We’ve wanted it since Thailand had it earlier this year, and Mitsubishi’s Variable Geometric Turbo (VGT) engine is now here, packaged within the Pajero Sport SUV body. Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia (MMM) launched the new variant last month.

With the addition of VGT, the 2.5-litre DI-D commonrail diesel unit puts out 178 PS and 350 Nm of torque from 1,800 to 3,500 rpm. It’s quite a substantial increase from the non-VGT engine’s 136 PS and 314 Nm. Better still, the benefits stretch at both ends – the Pajero Sport VGT is claimed by MMM to be 12% more fuel effiicient that before.

We recently got to drive the Pajero Sport VGT on the beautiful mountain roads of Sabah. Read the full report after the jump.

As a recap, the Pajero Sport was launched here in mid 2009. The seven-seater SUV is based on Mitsubishi’s stylish Triton pick-up truck, but is also more than just a Triton with a canopy. Features that set it apart include plusher materials, Tiptronic manual shift, third row seats and rear coil spring suspension in place of the Triton’s leaf springs.

Currently, MMM sells 2WD and 4WD versions of the Pajero Sport, and the VGT, available only in 4WD automatic form, is an addition to the range. All are imported CBU from Thailand.

Visually, there isn’t much to differentiate the VGT from its less powerful siblings, only a locally fitted VGT badge on the tailgate and a “Hi Power” emblem on the sides. All else is familiar. Inside, the VGT is quite well equipped. The centrepiece is an aftermarket 2-DIN Kenwood ICE system. This full colour touch screen head unit incorporates a reverse camera and Garmin GPS guidance.

Other useful features are cruise control (buttons on the steering’s right spoke), leather upholstery, auto climate control plus rear AND front parking sensors (upgraded from two to four eyes at each end). A new addition here is Mitsubishi’s magnesium shift paddles, as fitted to the Lancer and ASX.

The long and conspicuous paddles control a new gearbox – a five-speed INVECS-II automatic transmission, one ratio more than the non-VGT Pajero Sport. So it’s a new engine, new gearbox and more features in the cabin for the extra RM5,000 over the GS 4WD. The Pajero Sport VGT is priced at RM167,375.80, slightly less than the Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Premium, which MMM considers a rival.

The Pajero Sport has always been a decent SUV to drive, taking into account its truck underpinnings. Not much of a surprise really, since Mitsubishi’s entrants into the C-segment sedan and SUV markets are on the better side of the driving scale. The Triton, which contributes its platform to the Pajero Sport, is also the pick-up truck that those coming from cars will be most comfortable with.

The Pajero Sport rides well, and I reckon that this comfort is one of its main strengths. Besides ironing out bad roads and soaking bigger bumps well, the big SUV is also firm and steady past the highway limit. And the rear end doesn’t hop around independently, thanks to the coil springs that replace the Triton’s leafs. By the way, the front seat design is new, and it’s more supportive than before, too.

The Pajero Sport is not the sharpest tool in the bends, for obvious reasons, but it hangs on pretty decently if you ignore the body roll and weight transfer, and push on. Two-time Dakar champion Hiroshi Masuoka was brought into Borneo to show us how it’s done. In a parking lot with cones, the champ threw the Pajero Sport’s considerable 2 plus tonnes into crazy lean angles, even lifting some tyres in the process.

As usual for Masuoka san (yours truly is lucky to have rode with him on several occasions now) he was twirling the wheel nonchalantly, smiling and talking in the process. Like a well oiled driving machine, the man was consistent round after round from start to end.

We did not go to such extremes on the road, but it’s good to have the knowledge that this isn’t an easy car to topple despite protests from your passengers.

Nothing has changed in that respect, which leads us to the powertrain. It’s been very long since I drove the Pajero Sport, and without a back to back refresher, it’s hard to tell the difference, although I’m sure an extra 42 PS and 36 Nm will feel different. In isolation, it’s a strong diesel engine in the truck mould, which means it roars and one shouldn’t expect BMW 20d refinement or response.

Engine response isn’t the most immediate, which may give the (wrong) impression of a big lazy beast, but speed rises faster that you’d think – just observe the speedo. Also, the VGT engine’s turbo whistle is quite apparent, if that tickles your fancy. Wind down the windows to appreciate.

We drove a long scenic route from Kota Kinabalu city (they have great beef noodles!) to Mesilau up in the mountains, and I found myself using the shift paddles a lot, definitely a useful addition and more convenient than the shift lever, which has Tiptronic on the far side of the driver. Those long sickles are standard Mitsubishi issue, the best of its kind, in my opinion.

Our route included an off road stretch that the Pajero Sport dismissed with ease. While the stretch was mild for off road standards, I still wouldn’t have attempted it in a crossover SUV. Here, one has good ground clearance, approach/departure angles and a robust frame, plus MMC’s Super Select 4WD system with four modes – 2H, 4H, 4HLc and 4LLc.

The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport VGT is a good SUV in the traditional sense. Rugged underpinnings that can truly go off road, but with good comfort, space and amenities for those who use it solely as an urban machine. Although it might look unflattering next to the Hyundai Santa Fe for some, the Mitsu is a different sort of animal really, one with its own set of strengths.