In the centenary year of Man's first powered flight,we take some aviation lessons.In a Pajero 2.8 diesel.
It was six in the morning, yet it was pitch dark. I could barely make out the silhouette of the car against the dark Yeoor hills that border my parking lot.The previous night I had brought home a dark blue Pajero 2.8, yes, an example of the good old intercooled and turbocharged Pajeros that recently got reincarnated at the Chennai car plant of HM-Mitsubishi. I was quite tired and I was in no mood to appreciate or loathe the car that had taken me home – really, on such days it could be a Maruti 800 or a Maybach and my numb nerve endings would still be yearning for a piece of bed and nothing else. But that was some six hours of sound sleep ago. My faithful three year old Nokia 5110 had woken me up in the wee hours, I had quietly made some hot coffee, had tip-toed through a shower and got out of home without disturbing the wife and kids. I was all set for a day of road testing.
The dark half
I couldn't make out much of the car, but the chrome door handles yelled out the decade that had passed since the Pajero first entered this world. The turn of the key illuminated a thousand lights on the dashboard – enough for motoring scribes from the early nineties to have labelled it a Xmas tree. Soon I was rolling, listening to some weird Indi-pop leftover music being played by some night watchman at some FM station. Fresh as I was, I couldn't help but wonder what on earth I was trying to do. I had already tested the brand new Pajero with the monocoque hull and hunk-like bodywork, the stylish Mercedes M class, and the corner carver of a BMW X5. Only as recently as last month, I had spent a memorable day blasting a Chevrolet Forester through some fantastic terrain... This one is a dead car man, one too old, being built and sold here only because HM had to cough up less royalties and because they still think the D-segment buyer would want the ghost of a Pajero he dreamt of while working hard through the last ten-odd years. And I take the bait and decide to test the car...I always knew motoring scribes in India were a starved lot but this is a sad affair... dead car, ghost of a car!
The Pajero seem quite dismissive of my mood though. She was cruising at a steady, what, 120 kph? I was already in overdrive. I crested one neon lit flyover after another and as I exited one, I couldn't help but notice the backlit speedo needle flirting with 150 kph. Was that needle glowing a bit too much? Good, even the cops were sleeping. So this old lady that weighs something on the wrong side of 1.5 tonnes can do decent speeds, eh? How about going around corners, would she be a match for the new Pajero? It was eerie, and almost as if the Pajero read my thoughts, a fast left hander appeared out of nowhere and I had just enough time to shed some speed off the projectile that I was strapped into. Even then I had to apex the corner at 130 kph and heck, some insane voice talked me into taking my foot off the accelerator pedal – a move that could mean lift-off oversteer (even in a proper car) and worse, a rollover that invariably follows exaggerated corrections in most tall SUVs. Instead, the Pajero went around the corner with just a hint of body roll and the diesel drone not dropping a note. Brilliant, and I had not even shifted to the full time four-wheel drive mode. Was the Pajero trying to tell me something? Was she hinting at how comparable her handling is to the modern namesake? Wait a minute, ghosts don't talk, cars don't communicate. If they could, they would have ruled the world, right? Most cars today have more computing power than most accountants, who do rule the world today. I was about to begin some serious testing and there was no room for prejudices induced by voices from the past.
To begin with, performance numbers on concrete and tarmac, the surfaces on which expensive SUVs spend most of their life. The Pajero features an indirect injection engine, which is fast becoming an extinct species in the world of oil burners. But the pre-combustion cycle ensures that the 2835 CC four cylinder unit is quieter than the DI unit powering the new Pajero – at idle, and when revved hard. This motor is good enough for 118 bhp at 4000 rpm and 29.8 kgm of torque at 2000 rpm – both figures cannot be even compared to the new Pajero's 3200 CC unit, which produces a rocking 158 bhp and 38.1 kgm of torque. Let's get back to the car on test. Launch it in a spirited manner (in rear wheel drive mode) and you will get a 60 kph run in 6.42 seconds, while the speedo would eventually touch 100 kph in 16.85 seconds. While the first figure is all right, the latter puts the acceleration of this Pajero in the same league as, say, a Fiat Palio Diesel. A couple of passing speed tests got us to the cold conclusion, which I had reached long before the drive started, that if your idea of driving involves hard launches, spirited overtaking and stratospheric speeds, you need to buy any D-segment car instead, saving some money in the bargain. Or else spend some more money and buy the new Pajero – any D-segmenter will be given a run for its money.
I told you before, this was wasting precious testing time and nothing more. Suddenly, again as if the Pajero heard me, I ran out of road, and soon I was hurtling into our off-road test track. Yes, the same place where many a road test Jeep and Gypsy had met their soulmate – dirt, and lots of it. The Pajero 2.8 comes with 15-inch steel wheels in place of the 16-inch jobs common to most imports. The smaller wheels affect the stance somewhat and reduce the ground clearance several notches. And that means you have to be wary of hidden rocks as you blast across the loose stuff.
Oh boy did we have a blast. I drove the Pajero in two wheel drive mode and enjoyed the oversteer-on-demand handling, typical of big hearted, torquey rear-wheel drivers. It was sheer pleasure bringing the car back on track using jabs of opposite lock – after losing its tail completely and travelling sideways for good amounts of time.
The Pajero features a part-time four wheel drive system, with a Super Select 4WD unit offering four traction modes. 'And that system is not all that different from what the more expensive new Pajero sports,' intervened the mysterious voice. The part-time 4WD system is easy to use – just stop to change over from rear wheel drive to 4WD and back, while the Super Select unit has an electronically controlled transfer case that allows the driver to shift on the move. But the toast of the package comes in the form of lockable differentials and a torque sensing, limited slip differential that separates the Pajero from wannabe 4x4s. With the centre differential locked and the selector in 4LLc set up, we inched our way up a 40 degree slope – a gravity defying stunt we never attempted with either the new Pajero or the M-Class.
'See,' it was that voice again, 'you never took those modern day cheese-cake SUVs rough roading because you were worried about cosmetic damage, right?' Not exactly true, but sure we were quite worried about those Rs 35 lakh-plus mammoths going rough roading, and here we were throwing this Pajero around with utter disdain. Our lensman saw my confidence with the machine and got adventurous. 'Can't we aviate this thing?' Of course we could. The Pajero was launched into mid-air – first cautiously, then at proper endurance rally speeds, and the machine responded brilliantly. I was flying all right, but a sinking feeling troubled me deep inside. The Pajero was winning the day and the sceptic in me was losing it, and losing it badly.
Did someone talk about levitation? Telekinesis of the Stephen King's Carrie variety? I was feeling pretty defeated – it was like some mysterious force was behind the Pajero through the length of this test. Every time I was about to dismiss it off as 'old tech metal mass' the Pajero seem to correct me – 'old but still damn good technology in a no-nonsense package' it said. And it kept on telling me that looks may lie, but so will mere acceleration numbers. In retrospect, you buy an SUV because it is capable of a few things that normal cars cannot do. Then there is no point buying SUVs you are scared of scratching or denting, right? Right, right, right.
Four past midnight
It was late in the night when I brought the Pajero home. After I had thrown in the towel, the Pajero seemed to like me too, just like King's Christine liked Arnie Cunningham. 92.5 FM played Money for Nothing followed by Tunnel of Love and I was already a believer. My hurt ego was being soothed by an air-con that worked like a beautiful slave. It took a day and a bit of coaxing that inner voice, but I think I survived the test pretty well and will recommend a buy to anyone who likes to have a serious partner of a car. You may take time coming to the decision, but the Pajero has enough life left in it to grow on you. As King would say, Everything is Eventual.
Ever compared a coconut to a car? Try this. The old, new Pajero 2.8, which looks tough as a coconut shell on the outside, softly succumbs to each one of your demands when you are inside the car – a term perhaps too mild for a sinewy body like that. For instance, the gears at first glance appeared hard to operate, but once in rhythm, they feel as smooth as the cliched hot knife through butter. The Pajero steering was built to obey your commands. You just have to hint at a direction and before you know this SUV has made its decision.
For once, you don't mind all the noise this car makes -- owe it to the turbocharger. A car this big in size could only give you driving thrills with intensifying noise levels. So, with or without a car stereo, the Pajero 2.8 has enough music within to keep you entertained. And the groomed functions inside the car makes the drive only more pleasurable.
Last but not the least, the biggest thrill I got was the fact that the colossal Pajero didn't make me feel like David sitting in the lap of a Goliath. In other words, one does not feel dwarfed by this giant-looking SUV. So, while shifting your house next, don't think of trucks to transport luggage. Think Pajero instead – a mod-ish, trendy truck and at that, one you could actually own.