Review: Mitsubishi Triton
With ever-increasing competition from its traditional Japanese rivals, and newcomers from Europe and China, Mitsubishi has overhauled its Triton light commercial range, but have they done enough? Gary Worrall finds out
When it comes to the competitive light commercial utility market, Mitsubishi has long been something of a dark horse, never quite able to crack the big numbers of the HiLux and others while still building a loyal fan base.
In the past, the biggest bug was an under-powered engine that required short gearing to be competitive around town, but it was then penalised by heavy fuel consumption in highway driving.
A succession of more powerful driveline options, often sourced from the Pajero four-wheel drive wagon, turned the Triton into a tearaway with outstanding on and off-road performance.
The latest version packs even more punch, including the range-topping 2.5-litre Hi Power four cylinder common-rail diesel with variable geometry turbo, which is long hand for impressive power and torque from a relatively small engine.
In reality, this means the Triton has 131kW of power and 350Nm of torque, which brackets the Volkswagen Amarok's 120kW and 400Nm, and the Toyota HiLux with its 126kW and 343Nm.
If there is one aspect of the Triton guaranteed to polarise opinion, it is the body shape; for some reason it generates a love it/hate it response in people.
This partly stems from the downward curve at the rear of the body. Where virtually every other model has a straight, vertical edge, the Triton instead curves forward in a tidy arc, which means the front of the styleside body follows the same line.
Also slightly unusual is the curved roofline, which is more sedan like than most, although it creates extra headroom in the rear seat.
Other than these areas the Triton is a straightforward design with a sloping nose to improve aero penetration, especially at speed. It doesn't even use heavily flared wheel arches, instead regulation front and rear guards are fitted with a flexible rubber extension to cover the 16inch x 7inch rims and chunky off-road tyres.
The only real concession to aggression or differentiation is the cut out for the front fog lights which uses a three-dimensional quadrilateral shroud to envelope the light, an interesting choice given it prevents the light from spreading to illuminate the fog or mist.
Even the rear tail lights are subdued with by-the-book coloured lenses rather than the crystal lens and coloured globe preferred in other quarters.
The test model was the up-spec GLX-R, so it has plenty of alloy tubing, starting with a nudge bar-cum-driving light mount that frames the air intakes, as well as high-mounted side-steps for all four doors to help entry and exit.
Lastly, there is a tray-mounted sports bar which is one of the better designs offered by manufacturers, this one still allows plenty of access for loading and unloading and actually looks like it belongs on the car, rather than fitted as an afterthought.
Despite plenty of effort to spice up the exterior, the Triton is one of the smallest ute offerings currently on the market, and it shows on the inside.
The high ride height is a little deceptive, the body sits a long way off the ground and allows excellent approach and departure angles, but the interior dimensions are smaller than they seem at first glance.
Taller drivers will also struggle with the leg room; anyone over 180cm will notice an acute shortage, made worse if there is a need for 'belly room' behind the steering wheel which is height adjustable only.
The good news for back seat passengers is the restricted seat movement in the front means a bit more knee room in the second row although the 180cm teenager says it should be avoided for long journeys.
The steering wheel is a clever multi-function unit, wired with buttons for both audio and cruise control, with a nice chunky rim that is easy to hold, while the three-spoke design creates a sporty feel perfectly at home as part of the overall dash.
In the case of the current Triton, and its station wagon equivalent to the Challenger, the dash is a lift from the previous Pajero, thanks to the use of Mitsubishi All Terrain Technology (MATT) liberated from the bigger off-roader, adding stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and a diff lock for improved off-road performance.
The instrument cluster uses large analogue dials for the tacho and speedo, with smaller ones for fuel and temperature, as well as the 4WD indicator that shows 2WD and 4WD, plus high and low range and the centre diff lock.
A separate binnacle in the centre dash stack houses an electronic display for the radio, a compass, fuel computer including distance to empty, as well as a barometer and altimeter function.
Under these sits the air-conditioning controls, including full automatic dial-a-temperature function, with large dials for easy operation, and the AM/FM/CD stereo, with iPod connection, playing through six speakers.
The transmission tunnel is finished in a brushed satin-face plastic that adds a restrained touch of class, more importantly it does not erode passenger leg room.
The seats are trimmed in a dimpled cloth, there is an optional leather trim available, however the cloth works well even in a humid Queensland December, and is comfortable to sit on for hours at a stretch.
While the fit and finish is good, with quality plastics and vinyls complementing the up-spec seat trims, the Triton still has a slight 'tinny' feel, the doors feel lightweight, although in fairness the door and window seals work well with no draughts or dust entering the cabin.
HIT THE ROAD JACK
The 2.5-litre engine is noisier than first expected, with a 'squeaky' exhaust note as it spins into life, but it settles into a steady rhythm and is pretty much ready for anything.
As with all modern fuel injected engines there is no need to pump-prime the throttle, as soon as the ignition switches on the fuel pumps pressurise the injectors, ready to deliver fuel into the combustion chambers.
As a safety precaution there is a lockout on the auto transmission requiring the brake pedal to be pressed before it will enter reverse, however the shift itself is smooth, with no hint of 'notch-iness' as it slides through the selector panel.
There is a tactile 'clunk' as 'Drive' is engaged and the torque converter pre-loads, so that releasing the brake will see the Triton begin to edge forward slowly until the throttle is applied to speed things up.
Generally the shifts are smooth between gears, although a sudden reduction in throttle pressure during acceleration will cause a jolt as the computer attempts to upshift; without continued power the Triton will 'fall' back into the gear, sending a shock up into the cabin.
Similarly, downshifts are smooth in general driving, to the point of being almost unnoticeable, although a request for extra power will engage the kick-down mechanism rather abruptly, although to be fair there are few autos around that will not suffer in the same way.
While there was some surprise to seeing a disc/drum brake set up in the current era, in reality it is almost impossible to tell there are drums under the rear end without looking, so well did they pull the Triton up.
As expected for a high-riding 4WD utility, there is more body roll than in a yoga class. The suggested driving style is 'gently does it' and corner speeds should be kept below the posted maximum.
This is not to say the Triton is not a capable vehicle. In fact, the driving dynamics are good for a vehicle in this class but at some point the laws of physics will appear and often it is at short notice while the driver is busier than a Bhagdad bricklayer.
The ride quality is good, the big Bridgestone tyres with thick sidewalls soak up plenty of road imperfections before the steel suspension kicks in to take care of the rest.
There is tread squirm, not unexpectedly from such a chunky off-road pattern, as the runner blocks flex during cornering. While disconcerting initially it is nothing to be too bothered about, and is just another reason not to push the limits while driving.
Although the handbook says it is permissible to drop the Triton into 4WD at speeds of 60km/h and beyond, I have no wish to push the friendship and will only engage the front wheels while stopped, to ensure a smooth transition.
Similarly, if you can see some gnarly terrain approaching, do yourself and the driveline a favour and stop, engage the next lowest drive, and then approach at a sensible speed.
With plenty of ground clearance and over 20 degrees of approach and departure angles, there are very few places a well-driven Triton will not go, and even fewer on the average farm or property.
Power steering provides the extra leverage necessary to turn the fronts in sticky situations, it is just a case of pick the preferred path, line up on it and away you go, always bearing in mind everything, and everyone, has limits and don't push them needlessly.
THE LAST WORD
All issues of aesthetics aside, the Triton is an excellent vehicle to drive, with plenty of poke, and it is one of the few to still come with a tonneau cover from the factory.
Admittedly the elastic straps don't age well - there is nothing worse than having one snap as you secure the load - but it is still an excellent way to cover a loose load such as green waste or hay bales, so they do not fly apart while driving.
Unfortunately the lack of room for tall drivers, or even passengers, is an issue especially when your 15-year-old is the far side of 180cm.
With the 'tonner' market full of choices in 2012, the cost/benefit argument is more important than ever. Mitsubishi have put a lot of effort into the latest Triton - now it's up to the market to vote with their wallets.
To read reviews on the latest 4WDs, tractors/farm machinery, and trucks on the market, see the March issue of Blue's Country Magazine. Call 1300 461 528, email email@example.com or click here to subscribe for just $47 per year.