As endearing as the latest Suzuki Jimny is, it’s not coming to the US anytime soon. But early models are old enough to import. And although the Consumer Reports scandal curtailed sales, Suzuki did sell a version of the Jimny, the Samurai, in the US. But, if you’re looking for a compact JDM off-road SUV, there’s another option available. One that was never sold in any form in the States: the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini.
The Mitsubishi Pajero Mini is a kei car that can wander off-road
To be fair, Mitsubishi did sell the full-size Pajero in the US as the Montero. But the Pajero Mini is part of Japan’s kei car class of tiny vehicles, Autoweek explains. And it’s technically not based on the Pajero; instead, it shares its platform with the Minica kei car, CurbsideClassics reports. However, while it doesn’t have quite the same capabilities as a regular Mitsubishi Montero, the Pajero Mini isn’t a simple name-drop.
Like the Montero/Pajero proper, the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini offers four-wheel drive with a 2-speed transfer case, Automobile and Cars and Bids report. And, as in the full-size SUV, some of the kei version’s trims have a dash-mounted digital inclinometer, compass, and interior/exterior temperature gauges, Japanese Classics reports. Plus, it has more than 7” of ground clearance.
Naturally, the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini doesn’t have much power, due to the kei car engine restrictions. The mini-SUV offered a variety of 659cc four-cylinder engines, both turbocharged and naturally-aspirated, Car and Driver reports. The most powerful of the import-eligible models has 63 hp and 72 lb-ft. Which, admittedly, isn’t a lot.
However, considering the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini’s dimensions, it’s sufficient for off-road purposes. The kei SUV only weighs about 1800 pounds, Curbside Classics reports. And it’s shorter than a 2002 Mini Cooper, Autoblog reports. In fact, it’s shorter and narrower than a current-gen Mazda Miata, Car and Driver reports. And as the Suzuki Jimny has demonstrated, that’s a significant boon on tight off-road trails.
How does the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini compare to the Suzuki Jimny?
Admittedly, the 2020 Suzuki Jimny is more powerful, more capable on paper, and in many ways better-equipped than the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini.
Its most powerful engine, a 1.5-liter four-cylinder, has 101 hp and 96 lb-ft. And in addition to 4WD with a transfer case, the Jimny has hill-descent and hill-holding control. It also has 8.3” of ground clearance, and a better departure angle than the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, MotorTrend reports. And you can order it with navigation, lane-departure warning, and Apple CarPlay, Road & Track reports.
However, compared to the ‘90s Suzuki Jimny/Samurai models, the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini actually has a few advantages. For one, it’s even lighter and shorter than the Samurai, Curbside Classics reports. And in turbocharged form, it’s actually slightly more powerful, Hagerty reports. True, the Samurai has locking hubs, but some Pajero Mini trims have limited-slip differentials, MT and Bring a Trailer report. Plus, Mitsubishi’s tiny SUV has cupholders, and the Samurai doesn’t.
Getting one in the US
Mitsubishi produced the Pajero Mini from 1994 until 2012, Autoblog reports. But, because of the 25-year rule, as of this writing, only 1996 and earlier examples are import-eligible. And because they weren’t sold in the States, you’ll have to go through an importer to get one.
Luckily, the Pajero Mini is a fairly cheap mini-SUV. As of this writing, Japanese Classics has one available for $7995. And it’s not unusual to see models selling for under $10k. In comparison, US-market Samurais have started creeping close to the $10,000-mark, BaT reports. And if you want a bigger, more powerful version, Mitsubishi also made the Pajero Junior, which wasn’t actually a kei car, Jalopnik reports.
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