However, back in the 1990s and 2000s, things were completely different. Mitsubishi used to build awesome vehicles and was a force to be reckoned with in the World Rally Championship (WRC), as well as the Paris Dakar Rally – unquestionably the world’s most grueling rally raid. These endeavors gave us some impressive homologation specials like the iconic Lancer Evolution, but also a very intriguing performance off-roader.
The brand’s success story in the Dakar Rally starts in 1985, when a couple of modified first-generation Pajeros (aka Montero or Shogun) were lined up to compete against Land Cruisers, Range Rovers, or Mercedes 289GEs. Against all odds, the short-wheelbase Mitsubishis didn’t just finish, but did so in first and second place. That campaign signaled the start of a dominant, record-breaking run. By 2007, the Japanese manufacturer had become the most successful name in Dakar history, raking up twelve overall victories - seven of which came in consecutive years (2001-2007).
Although it was largely based on the short-wheelbase, two-door Pajero, the Evo looked much more aggressive. Like its Lancer-derived sibling, it donned several beefed-up panels that made it incredibly cool. These include beefier wheel arches to accommodate the wider track, a unique front bumper that incorporated dual fog lights and increased the approach angle, a lightweight aluminum hood with a large dual scoop for better cooling, two awesome fin-like rear spoilers conceived to improve aerodynamics, and a series of heavy-duty skid plates to protect the underbody when talking rough terrain.
Inside, most of the elements from the standard Pajero were kept, with the only noticeable upgrade being a set of Recaro sport seats that offered much better side bolstering.
Power came from a 6G74 3.5-liter dual overhead cam (DOHC) V6 which had MiVEC (the company’s variable valve timing technology), dual plenum variable intake, forged conrods, and a multi-port injection system. Due to the notorious Gentleman’s agreement between all Japanese automakers, the engine was rated at 276 hp and 256 lb-ft (347 Nm) of torque. However, in reality, it was capable of more, with several owners reporting a little over 300 hp achieved during dyno testing.
The V6 was linked to a modified five-speed automatic which featured a sport mode for manual shifting and shorter gear ratios.
On asphalt, the rabid, little SUV could sprint to 60 mph (97 kph) from a standstill in 7.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 130 mph (210 kph) – impressive figures for a vehicle that wasn’t designed for speed. Of course, high-speed driving on paved roads wasn’t as engaging as it was in a Lancer Evo, but once it was introduced to gravel, sand, or snow, the Pajero Evo became an unrivaled, thrill-inducing beast.
In Dakar-spec, it helped Mitsubishi earn a dominant 1-2-3 finish in both the 1997 and 1998 campaigns. Even 25 years after its debut, it remains the most dominant model in the history of the legendary rally.
Produced in approximately 2,500 examples, the street version of the Pajero Evolution remains one of the most impressive performance-oriented 4x4s ever built.
If you would like to learn more about it and see it tackle some gravel, we recommend watching the YouTube video below by Petrolicious.