Mitsubishi’s revolutionary Pajero turns 20! No, not the original NA Pajero, but the monocoque construction and fully independent suspension NM Pajero that was launched back in 2000.
Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Mitsubishi launched the NM Pajero in Australia?! Yep, Mitsubishi’s revolutionary Pajero with monocoque body structure and fully independent suspension turns 20 this year – it was way back in 2000 when a bunch of Aussie motoring journos flew into Central Australia to sample what was then a 4×4 wagon that was nothing short of revolutionary.
Even more surprising is that the basic NM Pajero monocoque platform is still around 20 years later, now in NX guise, although with the vehicle no longer on sale in its Japanese home market, it might not be around for much longer.
Absolutely! The NM Pajero was the first 4×4 wagon in its class with monocoque construction and a fully independent suspension system. Despite this car-like construction, Mitsubishi was keen to prove the Pajero had lost none of its off-road capability, hence a launch drive for the NM Pajero that took place in the Aussie outback, with what started as a dusty drive to the Lambert Centre of Australia and then a run up the Old Ghan railway route… before the party was interrupted by a torrential downpour. This unseasonal weather event presented drivers with various interesting challenges, not the least of which was an impassable Finke River.
As is often the case, the poor weather turned what would probably have been a forgettable launch drive into an outback adventure, with vehicles slewing sideways across sloppy and chopped-up outback tracks and forging through bog holes that seemed to go on forever. As the sun dropped below the horizon, drivers would have to pull up several times just to clean the headlights to see where they were going.
While the weather almost turned the Aussie launch into a disaster, the new NM Pajero proved more than a match for the slippery and trying conditions. In fact, the Pajero almost revelled in these conditions, providing a feeling of stability and control that could not be matched by any other 4×4 wagon of the day. From memory, all of the vehicles on the launch drive eventually came through the ordeal unscathed, despite having to backtrack for several hundred kilometres, eventually arriving safely at the planned overnight stop in the wee hours… most of the petrol V6 models having to refuel out of a jerry can on the way, while the 2.8TDs made it on the smell of an oily rag.
In the beginning
The NM Pajero had two engine options at launch and both of these were carryovers from the previous-generation separate-chassis NL Pajero: a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine and a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine. The oiler only came with a five-speed manual gearbox while the petrol version was also available with a five-speed auto (with a manual-shift ‘Sport Mode’), and all variants featured Mitsubishi’s excellent selectable Super Select full-time 4×4 system.
One of the main advantages of the Pajero’s new monocoque structure and fully independent suspension was its car-like on-road ride and handling, which set it well apart from competitors such as the separate chassis, IFS/live-rear axle Toyota Prado and Holden Jackaroo. It was also substantially bigger inside than its predecessor, and in fact was a match in this department for larger 4x4s of the day including the Nissan GU Patrol and Toyota 100 Series LandCruiser.
As my granddad used to say, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”, and so it was with the monocoque Pajero; there were those who always doubted the Pajero’s off-road capability and its strength simply because it didn’t have a “tough” separate chassis, and most could not be convinced otherwise. But Mitsubishi proved these doubters wrong time and time again, by conducting a number of extreme durability tests over the years, and entering the Pajero into some of the world’s toughest off-road races. In fact, the Pajero won the Dakar Rally five times in a row – from 2001 to 2005 – cementing its reputation as one of the great off-road racing 4x4s, while on local soil, Aussie legend Geoff Pickering took out the 2001 Class 7 of the Australian Off-Road Racing Championship in an NM Pajero, ending Nissan’s 16-year domination of the stock standard category.
Like all vehicles that last in the market for a long time, the monocoque Pajero has undergone several upgrades over the years. The old 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine was retired in 2002, and replaced by a new electronically controlled direct injection 3.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine. Importantly, this engine could be mated to the five-speed auto, which proved to be the preference for many buyers. Like the Pajero itself, this engine has proved to have impressive longevity, and in upgraded form it is still in use today in the current NX Pajero.
The Pajero scored a larger capacity 3.8-litre V6 petrol engine in 2003 and then Mitsubishi introduced electronic traction control (ETC) to the range in 2004. The Pajero had this technology before any of its direct competitors, including the Toyota Prado, and it improved off-road capability markedly.
One of the biggest updates came in 2006 when Mitsubishi updated the Pajero’s monocoque structure with the introduction of the NS variant. This model had a revised exterior design and new interior styling, as well as new SRS airbag tech and improved stability and traction control systems, among various other changes. The 3.2L diesel engine also scored common-rail technology and a DPF at this time.
The current NX Pajero was launched in 2015 and while this model has now been discontinued in Japan (in 2019), the Pajero is still on sale in Australia, as well as Africa and the Middle east.
The revolutionary Pajero turns 20, but how much longer has this long-standing 4×4 wagon got? Despite news to the contrary, the Pajero still has some life in it. When asked, Mitsubishi Australia’s Head of Corporate Communications, Karl Gehling said, “I can’t give you an exact date… but I can definitely tell you Pajero will continue for the short-term.” But with dwindling sales that doesn’t sound too promising.
Prior to the arrival of the NM Pajero in 2000, all Pajeros had a separate chassis construction with independent front suspension and a live-axle rear with coil springs. The original NA Pajero was launched in Australia in January 1983, the same month that it debuted in the Dakar Rally, a race that it won on its third attempt in 1985. There were short- and long-wheelase variants. The second-generation NH Pajero was launched in 1991 and in NL guise this was the immediate predecessor to the monocoque, independent suspension MN Pajero featured in this story.