The Mitsubishi Pajero is a very popular four-wheel drive in Australia, and whilst many of them are just glorified wagons to pick up the kids from school, as an off roader, they go alright.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the very first NP model Pajero as a second-hand buy. And the model we’re reviewing is a 3.5 litre, Petrol, top of the Range, very late 2002, Exceed.

Mitsubishi designed a monocoque body for the previous NM Pajero in 2000, and the NP model is the first face lift Mitsubishi would give the well accepted 4WD. Essentially, the Pajero you buy today in 2019, is the same revolutionary chassis that was introduced almost 20 years ago. When you’re on to a good thing, I guess you stick with it.

As a suburban warrior, the Pajero drives more like a car than a 4wd, and that’s thanks to the independent front and rear suspension, which for an off-road vehicle some think is a disadvantage. But put a 50mm lift, a decent set of shocks and some all-terrain tyres on the Paj, and it’ll go just about anywhere that a sensible driver will want to take it.

The first of the NP Pajero Exceeds, like this one, had pretty much the same interior as the previous model. It still had the 6 stack CD Player, which would disappear in later model exceeds, Central locking, full power windows with all four window controls easily accessible on the driver’s door, power mirrors, front and rear spotlight switches within easy reach, climate control with an LCD screen providing temperature and comfort settings, rear air conditioning with controls in both the back seat and up front.

The Super Select Gearbox was fitted as standard in the NP Exceed, in fact you couldn’t get an Exceed in a manual, and why would you when the super select system is such a reliable and easy to use gearbox control system.

Unlike many 4wd’s in its class, the Pajero had, and still has the option to drive in 2WD, and then change into 4wd at highway speeds. The centre diff lock can be engaged on the run when 4wding. And with a quick stop, you can have the Pajero in four-low for the more serious tracks.

The late 2002 model Exceed came with 16-inch wheels, making for a wide tyre choice, and on this one the owner has the popular Cooper AT3’s, providing some good off road capability. Bull-bar options for the Pajero are also numerous and many owners fit them.

For general 4WD tracks and trails, the Pajero eats it up. It drives well off-road and provides good feedback through the wheel, which in many newer model 4wd’s is disappearing. The Independent suspension on the Pajero does limit the wheel travel somewhat, but if you pick your lines carefully and drive the tough stuff sensibly, it’s very capable over even the hardest of tracks.

It’s comfortable to drive, however, one criticism we have is the seats in them, whilst fully electric, are fairly firm. And talking of seats, after so many years, the Exceeds leather trim will usually be showing signs of wear, especially on driver’s seats, I guess to be expected in a 17-year-old four-by.

Another issue with the Pajero for the regular off-roader is the overflow pipe for the condenser on the air-conditioning. It drains into the engine bay and after a lot of dusty roads often blocks up. It then overflows onto the passenger floor leaving you with wet carpet. It’s a relatively easy fix to unblock the pipe, but almost impossible with a hot engine.

The first of the NP’s, like this one, came out with 3.5 litre Petrol engine. Later, Mitsubishi would introduce a 3.8 litre, and whilst the petrol engine was still very popular, it was very heavy on fuel and when towing could easily get up into the 20 litres per 100 kilometres zone. Around town it would average between 14 and 16 litres per hundred. So you’ll need to keep that in mind if buying a second-hand petrol variant.

The NP was also the first of the Pajero’s to introduce Mitsubishi All Terrain Technology or MATT, which came standard on the Exceed. But the three and a half litre petrol model still uses an accelerator cable, so the extent of MATT is really just ABS and traction control. The traction control is therefore limited to wheel braking only and annoyingly, Traction Control can’t be switched off.

If you bought a diesel model, it was drive by wire, so it had more extensive control with engine limiting under wheel slip conditions.

The 3.5 litre Pajero has good power at 140kw and reasonable torque 303nm, but it also has a small 90 litre tank which will limit the length of a big outback journey, so be sure to pack some jerry cans.

In terms of buying a second-hand Petrol Exceed, expect to pay between 4 and 10 thousand dollars depending on condition and number of kilometres. You’ll be lucky to get one with less than 200 thousand kilometres, and for a petrol engine, it’s likely to need extra care and more regular servicing to keep it in tip top shape.

As an off roader, the Pajero is a great 4WD, and if you want to take it to the office on Monday, it’s still a comfortable ride. As a second-hand four-wheel-drive, for the money, they still stack up against the competition, but our recommendation would be to consider the Diesel model over the petrol.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, we’d love to hear your stories of buying 2nd hand 4WD’s.