Mitsubishi Shogun ♦ Towing Test ♦

Originally Published: October 2010
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The Mitsubishi Shogun has had a bit of a patchy history in Britain. Since arriving in 1982, it’s become a smash-hit off-roader, then a byword for lavish glitz, then a forgotten 4x4 supposedly left behind by the rush to soft-roaders. All the while, it’s had to contend with being one of the UK’s most popular vehicles among grey importers, meaning that many people instinctively ignore its real name and call it the Pajero instead. 

Since the arrival of the Mark 2 Shogun in 1990, LWB versions have flirted with the 3500kg maximum towing limit. It was still a couple of hundred short back then, but today’s model is a fully fledged member of the 3.5-tonne club.

The version tested here is the Elegance, which sits third in a four-strong LWB line-up. What this means is that among a whole lot else, you get a five-speed automatic gearbox as standard; a relevant point when you want to tow the legal maximum, obviously, though with sequential control it promises to give you the best of both worlds.

This is in fact something that comes up in the handbook, which is a fine example of keeping it short and to the point. Many vehicle manufacturers tend to guff on at length about how to fit an approved towbar, and exactly what grisly fate will befall you if you don’t, before dedicating page after page to covering their hind quarters. So it’s refreshing to be able to pick out the good stuff without having to wade through reams of crap.

The Shogun still has the old familiar Super-Select transfer case, for example, with a choice of 4x2 or 4x4 options for on-road driving. Choosing the 4H position in the box, the book says, will avoid overheating the diff, while using second gear with the main gearbox in manual mode will prevent it from getting over-stressed by the weight of your trailer.

This is the kind of specific towing advice that’s disappointingly unusual to find, and it helps you get to grips with the Shogun from the word go. Our test rig weighed in at about 75% of the vehicle’s max trailer weight, but that was still almost a tonne more than the 85%-of-kerb-weight conventional wisdom says you should stick to. The rain was hammering down, too, so much so that roads were flooding as we drove, yet with four-wheel drive engaged the truck always remained supremely stable.

Pulling uphill is made easier by following orders and using sequential second, too. We tried just leaving it in drive as well, to gauge the difference, and it’s clear to see; forward motion slows to a crawl and the engine revs wildly as the box hunts for a gear it thinks makes sense. More ratios might remedy this a bit (the Shogun has five, whereas the latest Touareg has eight), but that’s surely no substitute for encouraging your customers to understand their vehicles and drive them properly.

Something else you want to do properly is load your trailer, and a stonking nose weight of 135kg means you’re unlikely to struggle here. Actually hooking up is a simple task, too, thanks to a towing neck so long it looks like it’s compensating for something. You certainly don’t need to grovel round beneath the vehicle while connecting either the trailer itself or its electrics, and the excellent reversing camera that’s standard with the Elegance really helps when backing up or manoeuvring. Better still, there’s a switch for shutting up the beeper that would otherwise be assaulting your ears the whole time, and as well as being more relaxing that’s got to be good for your concentration.

We’d really love it if the complex transfer box allowed you to engage low range without locking the centre diff, but that’s a step too far. Not a lot of 4x4s have ever offered this capability, but it would certainly take the strain out of the gearbox during tight manoeuvres. There’s got to be a reason why the Defender has always done it that way, after all…

Out on the road, the Shogun pulls with a lovely smooth, linear relentlessness. That’s when you’re not trying to boot it into kickdown instead of using the gearbox properly, of course, but during normal driving the 3.2 DI-D engine is hugely impressive. It’s not the quietest, raising a clattery bark when stretched, but its torque delivery can’t be faulted.

Neither can the blend of stable handling and smooth ride the all-independent suspension provides. It’s always truck-like to drive, but not in that thumpy, live-axled way you probably know. The coil-sprung wishbones isolate you well from the road without baffling the messages you want to be able to receive. 

These are hardly crystal clear the way they would be in, say, an Evo X, but the info’s there both on what your vehicle and its trailer are up to on the road. Drivers with a max-attack fetish are unlikely to feel at home behind the wheel, but you can hustle it along smartly enough or, with a trailer attached, cruise the sort of saturated A and B-roads we tested it on without ever feeling alarmed.

It’s entirely relevant to mention here that the Shogun’s brakes are unfazed by hauling five-plus tonnes of vehicle and trailer to a halt on roads made treacherous by an inch of surface water. We went on to pull our load halfway across Britain by motorway, too, and can report that it’s as relaxed a long-distance tow truck as we’ve experienced, certainly at anything like its price.

On that subject, by today’s standards the Elegance looks like fair value at £34,999, and fairer still with the 10%-plus discounts you can get by working the system. It’s not the most modern 4x4, but it’s all the better for that – especially when what you’re getting is a nice car, with a quality off-roader and an outstanding tow truck thrown in.


Verdict

Powerful and dominant in exactly the way a traditional off-road truck should be, the Shogun performs way beyond expectations in front of a trailer. You have to lock the centre diff to get into low range, but there’s little of substance to criticise. In terms of its size and price alike, it shows its many more modern rivals a thing or two.

+ Exceptional drivetrain, well thought out in every detail

- Engine gets vocal at times when pulling heavy loads

For our vehicle test on the Shogun, click here...

SHOGUN, TOWING TEST

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