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Steane Klose | Sep 8, 2009 | 7 Comments

TMR TRITON CONCEPT ROAD TEST REVIEW

THE LAST TIME that we were handed the keys to a concept vehicle and told to “take it away for four days and let us know what you think…” was, well, never.

Most concept cars are either touring the car show circuit or parked in dark corners of mysterious sheds, located on properties that don’t exist on maps.

It was therefore logical to conclude that there was more to this offer than was immediately obvious, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The concept vehicle in question is the TMR Triton which debuted on the Mitsubishi stand at the 2008 Sydney Motor Show.

For Mitsubishi fans and Triton owners, the concept and its creators need no introduction, but to tell the story behind TMR is to take a stroll through one of the golden ages of Australian motor sport.

alan-heaphy_team-mitsubishi-ralliart The Team Principal of TMR is a man who will need no introduction to motorsport fans, Alan Heaphy.

Alan has enjoyed a career spanning more than 20 years at the pointy end of Motorsport team management, including heading Nissan Motorsport Australia’s Touring Car program in 1991 and 1992 with Fred Gibson as Team Principle.

Both ’91 and ’92 were memorable years for Nissan motorsport in Australia. The R32 GT-Rs dominated on the track, and the team that Alan managed remains the most successful ever in Australian touring car history.

Another member of that now famous team was Peter West, TMR’s Team Manager. Peter was the Engine Project Manager for Gibson Motorsport from 1990 to 2003 and worked with three manufacturers during this time - Nissan, Ford and General Motors.

In 1994, Alan set up a V8 Supercar team for former World 500cc Champion Wayne Gardner and Neil Crompton and has since been involved with a number of other big name teams, including Wynn’s Racing (’99 FAI 1000 Bathurst winners), Cat Racing and Gibson Motorsport (before they were re-named the team 00 Motorsport).

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It was in 2004 that Alan established a new look TMR for Mitsubishi Australia. The new TMR’s first foray into motorsport was with two all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Magnas that competed in the 2004 Globalstar Australian Rally Championship. They dominated their class with six wins from six starts.

A string of Evos followed the AWD Magnas, with TMR preparing Evo 8s, 9s and now Xs for road and motorsport use. TMR-prepared Evo Xs have recently dominated at the Bathurst 12 Hour and proven their mettle in other tarmac and track events.

Despite the hectic schedule, TMR found enough time in 2007 to develop a road going supercharged version of the Mitsubishi 380 - the TMR380.

A significant increase in output, huge brakes and revised suspension turned the humble 380 into a focused driver’s car – and a very rare one. Only 20 were ever produced and all were sold through Mitsubishi dealers.

mitsubishi-ralliarttmr-380 In 2008 that TMR turned its attention to Mitsubishi’s ML Triton 4WD Dual-Cab ute. A style trend-setter, the Triton received an engine ECU upgrade, larger brakes, retuned suspension and a host of detail changes to create what is possibly the ultimate, road-going Triton.

Unveiled to the public at the 2008 Sydney Motor Show, the TMR Triton concept was a crowd pleaser, but one destined never to be more than a one-off prototype.

Never before driven by the press, we were handed the keys. Was this a last hurrah before the TMR Triton concept is retired to gather dust in the corner of a shed?

Not quite…

 

Styling

The ML Triton’s styling is polarizing, you either love it or hate it. To some it is just too different to the square boxy trucks they are used to. For others the styling is a breath of fresh air in a sector that really needs some change.

Wherever you sit, there is no argument that the ML has proven to be a popular choice for dual-cab ute buyers and an outstanding sales success for Mitsubishi.

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TMR approached the unique exterior styling of the Triton with a deft hand, keeping the enhancements subtle and low-key.

Using the top-of-the-line GLS Triton as a starting point, the concept adds a sports head-lamp kit, chrome upper and lower sports grilles and unique ‘TMR Enhanced Triton’ badging to the mix.

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The rear tub of the concept is fitted with the same Fastback hard cover that was available on the ML range, but is now a discontinued Mitsubishi accessory.

Wheels have been bumped up a size to 18” x 8” shod with Pirelli Scorpion ATR 255/55R18 tyres that feature a symmetrical All-Terrain tread pattern.

TMR’s ‘stealth’ approach to the exterior styling provides just a hint of what lies beneath.


 

Mechanical Package

Under the bonnet is where it starts to get really interesting.

Fresh from the factory, the standard Triton’s 4M41 3.2-litre diesel produces 118kW at 4000rpm, and 347Nm at 2000rpm.

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TMR has developed a full ECU re-program that bumps outputs to 132kW at 3800rpm and a huge 450Nm at 2000rpm. No piggy-back computer, no interception of the standard ECU’s signal; this is a fully developed, downloadable ECU re-flash.

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The TMR Triton concept uses the Triton’s standard four-speed automatic and Super Select 4WD system that allows operation in either 2WD, full-time 4WD (on and off-road) or 4WD high/low range.

As mentioned, the alloy wheels are 18” (up from 17”), a necessity given the TMR Triton’s specifically developed front brake hardware.

Discs have been upgraded to two-piece 343mm x 29mm ventilated and slotted units, with beefy-looking TMR logo’d four-piston calipers clamping high-performance Ferodo DS25HP brake pads.

Plenty of power, and the ability to stop like no other Triton are only two thirds of this story. TMR has taken the standard Triton’s suspension to task and fitted Koni 8240 series shock absorbers to the front and rear.

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Not content to fit the Koni shock absorbers ‘as is’, TMR has had a play with their valving to best match them to the Triton’s drive characteristics.

Standard springs and ride heights have been retained to ensure that none of the standard Triton’s off-road ability is lost.

 

The Interior

The subtle exterior treatment extends through to the TMR-enhanced leather interior. The front and rear seats feature stitched TMR logos, while stainless steel scuff plates and Triton mats carry the theme throughout the cabin.

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The Triton’s standard audio system has been replaced by an Eclipse CD3200 Multi Source Sound System offering USB input, integrated Bluetooth handsfree and full iPod control, along with a 50W x four-channel internal amplifier.

The rest of the cabin is standard GLS Triton fare.

 

The Drive

TMR began the Triton concept project with one clearly defined goal: build a better Triton.

It was imperative that it retained its stock off-road-ability, while providing significantly improved performance and a more enthusiastic, less truck-like on-road driving experience.

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With four days to find out, we took the TMR Triton for a run across a wide range of on-road conditions, from Melbourne’s tollways, to the country roads that wind their way through the Grampian ranges to the southwest of Melbourne.

From the moment you select drive and move off, the concept’s additional 103Nm makes its presence felt. Benchmarked against the standard ML Triton 3.2-litre diesel GLX-R we reviewed back in January, the concept feels meatier off-idle and pulls like a train.

The standard 3.2-litre can feel doughy off-boost and is noticeably less eager than the TMR Triton as the revs build; the TMR-tuned engine fairly wallops it from idle through to redline.

More torque certainly makes it easier and more relaxing to drive the Triton through the cut and thrust of city traffic, but where the re-tuned 4M41 really shines is on the open road.

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In situations that would see a standard ML diesel owner hang back from overtaking, the TMR-tuned Triton has enough of an edge to make the decision an easy and safe one.

You don’t need to factor in a wait as boost builds, or worry as much that you’ll run out of puff as the big four-cylinder reaches the upper limits of its typically narrow diesel power range. There is enough grunt straight off the bat to ensure it’s a simple case of point and squirt. The big torque will do the rest.

According to the notoriously inaccurate Triton trip computer, fuel consumption across our 650km round trip was 11.6 l/100km, about normal for a standard 3.2-litre Triton in our experience.

Fresh from the factory, the standard ML Triton rides nicely and has an easy-going manner around town. It’s a borderline proposition though when you hit the highway or put the pressure on.

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Easily unsettled by undulating roads, a Triton in standard trim (especially one with 10,000km or so on the odo) tends to porpoise as the undersized shock absorbers struggle to provide enough rebound damping.

In stark contrast, the TMR Triton concept’s Koni suspension ensures it sits much flatter through corners. Mid-corner bumps are shrugged off, dips are traversed without wallowing and what is essentially a two tonne truck, gets closer to handling like a car than it has any right to.

We didn’t take the TMR Triton concept off the black-top, but from experience would expect the Konis to perform just as well off-road, provided tyre pressures were dropped to the appropriate level for the terrain being tackled.

Then of course there are those brakes. The TMR brake upgrade brings a new level of braking control to the Triton.

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Working seamlessly with the standard rear-drums and ABS system there is significantly more initial bite and improved pedal feel.

While we weren’t about to punt a one-off concept anywhere near its limit, the steep climbs throughout the Grampians provide their own challenges for brake systems.

With three people on board and a tray full of camera gear and luggage, the upgraded TMR brakes were noticeably superior. You could brake later, harder and with significantly more confidence than in a standard Triton.


The Verdict

Has TMR built a better Triton?

Unless you are a hardcore off-roader then yes they have, absolutely. For those who want to get the best from their Triton on-the-road, without compromising its off-road-ability, the TMR Triton concept’s upgrades have the bases expertly covered.

Significantly more power and torque, hugely improved suspension performance and big brakes take the Triton’s on-road ability to an all new level. It’s still a truck, but it’s a very well sorted one.

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Unfortunately you cannot buy the TMR Triton concept and TMR will not be building enhanced Triton’s for sale through the Mitsubishi dealer network - at least not yet. The reason we were handed the keys to the concept is simple, TMR is ready to enhance ML Tritons.

Current ML Triton owners are now able to upgrade their VR, GLX-R and GLS Tritons with genuine TMR developed products - exactly the same goodies showcased on the TMR Triton concept.

You can opt to go the whole nine yards and have TMR fit your Triton out exactly like the concept. Choose this option and TMR will transform your Triton over a five day period into an almost dead-ringer of the concept, mechanically and cosmetically, right down to the chrome grille inserts and ‘TMR Enhanced Triton’ badges.

Alternatively, you can choose to upgrade just your engine, brakes or suspension, or any combination of those options, in which case your Triton will also be kitted out with unique ‘TMR Enhanced’ badging.

Importantly, all TMR enhancements are ADR compliant and fully warranted by TMR.

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It doesn’t necessarily end with the ML Triton either. With the MN Triton due on dealer forecourts in September, TMR is looking closely at the possibility of making its enhancement packages (except the ECU re-tune) available to new Triton buyers at the time of purchase.

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Enhancement Packages and Pricing

Complete TMR Triton upgrade (interior/exterior/mechanical) - $9,100 + GST

Front brake upgrade (includes 18″ alloy wheels and tyres) - $7,000 + GST

Koni suspension upgrade - $1,250 + GST

3.2-litre Diesel engine ECU reflash (132kW/450Nm) - $2,300 + GST

The complete TMR Triton upgrade includes "TMR Enhanced Triton" badges on front doors and tailgate. The other upgrades listed include "TMR Enhanced" badges on front doors and tailgate.

Photography by Joel Strickland

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