Back in the 1990s, you could sometimes see Shahrukh Khan stepping out of a Pajero. And how often have you seen a convoy of vehicles with beacons and sirens pass, with a Pajero with dark tinted glass at the centre? No doubt ferrying a humble, elected leader on his way to alleviate poverty in India. A lot of SUVs have passed under the flyover since then, but the Pajero still chugs along. The desirability factor of the legendary Mitsubishi may have dimmed, though it still basks in its past glory. But now, it looks as if the Toyota Fortuner is playing the role that the Pajero played back then. White Fortuners, dark, tinted windows, et al! Okay, it’s another thing that film stars and politicians have moved on to Range Rovers and Audi Q7s, still there’s this wannabe aura surrounding both these SUVs. So what happens when they meet?
Quick, which is the older one of the two? Heh, heh. The Pajero design harks to an age when designers had not many tools to work with, other than an old, well-used foot-rule. Still, by giving it that dual paint combination, the Pajero stands apart from the rest of the SUV crowd. I particularly like the air intake on the bonnet for the intercooler, with that white tip. Despite the colour of the skin, the age of the Pajero shows through. The Fortuner, on the other hand, is about five years old (already!) and has been through a facelift before coming to our shores. So it looks fresh and new age. What I especially like is its chin-up, hopped-up stance that makes it look like the younger, rough-and-tough brother of the Land Cruiser – it’s purposeful and screams S.U.V in large letters. What however is boring are the metallic paint schemes, they are so typically Toyota. Some solid shades will make the Fortuner look more bold and aggressive.
MITSUBISHI PAJERO: 2 out of 5
TOYOTA FORTUNER: 4 out of 5 INSIDE
Let alone this almost two-decade old SUV, even new Mitsubishi insides look as if the firm hasn’t hired a new interior designer since the 1980s. So if you are a retro lover like me, you’d probably like the nostalgia-inducing dashboard of the Pajero. All the elements are there, and I especially like the popped-up instruments at the top of the dash – it makes me feel adventurous, though all I’d be doing is going out to buy milk (take the north-east road past the MTNL archaeological excavation, turn south-west at the urinal and at 14 ft above MSL... bingo, you’re there). The Pajero has an unfussy comfort thing about it, and it could be because I’m getting older. The Fortuner, on the other hand, is déjà vu of a different kind. If you have spent quality time with the Innova, then the Fortuner insides will be all familiar to you. Right down to the quality of plastics, the design and layout, the buttons and controls... everything. When you’re paying vastly more than the Innova, you could do with a bit more special treatment, right? That apart, the seats are supportive and you could do hundreds of kilometres daily in comfort. To offset the slightly cramped rear room, the rear seats can be slid backward. And the Toyota’s beige insides are quite cheerful compared to the Mitsu’s grey-black.
MITSUBISHI PAJERO: 2 out of 5
TOYOTA FORTUNER: 3 out of 5 MOTIVE POWER
Generations separate the two engines, yet... The Fortuner’s 3.0-litre oil burner with 168 bhp at merely 3600 rpm and 35 kgm of torque between 1400 and 3400 rpm out-outputs the Pajero’s 2835cc 118 bhp/29.8 kgm turbodiesel. Both come with five-speed manual gearboxes, though the upcoming automatic in the Fortuner will be warmly welcomed. The Toyota engine’s strength is the way it moves this big SUV – making you forget that it’s near two-tonnes. It’s the reason why the Fortuner can keep up with other big sedans on the highway despite its dimensions and tall structure – it’s quick and fast for an SUV. The engine is noisy and industrial, while the gearing is good across the board. The Pajero’s veteran engine is relaxed and has the go – despite the Pajero weighing almost 200 kg more than the Fortuner! Going fast or quick is not in the engine’s resume, but what it does is cruise comfortably at 110 kph and swallows miles continuously. Though the Mitsubishi motor is refined as compared to the Fortuner, horsepower simply wins the game.
MITSUBISHI PAJERO: 3 out of 5 stars
TOYOTA FORTUNER: 4 out of 5 stars DYNAMICS
This is where the Pajero transforms from being just another SUV to attain classic status. Age has not dimmed the Pajero’s capabilities, be it ride, handling or offroad ability. The underpinnings of the Mitsubishi make you feel invincible when confronted with any terrain. On the rough stuff, it’s as surefooted as the proverbial mountain goat – and you can almost sense its eagerness to turn off the highway and go offroading. Usually, SUVs that are built for offroad applications turn out to be a handful on tarmac and vice versa, but the Pajero has the unique ability to be at home on both surfaces. It rides very well and is forgiving towards the rear passengers. And is competent while cornering as well – it’s only the steering feel that falls short in this package. The steering setup is brilliant if you are making your way through slush, but on tarmac it’s a bit lifeless. But seriously, this is a minor quibble. Compared to the Mitsu, the Fortuner feels more heavy, despite it being lighter – but that’s because the way the Pajero behaves, and is not a reflection on the Toyota. The Fortuner too is equally competent on both off- and on-road when it comes to handling. It also can take the rough with the smooth very well. When confronted with curves, the Fortuner stays planted though it has a tendency to roll a bit. The permanent four-wheel drive helps it stay on track, but I would stick to my limits on mountain roads with the Fortuner, especially if my rear passengers would rather keep their breakfast inside. Its ride quality is surprisingly not as good as the Pajero’s, and far away from the capabilities of its sibling, the Innova. But the steering feel, though heavy, is direct compared to the Mitsu.
MITSUBISHI PAJERO: 4 out of 5
TOYOTA FORTUNER: 3 out of 5 VERDICT
You know, I could have started the story with the verdict, because – simply because – the Pajero is a staggering two-odd lakh rupees more expensive than the Fortuner. If the two were priced neck to neck, then the battle that unfolded over the last 1,000-odd words would have made sense. But with such a vast difference in price, the Fortuner – which has been winning in most of the above categories anyway – is a shoo-in. Before starting on the story, I didn’t check the prices of the vehicles, assuming both to be in the same range. But the Pajero tag frankly turned out to be a shocker. It retails in Mumbai at Rs 21,46,000, while the Fortuner (which I had cribbed in my earlier road test as being a bit expensive!) at Rs 19,32,000 seems positive value-for-money. Besides being the newer car here, the Fortuner is also powerful, well-appointed, looks great and is almost as capable. Besides its more fuel efficient too – it gives 11 kpl overall, compared to the Pajero’s 9 kpl. Though the Fortuner is the clear winner over here, there’s something about the Pajero that’s irresistible. If Mitsubishi could bring its price down to some realistic levels like within Rs 17 lakh, then we would see more of them on our roads – thankfully, with no politicians in them.