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4 x 4 shootout
Mitsubishi Pajero 3,2 diesel
Mercedes-Benz M-Class 3,5 V6
Grand Cherokee Hemi 5,7 V8

Broadcast date : 26th March 2006

The Krugersdorp Game Reserve organized a day trip with a difference for Car Torque recently. Hendrik and the crew arrived to find that the Sandown Motors group had assembled a diverse range of off-roaders for us to sample.

Sandown Motors draws from the Mitsubishi, Mercedes-Benz and Jeep line-ups to keep its off-road clientele satisfied, and in this passenger-orientated assembly thereís an off-roader catering for most tastes.

The Mitsubishi 3,2 litre diesel engine is a four-cylinder unit, slow-revving, befitting its heavy internal components. It produces a fairly modest 121 kiloWatts at 3800 rpm, and 373 Newton metres of torque at 2000 rpm.

The Mitsubishi Pajero is regarded as a serious off-road wagon, right up there with the likes of Toyotaís Prado and Land Roverís Discovery.

And although this Pajero has been around now for six years and is close to the end of its model cycle, itís still competitive, thanks to updates like the new centre diff-lock and electronic traction-control combination system.

Unlike the Pajero, the new Mercedes-Benz M-Class is all-new in 2nd generation guise.

The basic M-Class is still very much an on-road soft-roader. But one of those options includes adjustable ride-height, which came in handy at the game reserveís off-road track.

The 24 valve 3,5 litre V6 is an impressive performer in any context, be it in the SLK sports car or the much larger M-Class SUV.

The range also includes diesel and five-litre V8 variants, but this 350 version proved more than punchy enough through water crossings and over slow undulating territory.

The new M-Class has drawn lots of praise from motoring journalists. Its subtle redesign sees it longer and wider but with a lower roofline, and this special off-road pack just makes it that much more versatile.

But when it comes to off-roaders, Jeep draws from a heritage going back 60 years.

A mid 7 second 0-100 time puts the Grand Cherokee Hemi in Golf Gti accelerative territory.

Chryslerís new Hemi V8 actually made its South African debut in the top Jeep model in mid-2005 and itís noted for good economy by V8 standards.

With sophisticated all-wheel-drive running gear, the Grand Cherokee, in this line-up at any rate, falls halfway between the soft-roader M-Class and more purpose-built off-roaders like the Pajero.

And Mitsubishi has a no frills version of the five-door Pajero specifically designed for South African off-roaders.

The well-proven 3,2 litre diesel may be a little long in the tooth now, but with 373 Newton metres of torque at 2000 rpm, itís still eminently controllable in slow off-road conditions.

This Pajero GLX doesnít have the ABS-based traction control system of the luxury GLX model, but at the Reserve Hendrik found the less-fussy straight-forward diff lock system easier to modulate.

He also enjoyed the no-frills approach of the vehicle as a whole in what turned out to be muddy conditions in the Krugersdorp hills.

Cloth seats and basic trim as fitted to the GLX African spec Pajero, though, are no real hardship if you plan to spend lots of time hopping in and out in rough conditions.

The interior trim package fitted to the second-generation Merc M-Class has been praised for being a big step forward from the rather shoddy fittings used in the first series of this American-built SUV.

Improved plastic quality has been the biggest change, and large switchgear suits the part-time off-road aspirations of the ML350.

A key figure in organizing this range test was Protea Eco Adventuresí Jannie Rykhaart. As usual, our man from the West Rand was on hand to provide valuable off-road instruction.

The low-range gearbox fitted to the ML 350 with the off-road pro-engineering package makes this semi-car, semi-off-roader a far more versatile vehicle, much more controllable in difficult slow-going.

The pre-engineering package costs an additional R31 000 above the base price of R520 000.

The tyres are still profiled more towards tar than the rough stuff, and so is the suspension, which lacks the travel of its more rural DaimlerChrysler cousins.

The Grand Cherokee Limited 5,7 litre Hemi, to give the vehicle its full title, is fitted with the second-generation Quadradrive traction system.

Jeep says the new system allows faster torque transfer between wheels with good traction for smooth progress over slippery terrain. 

All in all, a fun-filled day thanks to Protea Eco Adventures, Sandown Motors and the Krugersdorp Game Reserve.

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