The Pajero when it arrived in mid-1980s Australia really did carve a specific niche into the market for heavyweight 4WD vehicles. Unlike most in the market at the time, the Pajero wasn't a 4WD truck with seats but a family wagon with enough off-road ability to take most people most places.
By 2006 the Pajero and its dedicated band of buyers knew pretty well each other's needs and attributes so freshening the design without changing its basic concept was the track Mitsubishi wisely followed.
The seven-passenger NS wagon was roughly the same size and weight as the NP it replaced but with hardly an external panel left unchanged. Headlights now curved downwards into the bumper panel and permitted a deeper grille aperture. Interior trim and fittings that embodied 1990s style were due for a revamp so the NS added an in-dash information centre, new steering wheel, storage bins, an MP3 decoder and six-stack CD player.
Mitsubishi held onto the 3.8-litre V6 introduced with the NP range but switched from single to twin overhead cams and boosted power from 150 to 184kW. The 3.2-litre diesel was made compliant with Euro 4 emission standards and suffered a slight power loss as a result. That would be redressed in 2009 when an uprated diesel with 147kW and a massive 441Nm of torque was introduced.
Seven years earlier, Mitsubishi had dumped the short-wheelbase Pajero to concentrate on longer versions. For 2007 it brought back the three-door with all the features and the same engines as the full-sized Pajeros. Weight was shaved to an extent and the more compact dimensions helped in tight, off-road situations. However, the differences weren't enough to create a sales stampede and the truncated Pajero lasted only until 2009.
The mainstream NS range kicked off with the five-speed manual GLX. Scraping just below the $50,000 price barrier, the 3.8-litre petrol version with manual transmission provided a well-equipped family package with plenty of power for highway towing or some off-road exploration.
For serious caravanning, mountaineering and just general rough play the diesel 3.2 was the engine to have. This version in basic GLX form came with manual transmission and was only slightly more expensive than a basic petrol Pajero.
Jump a step to the V-RX version and the price for a diesel manual headed for $57,000. However the list of goodies would include bigger diameter alloys, heated and electrically adjustable (driver) seats, a leather-bound steering wheel and sound system upgrade.
The Exceed in diesel form with mandatory five-speed automatic transmission hit the showroom at $70,000 but further extended the list of inclusions. Features included an all-leather interior, Xenon lights and a screen with DVD player for those in the rear. A power sunroof was optional but if you chose the moveable roof the kids lost their in-car entertainment centre.
For 2009 Mitsubishi announced the NT Pajero; more of an upgrade than a definitively different model but the one to look for if you're a diesel buyer. The diesel with torque peaking at 441Nm allowed towing capacity to increase and the NT diesel automatic was rated to haul a braked trailer of up to 3000kg.
Bargain of the NT bunch had to be the revamped Platinum Edition which as a diesel cost $54,290 but included a lot of gear from the more expensive VR-X and Exceed. The latter by 2013 when the next update appeared had become a $75,000 prospect and not a lot were sold.
On the road
Pajeros combine high levels of occupant comfort and decent standards of primary and secondary safety with sufficient off-road ability to keep most amateur explorers happy.
However they have never been a particular favourite of the used market and your Pajero budget buys considerably more than if you had insisted on owning a Landcruiser.
When new, an Exceed diesel was out of reach for many buyers. As a result they aren't easy to find in the used market but a 2009-12 model that's averaged under 20,000km a year will typically cost 25-30 percent of its new-car price.
Looking at the current used market, automatic Pajeros outsell manual by about 6:1 so we will look hardest at the five-speed auto and later 147kW diesel engine.
Around town these have terrific low-end urge, You won't get left behind as in some diesels when leaving the lights and cruising in fifth is almost silent. Using a Pajero off-road is simplicity personified and perhaps can lead to a little over-confidence from inexperienced 4WDers.
The 4WD selector lever can be operated on the move and also switch without stopping into Low Range. Loosely packed sand needs to be treated with caution as the Pajero even with optional diff locks deployed can dig itself a trench. From there, limited underbelly clearance does the rest.
Lack of wheel articulation is cited as another reason for keeping your Pajero away from really serious 4WD tracks. On well-maintained trails and access routes to beach fishing spots though the standard suspension should be quite adequate.
Side steps as found on a lot of Pajeros can be a great help when smaller fry or older relatives need to climb aboard or for stopping bush rocks damaging your sills. However In deep mud or wet sand they can stick like suction caps.
Some owners will buy a Pajero with long-distance towing in mind. The auto is perfect for this role, although fitting an additional transmission oil cooler is recommended. NS and NT models come with an 88 litre fuel tank and diesel versions lightly laden average around 9L/100km. Factor in the weight of a caravan plus associated personal and safety equipment plus the need to run in 4WD on some outback roads and those 88 litres will disappear very quickly. Making space for a supplementary tank if you intend travelling any distance is a good idea.
Pajeros look a bit wobbly on their pins when being pushed hard but owners report few issues with stability. All post-2006 Pajeros sold in Australia qualify for a Four Star ANCAP crash protection rating and recorded excellent scores for side-on collisions, not so good when hit from the front.
>> Get under any Pajero you're considering, looking for underbody damage, especially to the front stone-tray, sills and rear pan. Even in vehicles that look new, check for emerging rust in the tail-gate, door skins, around windows and the roof.
>> The front axle needs regular use and Pajeros that live in the city may not get enough exercise with 4WD engaged. Look at the rubber boots that keep dirt and sand out of shaft joints. If these tear they allow contaminants into the joint, promoting rapid wear.
>> The 3.8 V6 engine needs its timing belt changed at 100-110,000km. If a car you're considering is close to that mark and the belt hasn't been changed, allow for it in the price. Diesels with a chain aren't immune from problems; chain tensioners can wear, causing noise at start-up and sometimes allowing the chain to jump a tooth.
>> Leather trim in older versions can be looking shabby unless well fed with a quality conditioner. Damage in the cargo area is a sign of a hard life and probably a Pajero to avoid.