When narrowing down the list of potential tow vehicles for a trip to Kakadu, I had a number of criteria. It had to have a towing capacity of at least 2400kg. It had to be big enough for two adults and two kids. It had to also be comfortable. After all, we’d be towing a Coromal caravan about 11,000km in one month. This translated to lots of time in the car and nothing would ruin the trip faster than a couple of kids screaming because they were either bored or uncomfortable.
Nor did I want something oversized. I considered the LandCruiser 200 Series, but reasoned its fuel economy would be horrifying. Eventually, I settled on the smaller Mitsubishi Pajero as it’s a much more suitable 4WD tow vehicle for a van the size and weight of ours. Besides, in its up-specced Exceed version, the 3.2L, four-cylinder turbodiesel DI-D Pajero boasts creature comforts and conveniences that rival those of the 200 Series.
The Pajero Exceed has appeared within our pages before, but never before have we subjected it to such an extensive, gruelling test – and certainly not with a family on board.
Hauling 2400-odd kilograms of caravan along the Stuart Highway and all around Kakadu National Park, the Pajero proved why it’s a favourite among the caravanning fraternity. It shoulders significant loads with poise and purpose. The 3.2L turbodiesel engine, which was revised for the NT Series, remains in the NW and hesitates only briefly before spooling up. It mightn’t be perfect – or quiet, for that matter – but it has a decent low rpm response and plenty of mid-range torque, both of which are important in a tow vehicle. The engine didn’t have to dig too deep to find the power for the job at hand when towing uphill or overtaking. In fact, it always felt as though there was a little in reserve.
The Pajero has a towing capacity of 3000kg and a ball load of 250kg, but the ball load drops to 180kg when you’re towing anything heavier than 2500kg. For us, this was not a problem as our van had an ATM of 2400kg.
When the Coromal was unladen, its 180kg download made the Pajero sag a little in the rear, but this didn’t compromise steering or braking performance in any way. But when the van was fully laden, applying close to 250kg to the rear, the Pajero’s bum drooped intolerably. The only thing for it was to fit my Hayman Reese load levellers. Set to five links, they had the combination nice and level.
I have no quibbles with the five-speed auto transmission and although it’s a bit long in the tooth, I like the Pajero’s Super Select transfer case. Unlike other 4WD systems, it has a small advantage in that it can run in 2WD only and therefore produce slightly less drag, marginally improving fuel economy and performance.
Over bumps or corrugated roads, the Pajero’s independent suspension (on coil springs) is adequate, though the ride is a bit sharp. Unhitched, it dispatched the worst of Kakadu’s washboard tracks with relative ease.
Fuel economy was surprising. Previous tests of the same model with the same engine and towing similar weights returned figures of around 17L/100km. But on the long and straight Stuart Highway, the onboard fuel-consumption meter unexpectedly claimed upwards of 21L/100km and sometimes as high as 24L/100km. Unhitched, it politely sipped between 10 and 11L/100km.
Safety equipment includes driver and passenger SRS airbags, side and curtain airbags, Active Stability and Traction Control, and Anti-Lock Braking System with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution.
The spare wheel placement, low on the cargo-area door, needs a rethink. It’s been lowered to afford better rear vision for the driver, but for caravanners it’s a nuisance as the door can’t be opened when hitched up – the wheel hits the coupling. Kits to lift the spare are available and would be mandatory for anyone planning a trip with the Pajero as their tow vehicle. We did it without one and found it an exercise in exasperation.
The premium Exceed has bells, whistles and baubles galore. In short, it’s a family-pleaser. Though not as wide as some of its contemporaries, it by no means feels confined inside, even with a couple of kids perched in their booster chairs and each gap stuffed with pillows, travel games and the like.
Equipment includes seven seats, rear air-con, cruise control, reversing camera (fantastic for hitching up), front and rear fog lights, leather upholstery, in-dash six-CD player, power windows and mirrors, and much more. The best bit, though, is the inbuilt DVD player. Sure, you can buy portable units that strap to the headrests in front, but they come with an assortment of wires that’ll tangle and frustrate you. The in-built player is a joy to operate and an investment in peace and quiet – the sound can only be heard through a set of wireless headphones.
The front seats provide a commanding view of the road ahead and the instruments are clear and easy to read. The large side mirrors afford a wide view behind.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Pajero, an evolution of the NM Series, is in need of a facelift – the general shape has been around in one form or another since 1999. But, as they say, it’s what’s inside that counts. And what’s inside, both under the bonnet and behind the windshield, is very good indeed.
As a tow vehicle, the Paj is stable and serious. A bit like a plough horse, it puts its head down and gets on with the job. Agile and responsive, with minimal turbo lag, it’d make a fine daily driver, too.
Specifications: NW Mistubishi Pajero Exceed Di-D
Engine 3.2L turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Max power 147kW@3800rpm
Max torque 441Nm@2000rpm
Transmission Five-speed auto
Kerb Mass 2347kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 3030kg
Gross Combined Mass 6030kg
Fuel tank capacity 88L
Roof load 100kg
Towing capacity (braked) 3000kg
TBM maximum 250kg up to 2500kg ATM; 180kg (2501kg to 3000kg ATM)
Price $77,690 (RRP)
More info www.mitsubishi-motors.com.au