inREVIEW: Finding your perfect companion

Words by Francois Steyn | Photos by Francois & Tania Steyn

Reviews of the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 3.2 Di-D GLS 4x4 (M/T) Diesel, Isuzu KB 300 D-TEQ LX 4x4 and Harley-Davidson V-Rod Night Rod Special

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 3.2 Di-D GLS 4x4 (M/T) Diesel

Like Toyota’s bestseller, the Fortuner, is based on the Hilux, so the new Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is also based on a bakkie, the Triton. And like the 3.0 D-4D Fortuner, the Pajero Sport 3.2 DI-D churns out 120 kW and 343 Nm.

However, the Mitsubishi claims an 8 km/h higher top speed than the Toyota, has a 6 degree better approach angle and the disc brakes, compared to the Fortuner’s drums, can be found in the rear. The Mitsubishi costs 13 grand less, so why then does one see 10 Fortuners on the road for every 1 Pajero Sport?

Brand loyalty most certainly has got something to do with it, but so does the fact that the Pajero Sport was, until recently, only available in a 3.2 diesel 4x4 with an automatic gearbox. The Fortuner on the other hand is available in a whole range of engine and gearbox configurations, and the 2.5 D-4D 4x2 (at R332 000) was a welcome addition to the family last year. Now the Pajero Sport also comes in manual and looks to be a great alternative to the old favourite.

The Pajero Sport is part-time four-wheel drive and has both four high and four low with centre diff-lock. It also has an electronic diff-lock on the rear axle, which came in handy when I hung up the wheels on opposing corners on an axle twister, on our test track. We then visited the famous Klipbokkop 4x4 route with Mitsubishi SA and the Pajero Sport proved to be more than capable. Even though the road up the mountain may not be a grade four track, there were sections where you’d have to concentrate in a normal 4x4 without low range and diff-lock. In the Pajero Sport, on the other hand, we chatted away, enjoyed the scenery and before we knew it were right at the top, overlooking the Hex River Valley below.

Inside, the two-tone black and grey dash and steering wheel looks upmarket and reserved. Above the climate control knobs is a digital display that shows the average fuel consumption, range left, barometric pressure and altitude as graphs. It also has a compass. On the small steering wheel you’ll find the remote audio controls and cruise control.

The best thing about the interior though is the seating arrangements. There is more than enough legroom in the second row of seats and the third row offers space for two children. This last row can be split into two and folded forward and flat for extra large luggage space, but unfortunately can't be removed completely. Once the second row is folded forward (in a 60:40 split), the rear is one large load-bay. There are air conditioning vents for both the second and third row of seats and a handy storage space under the floor in the rear.

Like most SUV’s these days it comes standard with six airbags, ABS and EBD. Other fancy features include auto halogen headlights, rain sensing wipers (that actually work well according to my wife) and park distance control. A five year/100 000 km service plan rounds off the package and at R435 900 you have a comfortable vehicle that will go absolutely anywhere. I won’t be surprised to see a few more on the road in future.

Isuzu KB 300 D-TEQ LX 4x4

If you’ve ever been to the Northern Cape on the R355 between Ceres and Calvinia (the longest uninterrupted dirt road in South Africa), you’ll know the upper Karoo farmer’s best friend is not his sheepdog. It’s also not a Hilux or Land Cruiser. It’s an Isuzu racing past in a cloud of dust at 140-plus km/h. Why do you think Bertie from Zinkplaat drives one?

When I picked up the range-topping Isuzu KB 300 D-TEQ 4x4 Double Cab I was surprised by the interior. Instead of feeling like I’m in the workhorse I’ve always imagined the Isuzu to be, it looked like a budget spaceship, with its silver plastic facia, large blue linings around the centrally positioned speedo dial and a huge steering wheel. You can see the GM family resemblance to the Chev Corsa Sport. I quickly got used to this though and started to become aware of the annoying wind and road noise at highway speeds. I was not as impressed as I hoped I’d be, until we drove up Sneeukoppie near Worcester.

The Sneeukoppie 4x4 route starts at the foothills in Rawsonville and winds its way up the rocky Eskom access road. Although it is not the most hectic of routes, there is one section that can only be described as a grade three and three quarters. A very steep S-curve that has been washed away and filled with loose cricket ball size rocks blocks the way. The escape route has also been washed away so I engaged low range 1st and locked the rear diff. Going around the first sharp left-hander I lost most of my momentum (and as a consequence traction) and nearly had to push back for another go, but by lightly feathering the throttle the Isuzu regained grip and crawled to the next corner. By now I’d built up enough speed to hook second. Once clear, the rest of the route was doable in 4x2, but by this time I had started to trust its capabilities and grown fond of the KB.

Like nearly all other modern diesel bakkies the 300 D-TEQ develops 120 kW, but the torque is slightly higher than its close rivals at 360 Nm. Driver and passenger airbags, active head restraints and inertia reel pre-tensioning seat belts will keep you safe in the front, that is if the ABS and EBD are not enough to avoid a collision. In the rear you’ll find three three-point inertia reel seat belts to accommodate five adults in total comfort with ease. The LX models have USB and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as park assistance and an automatic gearbox that is available in 4x2-guise.

A 5 year/90 000 km service plan comes standard, and roadside assistance for the same period and a 120 000 km service plan is included in the R407 400 price tag. Now all you need to do is choose one of the eight exterior colour options. The Isuzu KB 300 LX 4x4 was very much like the Atomic Blue colour my test unit came in: after a week it really started growing on me and I felt a little guilty for judging it so harshly initially.

Harley-Davidson V-Rod Night Rod Special

Damn! Oops, I beg your pardon ... I meant wowie! No wait, I really did mean, “Damn, what a ride!”

Harley’s aren’t meant to be fast. That’s why they never quote power figures in their brochures, only torques. The V-Rod Night Special has 111 Nm’s of it, but push the starter button and drop the hydraulically assisted clutch and you’ll struggle to wipe the grin off your face. We’re not talking superbike go, but believe me it’s fun.

For the V-Rod’s 10th birthday it received the latest version of the liquid-cooled, V-Twin Revolution engine. It now displaces 1 250 cc’s and has dual overhead camshafts, four-valve cylinder heads and Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection. As a result you can rev it like a sports bike and anything above five grand will push you hard back into that fat leather saddle all the way up to the red line. This is a bike that does not want to sleep in the living room, it wants to be ridden often and hard. Proof is in the large rev counter, something not found on most cruisers. At the highway speed limit the tacho sits a tad above 4 000 r/min in fifth, so you’re only getting started.

I spent all morning and most of the afternoon on the Rod and never once got bored or tired. The five-speed gearbox is super smooth and drive to the 240 mm rear wheel is via a high-performance, carbon-fibre drive belt. It’s also equipped with a slipper clutch, so quick downshifts are possible at any speed. Brembo does the stopping with the help of a triple disc layout and ABS at both ends. I tested the latter and it actually works, but you have to really grab a fist full to activate it thanks to a lot of grip from the Michelin Scorcher radial at the front.

Apart from being so much fun to ride, the Night Rod Special is a real stunner to look at. The blackened engine covers, fork housings, rims and frame pipes give it a dark and sinister look, while red stripes on the tank and rims round off its devilish demeanour. More than a couple of people asked me about the bike when pulling up alongside me at the traffic lights. Improved ergonomics are a result of reduced reach to both the rider foot-pegs and handlebar. Cruising at 160 km/h was no problem at all, although it might cause a stiff neck after a while. Inverted front forks and retuned rear suspension enhance the ride and handling once you’ve gotten used to the rake angle. Ground clearance is enough to keep the peg-ends scratch free.

The digital display shows time, dual trips, range left and odo, and the fuel tank holds close to 19 litres. Some might say that R189 000 is way too much to pay for two wheels, but take my word for it: it’s not for the V-Rod Night Special.