The new Pajero Sport is the latest addition to the company’s SUV portfolio, and the company has dug deep to raise the bar higher than before with this latest iteration. Testament to this is the inclusion of a diesel engine and a proper four-wheel-drive system, which gives it a leg up on the Outlander.
But the Pajero Sport has two very strong rivals to contend with; the Toyota Fortuner and the Ford Endeavour. The former has a lot going for it and is also a few lakhs cheaper, making it a very tempting option. The Endeavour also has plenty of fight left in it to give the Pajero Sport a hard time. So does it have what it takes to see off the tough competition?
Design & engineering
The Endeavour is the oldest SUV here and it looks too. Ford had given it a facelift to soften its boxy looks, with winged headlights, a new bonnet and a different front bumper, but even that update was some years back. That said, it’s still got loads of road presence, which is no doubt helped by its sheer length.
But even with its luxury liner length, the Endeavour can’t quite match the Fortuner’s imposing stance. The headlamps and chrome grille that were restyled earlier this year make it look like a mini-Land Cruiser, while the sharply raked C pillars give it a distinctive glasshouse.
The Pajero Sport has a nose that looks like it’s been grafted on from the Pajero Evo rally car, and it gets its share of attention, but the rest of the body has a very sophisticated and understated air to it. Viewed in profile, though, the Sport’s stubby bonnet and large cabin don’t look cohesive. The large wheel-to-wheelarch clearance gives the impression that the Sport is hoisted on stilts.
The three SUVs come with serious off-road hardware, including low-range transfer cases and lockable central differentials. But where the Fortuner runs a full-time four-wheel-drive system, the Sport and Endeavour give you the more fuel-economy-friendly option of switching to just rear-wheel drive.
Front ventilated disc brakes and rear drums can be found on all three, as can ABS and EBD. The Fortuner also comes with Vehicle Stability Control, which uses the braking system to keep the vehicle on the desired path. However, the Endeavour is the only SUV to offer a pair of side airbags in addition to the dual front airbags that are standard on this trio.
Time hasn’t got the better of the Endeavour’s cabin, which still looks quite contemporary. It’s well thought-out too, with lots of cubbyholes and a large glovebox. Keeping things up to date is the large touchscreen for the entertainment system and reversing camera, which takes pride of place on the neat dashboard. It may not be the best system around, but it can be specified with a satellite navigation system and there is also a roof-mounted LCD screen for middle and last row passengers to watch DVD movies on. What you will miss, though, is steering-mounted audio controls and automatic climate control. Furthermore, the absence of seat height adjustment could make it difficult for shorter drivers to see past the vast bonnet, as the Endeavour seats you quite a bit lower than the other two SUVs.
In that light, the Fortuner’s cabin gets its basics right. The supportive, powered seats are easy to adjust, you get a good view out, and the illuminated ‘Optitron’ dials are always easy to read. As part of its recent update, the Fortuner also received a revised dashboard and it’s all the better for it. You also get plenty of goodies to keep you pampered, among which is the new centrally mounted touchscreen. In terms of overall fit and finish, the Fortuner is the best here.
Save for some inconsistency in panel fit, there’s not much to complain about with the Pajero Sport’s cabin either. The dashboard also looks very car-like, but unlike the Toyota and Ford, the Mitsubishi makes do without a screen-based entertainment system (and hence no reversing camera). You do however get a useful information readout on the centre console that displays elevation, pressure, temperature, a compass and a very accurate real-time fuel economy meter.
The Fortuner makes the strongest case for itself as a comfortable seven-seater. Its middle row is wide enough to seat three, legroom is good and the seat also offers decent thigh support. Like on the Fortuner, you can slide the Pajero’s middle row back to increase the legroom. Sadly, the cabin’s insufficient width makes sitting three abreast a squeeze, and headroom isn’t all that great either.
The combination of a high floor and low seat seriously marks down the Endeavour on middle row comfort. It gets worse in the third row. Access is decent but with the seats literally on the floor, the seating position is awkward and suitable for kids, at best.
The Pajero has the better third row, but only marginally so. In comparison, two adults can sit in acceptable comfort in the Fortuner’s last row, but small windows do make it feel rather claustrophobic.
With all seats up, the Toyota has the most boot space, though all three models give you the option to increase luggage capacity by folding the last and middle rows. You can also remove the Endeavour’s last row altogether for added flexibility.
Engine, gearbox & performance
The 4x4 Endeavour is only available with a five-speed automatic gearbox, as opposed to the five-speed manual transmissions its rivals come with. The Ford’s torque-converter unit may not be cutting-edge, but it works well with the Endeavour’s 156bhp 3.0-litre direct-injection turbo-diesel engine. The engine, for its part, feels quite free-revving, and with 38.7kgm of torque, it’s got loads of pulling power too.
In terms of specifications, the Fortuner’s engine is similar to the Endeavour’s. It’s a 3.0-litre, common-rail, direct-injection, variable-geometry-turbo diesel that uses DOHC for its four-valves-per-cylinder arrangement. Its power output is marginally higher at 168bhp, but it’s this engine’s incredibly linear power delivery that sets it apart here. There’s also a broad spread of torque, credit for which goes to the engine’s ability to churn out its 35kgm from an easily accessible 1400rpm. The gearbox does have long throws, but it is quite precise and is allied to a light clutch.
Drive the Pajero Sport after a stint in the Fortuner and you can’t escape the 2.5-litre turbo-diesel’s slight lag under the 1800rpm mark, which is most evident in slow-moving traffic. Beyond 2000rpm however the Pajero Sport’s engine comes alive and delivers considerable punch right up to 4500rpm. It sprints to 100kph from a standstill in 12.45 seconds, which is a whisker quicker than the Fortuner. And if you press on to 140kph, the gap widens; the Pajero arriving in 25.06 seconds which is more than a second ahead of the Toyota. The Endeavour, while it can comfortably hold three-digit speeds, is distinctly slower than the other two, the automatic gearbox blunting performance to some extent.
The Pajero engine’s strength is in its mid-range. Its cruising ability is really good, though the engine sounds a bit louder than the Fortuner’s at similar speeds.
Delivering 9.5kpl in the city and 13kpl on the highway, the Pajero Sport stretches each litre of diesel a vital few metres more than the Fortuner. As expected, the Endeavour with its efficiency-sapping auto ’box is the thirstiest SUV here, delivering 7kpl in the city and 10.6kpl on the highway.
All three SUVs come with large enough fuel tanks, but it’s the Fortuner’s 80-litre tank that offers most peace of mind while driving off the beaten track where fuel stations are few and far between.
Ride & handling
Smooth surfaces and low speeds bring out the best in the Endeavour’s suspension, and it feels nice and pliant. Increase the pace, though, and the Ford’s ride quality will disappoint. There’s lots of vertical movement at the front, and the constant bobbing and pitching is enough to make you feel you are captaining a boat.
Likewise, there’s a certain lumpiness to the Fortuner’s ride and, on rough surfaces like Mumbai streets, the Toyota feels quite bumpy; though you don’t get tossed around like you would in the Endeavour. It’s at higher speeds that the Toyota feels markedly better than the Ford, with the suspension and big tyres absorbing just about everything.
But if the Fortuner is good at highway speeds, the Pajero Sport is better still. Straight-line stability is really good, road noise is well contained and the suspension lets little filter through to the cabin. The Pajero also feels more solidly put together than either the Toyota or the Ford, a trait which comes shining through on poor surfaces. It feels the most rigid and doesn’t judder and shake as much as its rivals.
The Pajero Sport’s steering is well weighted (if a tad heavy at parking speeds) and it’s quite direct too. Body control is not bad considering its towering height, and the brakes do a good job of shedding speed too.
While the Fortuner’s recently-upgraded larger (and thicker) front discs have improved things, the pedal still feels a bit mushy and, under heavy braking, doesn’t inspire as much confidence as the Pajero. The Fortuner has good grip, especially in four-wheel-drive guise, but it rolls more in corners and the steering too doesn’t feel as precise as in the Pajero, which is clearly the most dynamically accomplished vehicle in this trio.
On the rough stuff, the Endeavour acquits itself with electric 4WD controls, while the other two come with separate levers for their low-range ratios. The Pajero and Fortuner, with their manual transmissions, feel more at home in the wild, but the Pajero’s turbo lag does get in the way of effortless progress on slushy inclines.
Priced at Rs 20.85 lakh, the Endeavour is the cheapest SUV here and offers good value considering it comes with an automatic transmission. Also in the Endeavour’s favour is a strong engine and decent cabin. However, its bumpy ride and awkward middle and last row seating seriously mark the big Ford down on comfort. And it’s beginning to look a bit dated too.
The Pajero Sport, on the other hand, looks contemporary both inside and out and is also quite comfortable. It’s got the best ride, it’s reasonably fun to drive, and it’s quite adept off road too. However, despite having so much going for it, the Pajero Sport isn’t our winner. It’s a good SUV, no doubt, but it’s just not good enough to justify the hefty Rs 24.43 lakh price tag. Things could change when Mitsubishi starts assembling the Sport in India though.
But, ‘till that time, the Fortuner easily remains our pick of this lot. It looks great, comes with a powerful, flexible engine and offers decent enough dynamics. Factor in its lengthy features list, spacious cabin and ability to transport seven passengers in genuine comfort, and you can understand why the Fortuner is the king of the SUV hill today.