Mitsubishi's Triton GLX-R Turbo Diesel now sports a locking centre diff. But how good is it when the going gets tough? To find out, we let it off the chain in Victoria's spectacular high country.
THE BLUE RAG RANGE TRACK sits high in the Victorian snow country. It forks west from the Dargo High Plains Road, following the knife edge of the ridges between Mt Blue Rag and the spur to ‘The Trig’ – a high-point mapping marker. From there, if you’re up to it, it drops through more than 2000 feet into the headwaters of the Wonnangatta River.
It is one of Victoria’s greatest 4WD drive tracks with spectacular views over Mt Feathertop, Hotham and the surrounding high county. The track itself is low-range four-wheel drive fare - you’d knock the stuffing out of a soft-roader here.
With a series of steep rocky pinches, long loose descents and deep ruts with large sump-endangering shale outcrops, it’s the perfect run, you’d have to agree, for putting Mitsubishi’s strong-selling Triton GLX-R Turbo Diesel rig with four-speed auto and ‘Super Select’ four-wheel-drive system through its paces.
We reasoned that if the GLX-R Turbo Diesel can get the amply-fed TMR crew there and back without knocking the guts out of the vehicle and the lard out of the passengers, it can do the same for you and your family, mates, or fellow philosophers.
So, four up, TMR’s finest front and back, contour maps, sextant, barf bags, vegemite sandwiches and string, we took to the highway through East Gippsland then climbed north through the rising foothills into Dargo.
On most weekends, Dargo is awash with groups of dirt bikers (you’ll need to book ahead if you plan on staying). From there, you’ve got three main choices to the north of the town – and each terrific drives.
You can either head east across the ridge roads to Omeo; northwest into the old mining area of Grant (and further west to the Pinnacles), or due north climbing to the high plains. Head this way and you’ll rise up over 1600 metres onto Treasure’s Plain and above the snow line.
Up here, with Mt Hotham due west, you’ll find the turnoff of onto the Blue Rag Range Track. Heading in, you need to expect ‘traffic’ coming the other way - there is just one way in, and the same way out (Be warned: depending where you find each other, there can sometimes be a bit of manoeuvring to get by on the narrow track.)
Above: View from the top, looking south. The grey-streaked bush – thousands of hectares of the bleached dead trunks of trees, standing like thin matchsticks – carries the reminder of the devastating 2003 fires.
So what’s the Triton like? Does it cut the mustard on this sort of drive? And it’s one thing being good along a bush trail, but can you live with it for the necessary highway duties?
Well then, let’s start with the accommodation.
Creature comforts, fit and finish
Inside, to these eyes, the Triton in GLX-R trim is one of the better interiors in the class – more stylish than the heavy-handed Navara, classier than the plain Colorado, and more appealing than the studiously grey but well-executed HiLux.
The textured black dash – typical Mitsubishi – feels, and looks, smart. In the GLX-R, it comes with multifunction display, trip computer, CD (with MP3 capability) and Bluetooth. There is some design flair to the appealing ‘blue-faced’ dials, controls, and centre console. And there is also a ‘hewn from stone’ unitary feel to things.
The ergonomics at the wheel and the accommodation also works - for both front and rear seat passengers. Thanks to the Triton’s unique pod-shaped cabin, no other twin-cab of comparable dimensions offers such rear leg-room, nor such a comfortable sloping seat-back for the rear passengers.
Despite hours on the road (and tracks), there were no complaints from the back seat about cramped quarters or discomfort. It really is an exceptional design in this regard.
There are two things, and only two, that let down an otherwise top-notch interior: the front seats, though comfortable enough, lack lumber support (even for shortish legs). And though in the GLX-R they’re nicely trimmed in a smart ‘sport’ fabric and provide adequate side-support, you feel a bit like you’re perched on them. Some more ‘under-thigh’ padding would not go astray.
The other gripe – ok, it’s minor – is that the textured grey all-plastic door trims seem at odds with the quality feel of the rest of the interior. In fact all of the Japanese marques need to take a look at how well Ford and Holden trim their utes, and take a leaf out of the same book.
On the road
Since that first short-wheelbase Pajero – the ‘Pampas Cat’ - hit these shores over 25 years ago with independent front-end and, for the time, exceptional balance between off-road capability and on-road compliance, Mitsubishi has held onto a high ground in suspension dynamics.
Soon, everyone followed the Pajero’s lead and, within a decade, solid axles and leaf-sprung front ends had been usurped as ‘the standard’ for the class.
Both single and twin-cab Tritons we sampled last year, and the GLX-R in this test, confirm our view that Mitsubishi has still got ‘the on-road/off-road double’ pretty right. The GLX-R is competent and comfortable on the highway – even approaching supple – and yet firm enough but with sufficient wheel travel to handle the roughest off-road trails.
From the wheel, its load-lugging origins are obscured. Sure, things feel a bit lifeless at the dead-ahead, and the steering is not as direct as it might be (not as direct as the TRD HiLux for instance), but there are no complaints with the ‘feel’ when cornering or when picking through the rough.
It leans on that outside front and understeers a little when pressing on, but the Triton’s overall balance is at the top of its class.
Some in the segment jar and pitch on the highway unless you’ve got the cast of The Biggest Loser in the tray. This is not the case with the Triton. It is one of the better-mannered and better connected drives in the segment. And on this alone, will continue to win a lot of friends.
It is only over corrugations on gravel roads that the suspension can get caught out. In these conditions with an un-laden tray, the rear can step sideways - not as readily or suddenly as some, but not up to the standard of the more expensive but discontinued TRD HiLux. There is also a bit of judder through the wheel. You’d have to suspect that if Bilsteins can settle the HiLux, perhaps throwing a set under the Triton might also do the trick.
On the highway, and winding up into Dargo, the strong and economical 3.2 litre common rail direct injection Turbo Diesel (with 343Nm and 118kW available) and surprisingly competent four-speed auto (with overdrive), proved a very good match. It will kick down and wind up quickly when overtaking and, with masses of torque, doesn’t ‘hunt’ and poke around between gears when in the hills. Some autos can drive you nuts, the auto in the Triton you simply don’t notice.
It’s a better combo and less-wearing than the groaning CVT in the Navara, less ‘fidgety’ than the TRD and a match for the excellent turbo diesel in the Colorado/D-Max.
In the rough stuff
You can call me a convert. It is only recently that I’ve become convinced of the strengths of an auto mated to a strong diesel in picking your way through the rough.
In low range, thanks to the characteristics of a torque converter in keeping the turbo diesel in the ‘sweet spot’ when working hard on a broken climb, the Triton auto has a real surprise up its sleeve in how well it goes about things.
In the GLX-R, it is helped by Mitsubishi’s Super Select four-wheel drive system lifted from the Padger wagon (and available since July 2008 for diesel VR, GLX-R and GLS models). On a steep climb in ‘four low’, with locked centre differential applying drive equally to all four wheels, the GLX-R simple ‘winds its way’ up. Having 343Nm available at just 2000rpm certainly helps when the going gets lumpy.
On this trail, the Triton impressed us all with its easy, un-fussed competence. Breaking traction is the enemy on loose climbs and descents; it simply wasn’t an issue on even the roughest sections of this track.
(With a manual, you can find yourself bashing through in these conditions - and lurching on and off the clutch - to keep the torque in the ‘sweet-spot’.)
Here again, the Triton’s suspension strengths are also apparent. Even fully laden, it will step over obstacles without wallowing onto the bump-stops or, worse, ‘kneeling’ onto the sills or undercarriage. We ‘bottomed’ things just a couple of times along the Blue Rag Track.
Style-wise, it sets itself apart from others in the class – the Triton. Where the trend is to heavy, square-rigged exterior lines, the Triton has rounded lines, a swooping bonnet and semi-elliptical cabin. It is different, stylish and – with heavy nudge bar up front, trade bars, wide stance and enclosed tub – has a real presence on the road.
Perhaps the tray doesn’t marry as well with the cohesive style of the cabin and front clip (it appears to droop from some angles), but, when in our care, most gave the Triton’s purposeful lines a strong ‘thumbs up’.
One thing to note carefully though (especially if you’re considering the Triton for load-lugging duties) is that the sloping cabin eats a little way into the space of the tray-back. It’s not as big as some in the class. I need to give another warning here too: pressing the tail-gate closed with the palm of the hand will leave an impression in the rear panel. A panel strengthening swage would do the trick… Mitsubishi, you listening?
In all, these are minor gripes. For the Triton’s capabilities, comfort, ease at the wheel, and clever design, we came away very impressed with this versatile, capable four-wheeler.
The addition of Mitsubishi’s Super Select four-wheel-drive system to the Triton GLX-R turbo diesel makes a good dual-purpose vehicle, an even better one.
To cap it off, it has a teetotaller’s thirst for diesel. It sips it like it’s poison. The combined result – with four-up - from the highway run, the climb into the mountains, hours of hard graft in low range, then back down the mountain, returned a surprising and very respectable 11.8 l/100km.
Around town, that figure was closer to 10.0 l/100km. All up, it makes the factory claim of 9.9 l/100km (combined cycle) very achievable indeed.
The Triton is sensible buying because the sum of its parts makes such a strong case. But best of all, put one in the drive and you’ll soon find yourself discovering places otherwise denied. Fabulous places like the Blue Rag Range Track.
The Insider’s Big Statement
If you've been noticing a lot of Tritons on the road lately, it's because they're selling. Total sales last year were 9370, down just 4.0 percent on 2007, compared to the Navara which was down 11.3 percent, and the barn-storming HiLux which was up 9.6 percent. Not inexpensive but well-featured, and offering road-friendly manners, a supple suspension and a strong but thrifty diesel, Mitsubishi's Triton GLX-R turbo diesel might just be the best buy of the moment at the upper end of its segment - especially with the deals Mitsubishi currently has on offer to ABN holders.
The Insider likes:
- Ripper diesel (now a little quieter)
- Generous interior space, interior style and rear leg room
- The heavy-duty off-road capability of the Super Select 4WD system
- Supple and comfortable ride (for a high-stepping ‘fourby’)
- The GLX-R diesel’s frugal thirst at the bowser
- The muscular frontal treatment and cabin design
The Insider dislikes:
- The door trims (ok… I know it’s picky)
- The front seats need more under-thigh support
- The compromised ute-tub space
- The ‘sagging’ lines of the tub
- A rear tail-gate that is easily dented
|Engine:||3.2 litre 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve|
|Fuel System:||Common rail diesel, direct injection|
|Fuel Consumption:||9.9 l/100km (claimed combined cycle)|
|Power:||118kW @ 3,800rpm|
|Torque:||343Nm @ 2,000rpm|
|Bore x stroke:||98.5mm x 105.0mm|
|Transmission:||Four-speed auto (high/low range)|
|4WD System:||Super Select locking centre differential with selectable 2WD|
|Suspension:||Front: Double wishbone with coil and stabiliser |
Rear: Rigid, eliptic leaf spring
|Brakes:||Front: Ventilated discs |
Rear: Drums, ABS with EBD
|Wheels:||17 x 7.0inch alloys|
|Tyres:||245/65 R17 111S RF|
|Towing capacity:||2,500kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked)|
|Cargo bed:||Length: 1325mm |
|Price:||$48,990 GLX-R turbo diesel (auto) |
$46,990 GLX-R turbo diesel (manual)