-up and 16-inch alloys shod with chunky 265/70 R16 off-road tyres, the Pajero Sport's ride and handling characteristics are very much of the old-school pick-up variety.

There's a lot of lateral weight transfer during cornering, which does little to inspire confidence, and it's easily upset by large road corrugations. It's not what you'd call a particularly engaging drive, feeling every bit as big as it looks.

The steering requires a fair bit of twirling to elicit a response – especially during low-speed parking manoeuvres, where a turning circle of a shade under 12 metres does little to help matters.

Power is provided by Mitsubishi's 3,2-litre turbodiesel engine developing 120 kW and 343 N.m of torque – uncannily, these figures are identical to those of the 3,0-litre turbocharged oil-burner in its direct rival, the Toyota Fortuner 3,0 D-4D.

It's quite an agriculturalsounding unit and suits the rugged side of the Pajero Sport, it just isn't very civilised for around town driving. It doesn't feel especially torquey or powerful, but the car's somewhat damped steering, elevated ride height and off-road-orientated dynamics seem to mask the fact that it is capable of punting the vehicle along at a respectably brisk pace – it's just that getting to your desired speed takes some time.

The 4-speed automatic transmission shifts fairly smoothly but it tends to get a bit lost at times and will sometimes drop a gear at cruising speed, seemingly at a whim, resulting in a considerable amount of engine noise.

Much like the chassis and the driving dynamics, the SuperSelect 4×4 system and rear difflock are also somewhat old-school affairs with the former requiring the "hoik" of a stubby lever in neutral to shift into 4×4 high/low.

Having done so, however, the Pajero Sport can tackle some serious terrain thanks to its measured 280 mm ground clearance and good axle articulation.

The only black marks against serious off-roading are a pair of vulnerable-looking side steps and the spare wheel under the rear bumper, which could be snagged when exiting a steep decline.

In keeping with the Pajero nomenclature, the Sport features a well-appointed interior with seating for seven occupants.

The two rear rows can be folded flat, albeit with some effort, to present a sizeable cargo area. The rearmost seats are typically for kids/short journeys, but at least feature their own ventilation controls.

Space in the first and second rows is fairly generous, but the high floor means finding a comfy driving position can be challenging and the low-range lever's tendency to vibrate while the vehicle is in motion resulted in a couple of mild shocks when the driver's thigh inadvertently grazed it.

Thankfully, there's not much left wanting in terms of specification with such features as PDC, ABS, air-con, CD sound system, power steering, electric windows, leather upholstery and cruise control being thrown in as standard.

So it's well-equipped, agreeable enough on the eye, capable offroad, and easy enough to live with on a daily basis – a good car, right? Well…no.

For all of its virtues and charms, you cannot help but feel that this "new" model simply isn't far enough removed from the Triton.

And then there's the price – R414 000 is a lot of money for this vehicle, especially when you consider that the similarly practical (bar 4×4) Toyota Fortuner 3,0 D-4D also offers 7 seats, good equipment, identical power outputs, and the same bakkie-turned-SUV appeal for almost R60 000 less.

If you need those 7 seats, auto ‘box and 4×4 attributes in a more sophisticated package, you could even eschew the diesel route and opt for a Chevrolet Captiva 3,2 LTZ Auto for about R10 000 less (budget for the Pajero Sport and consider the difference in petrol money).

If Mitsubishi had just priced this car at, say R360 000, its off-road ability and generous specification would have given Fortuner folks something to think about, but at its current price it sits in an awkward no-man's-land of being too expensive to bother the Fortuner and too old-fashioned to worry others in its price band.

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