In 2020, thanks to COVID-19, Australians spent more time at home than ever before and because of that, sales of SUVs and, off-road four-wheel drives pushed higher than ever before. We could no longer travel overseas, so we decided to explore our own backyard. Because of this, we decided to find out which is the best mid-$50k off-road SUV: the 2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS or the 2021 Toyota Fortuner GX?

2021 Toyota Fortuner 2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

Both the Pajero Sport and Fortuner are based on high-selling utes – the Mitsubishi Triton and Toyota HiLux, respectively. They’re both made in Thailand for Australian consumption, they both use turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engines and they both offer seven seats – though the entry-level Pajero Sport is equipped with five, if you only need five seats. Let’s see which one will climb to the top and come out best for the adventure seeking Aussie.

Mitsubishi, true to form, kills Toyota for value:

Both cars are priced almost identically at just under $54,000 drive away – the Pajero Sport GLS is $53,740 and the Fortuner is $53,647 (in NSW) – and metallic paint adds $740 to the Mitsubishi and $710 to the Fortuner. Yet despite mid-$50k pricing, the GX is the entry-level Fortuner – the GLS is the middle of the Pajero Sport range.

With our mid-$50,000 pricing target in mind, the 2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS is the one to pick for value for money. Equipment shared between cars includes automatic LED lighting, 8-inch touchscreens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, six-speaker sound systems, comprehensive trip computers, electric windows and mirrors with electric folding functionality, rear differential locks, adjustable air-conditioning for rear occupants and a smattering of active safety features including automatic emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control and a reversing camera with rear parking sensors.

The Fortuner adds more safety kit to the Pajero Sport, including pedestrian and cyclist detection for the AEB system, lane departure warning with active steering, auto high beam and speed sign recognition.

But the 2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport adds automatic wipers, dual-zone climate control, integrated satellite navigation, digital radio, a power tailgate, a leather steering wheel, an electric handbrake, rear privacy glass, an auto-dimming rear mirror, keyless entry and push-button start, auto-folding mirrors, larger 18-inch wheels, a 220V power outlet in the middle row, LED front foglights and an extra front USB-A port over the Fortuner.

Those wanting more from the Pajero Sport GLS without jumping to the top-spec Exceed can add the $2,250 Deluxe Pack, which adds leather upholstery, powered front seats and a 360-degree parking camera – doing so would give the Pajero Sport comfortably more equipment than even the top-spec Fortuner Crusade while costing $10,500 less. Fortuner GX buyers can add integrated navigation and digital radio for $1,000 – both of which are already standard on the Pajero Sport GLS – which could be useful if venturing where phone reception is non-existent.

It’s this fully featured equipment list that makes the Pajero Sport GLS far better value for money than the rather basic Fortuner GX. The Fortuner has more safety tech, but the Pajero Sport makes up for it with features that really should be standard on the Fortuner, including keyless entry and start, automatic wipers, climate control and a leather steering wheel. The first round goes to the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport then, with its excellent value proposition.

A recent engine upgrade to the Fortuner brings results:

Both the Pajero Sport and Fortuner ranges use four-cylinder turbo-diesel engines – the Mitsubishi’s is a 2.4-litre and the Fortuner’s is slightly larger at 2.8-litres – and both engines are also used in their ute cousins as well. Both are matched to four-wheel drive systems and automatic transmissions – the Mitsubishi’s is an eight-speed, while the Toyota’s is a six-speed.

Despite weighing 70kg more at 2,160kg, the Fortuner feels the sprightlier pair out of these two cars, and this is because it produces more power and torque – 150kW to the Mitsubishi’s 133kW, and a strong 500Nm versus 430Nm of torque.

Because of this extra power, the Fortuner takes less time to get up to speed, and it also has the quieter engine of the pair thanks to a recent engine upgrade that also spread to the HiLux and Land Cruiser Prado. The Mitsubishi, by comparison, feels quite a lot slower and it can feel like forever in getting up to speed – that’s despite featuring two more gears and a tighter ratio spread than the Toyota.

Claimed fuel consumption is very similar between both cars – the Mitsubishi claims 8.0L/100km and the Toyota just 0.4L less at 7.6L/100km and in the real world, we achieved 10.8L/100km in the Mitsubishi, and 10.5L/100km in the Toyota. The Toyota, thanks to its slightly lesser consumption and its larger 80L fuel tank (the Pajero Sport has a slightly smaller 68L unit), will offer more range, which is important for those planning a trans-Australia crossing. Importantly too, both can tow 3,100kg, making caravan towing a real possibility if needed. With that, the Toyota takes the second round with its superior powertrain.

The Fortuner is nimbler on- and off-road:

Despite weighing 80kg more, the Fortuner is the nimbler car behind the wheel, and we think that’s down to the Mitsubishi’s extremely heavy steering that’s a workout in itself. The Fortuner’s lighter rack is much easier to use in around town driving, while offering almost as much feel at higher speeds as the Mitsubishi. The Fortuner’s ride quality is better than the Pajero Sport too – it’s more controlled and although the Pajero Sport has less road noise, we think the Fortuner is the more comfortable car to drive.

Both the Fortuner and Pajero Sport are great off the beaten track with low-range gearing, rear differential locks, hill descent control and ample ground clearance – the Fortuner’s 216mm clearance is just shaded by the Pajero Sport’s 218mm clearance. The Pajero Sport GLS and top-spec Exceed also have Mitsubishi’s ‘Super Select II’ four-wheel drive system, which allows drivers to select the type of terrain they’re driving on – gravel, snow/ mud or rock – and the car changes its electronics to deal with the change in terrain.

The Fortuner’s visibility is better than the Pajero Sport though, with larger windows allowing more light into the cabin than the Mitsubishi – particularly in the rear rows of seating.

The Pajero Sport’s cabin is clearly more comfortable:

But while the Fortuner impresses more behind the wheel, the Pajero Sport’s cabin is the higher quality and more modern of the pair. It’s far less basic than the entry-level Fortuner’s, which has a huge array of blank buttons and even manual air-conditioning controls versus the Pajero Sport’s dual-zone climate control and more cohesive switchgear.

Centre of both cabins are 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment systems with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring – the Mitsubishi also features inbuilt satellite navigation and digital radio, which you can option for a further $1,000 on the Fortuner GX. The Toyota’s system is the same software that’s used in the rest of the range, and it’s more intuitive and easier to use than the system in the Mitsubishi, which lacks cohesion, though its standard navigation will help when you’re driving out of phone reception for Google Maps navigation.

The quality of both cabins isn’t anything to write home about, though they’re well built and feature no rattles or quality concerns. Both have hard plastic surrounding the cabin, though the use of faux leather trim on areas such as the centre console of the Pajero Sport does up perceived material quality slightly.

They’re both practical and hard-wearing cabins with plenty of storage solutions – including large gloveboxes and door bins, though the Pajero Sport’s huge centre console does offer more in the way of armrest storage and covered storage as well. It’s this centre console bridge that makes the Pajero Sport’s cabin feel more special than the Fortuner’s taken-from-the-HiLux dashboard.

In Australia, the 2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS and up, as well as the whole Fortuner range are equipped with seven seats as standard, which means that the kids and their friends can come along for the holiday as well. The third row in both cars aren’t exactly huge for my six-foot frame, though kids will likely be fine and the second row in both cars is large and comfortable. Both cars feature vents for all rows of seats, and fan speed controls for rear passengers as well – but the Mitsubishi is the only one of the two to include a 220V AC rear household socket and a rear USB-A charging port, which is important for keeping kids’ devices charged.

Unlike the Fortuner, the Pajero Sport’s third row of seats folds into the floor – the Toyota’s folds up against the sides of the boot – and that does make it easier to fold the seats, though there is less room in the Mitsubishi with the seats folded. With the third rows in place, the Fortuner holds 200-litres of space versus the Mitsubishi’s 131L (that’s thanks to a higher boot floor) and with the third row folded, the Toyota holds 716-litres and the Mitsubishi holds 502L, though folding the second row in the Toyota opens up 1,080L and 1,488L in the Mitsubishi.  

Mitsubishi’s ten-year warranty shines:

Both the Pajero Sport and Fortuner come with unlimited distance warranties and capped price servicing for the duration of said warranties – it’s just that the Toyota’s is only for five years, while Mitsubishi’s is for a massive ten years. The Toyota offers no roadside assistance, while the Mitsubishi gets it for a year, which is topped up a further 12 months for the next three years of dealer servicing.

The Pajero Sport is also much more convenient to service than the Fortuner with longer 15,000km intervals and it only needs to be serviced once yearly (whichever comes first) – the Toyota has shorter 10,000km intervals and must be serviced twice a year. Because of this, the Fortuner costs $3,558 to service over five years/100,000km – the Pajero just $2,495 over the same time period. Another win for the Mitsubishi in the final round.

Which four-wheel drive should you buy?

Admittedly, this is a closer comparison than we were expecting, with the 2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS battling a close fight with the 2021 Toyota Fortuner GX. The Mitsubishi is undoubtedly the more polished product out of these two Japanese four-wheel drives with much more showroom appeal than its competitor. But out on the road, the Fortuner is the more satisfying car to drive thanks to its higher outputs, lighter steering and more comfortable ride quality.

2021 Toyota Fortuner 2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

Ultimately, the Pajero Sport’s value equation is what gets it the win in this comparison. Not only does it include significantly more standard equipment than the Toyota – well, even more than the top-spec Fortuner Crusade! – but its ten-year warranty is double that of the Toyota, it only needs to be serviced once yearly and over a five-year period, it costs over $1,000 less to service than the Fortuner. We think both are reasonable offerings, but the 2021 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is the one that deserves to join you on your trip around our wonderful country.

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