08 Feb 2019

Mitsubishi Triton 2019 first drive review

Australia's underdog ute is ready to rattle rivals
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It's the largest, loudest and most-fancied utes that seem to be the darlings of the media, but there’s something about an underdog that appeals to our national psyche.

Mitsubishi has played that role in the ute market for four decades. Though bigger brands such as Toyota, Holden and Ford have stronger followings, Mitsubishi’s Triton remains a compelling machine which goes about its business a little differently.

1/5

Overview

Like its L200 predecessors, the Triton isn't a ute for bragging about big numbers. There are competitors with larger and more powerful engines, greater maximum payloads and more impressive towing capabilities. Mitsubishi didn’t feel the need to mess with its relatively compact 2.4-litre diesel engine as part of a mid-life update for the model.

Pitched at pragmatists, the Triton is for folks who champion value for money. As before, it's one of the msot affordable established utes in its class and continues to be available in three body styles - single cab, club cab and dual cab - with a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, petrol or turbo-diesel power and manual or automatic transmissions.

There are 20 variants to choose from, officially starting at $22,490 plus on-road costs for the cheapest tray-back option - the GLX with a five-speed manual and 2.4-litre petrol motor - and topping out at $51,990 for the fully-loaded four-wheel-drive GLS Premium with a 2.4-litre turbo diesel engine and six-speed auto.

Walking through the range, the petrol engine is only available with a manual transmission and rear-drive hardware in the cheapest single-cab body and entry-level GLX trim for $22,490. A diesel engine will set you back a further $3500, with a six-speed automatic transmission another $2500 on top of that.

Upgrading to four-wheel-drive running gear with a low-range transfer case will set you back $7000. A single-cab turbo-diesel Triton GLX 4X4 with an automatic transmission costs $35,490 plus on-roads, while the roomier club cab is another $3300 and the most popular dual-cab layout is only another $750 from there at $39,750 plus on-road costs.

Switching the basic cab chassis layout for a pick-up tub costs $450, then you can choose between trim levels bringing increasingly impressive features.

Mitsubishi says prices have increased from $500 (in the basic GLX) to $3000 (for the Exceed-replacing GLS Premium), figures justified by additional equipment compared to the previous model.

Mitsubishi hosted journalists in Tasmania for the Triton’s national launch, where we had an opportunity for quick stints in a number of models before spending a full day at the helm of the range-topping GLS Premium.

What's the interior like?

Home to a cabin trimmed in perforated leather with heated front seats, the GLS Premium is intended to take on rival machines such as the Toyota HiLux SR5 and Ford Ranger XLT, which sit toward the top of their respective ranges. A multi-function four-spoke steering wheel with metal shift paddles features tilt and reach adjustment - a rarity in this class - along with electric driver’s seat adjustment, digital climate control and improved noise management to make the Triton more comfortable on longer trips.

It’s not a perfect environment - plastic elements feel cheap, the seats are a little flat and taller occupants have to duck to negotiate a low roof and relatively high seat in a door opening that’s a little tighter than most.

That said, there’s plenty of room inside the Triton (even if it is a touch smaller than key rivals, giving away 20 centimetres to the Ranger’s longer wheelbase) both in the front and back. Passengers have plenty of cubby holes to stash odds and ends, along with the benefit of USB connectivity in the front and rear.

Four USB points join a 12-volt outlet and HDMI connectivity hooked up to a 7-inch touchscreen found in the top three grades. Apple CarPlay and Android auto feature as part of the package, but sat nav isn’t on the menu - you need to rely on third-party smartphone services such as Google Maps or Waze.

Beyond that, clever touches include an oddball air conditioning system which draws air into a duct mounted in the middle of the model’s rooflining before directing it toward back-seat passengers. Though it sounds strange, the system works well in practice, directing cool air to faces instead of feet.

Practical tech includes clever hardware allowing you to twist a knob and shift from rear-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive traction while driving at speeds below 100km/h - where some rival machines require you to stop and put the transmission in neutral.

A multi-terrain system tailors the car’s systems for a variety of circumstances including rocks, mud, sand and tarmac, aided by a hill descent control function and a rear differential lock for the top model.

What's it like to drive?

Mitsubishi offers two engines in the Triton. The cheapest two-wheel-drive cab chassis model is powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol motor mated to a five-speed manual transmission. It’s a budget option, and a little breathless due to modest outputs of 94kW and 194Nm that really aren’t too muscular.

Most customers are going to skip that option in favour of a 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine with much healthier 133kW and 430Nm peaks - figures much more adept to working with heavy loads or in trying conditions. The engine is a carry-over unit from the previous model, though diesel automatic variants now get a six-speed transmission as opposed to the old five-speed auto.

It’s not a bad engine by any means, sounding and feeling slightly sweeter than some of the more agricultural motors behind the badges of key rivals.

But the Mitsubishi can’t match the ultimate pulling power of stronger variants with bigger engines, and there certainly are times when you can find yourself wishing for a slice of the significant torque advantage held by the likes of VW’s Amarok V6.

Fuel economy is something of a sore topic for the new Triton. Despite running the same engine as its predecessor and having an extra gear to play with, fuel use for popular automatic diesel variants has increased by one litre per 100 kilometres of driving to an official figure of 8.6L/100km, something Mitsubishi attributes to bluff, less aerodynamic styling, more aggressive gearing (for improved towing and acceleration performance) and a small increase in weight.

It shouldn’t be a dealbreaker as the real-world difference will be little more than a couple of hundred dollars per year, which isn’t much when you’re dropping up to $50,000 on a new ride.

We’ll revisit the Triton’s real-world fuel economy at a later date - hard running in soft sand, steep rocky trails and winding mountain roads produced figures far removed from what most owners can expect.

Our time with the Triton started with a 15 minute run in a 1984 Mitsubishi L200 ute, essentially the same model which first went on sale 40 years ago. The charming (and immaculate) little runabout restored by Mitsubishi served as a reminder of how far utes have come, and just how much people expect from a modern pick-up.

That is, unless you’re buying the basic petrol Triton, which ticks a lot of the same boxes with a wheezy petrol engine, smooth-shifting five-speed manual transmission, basic stereo and spartan cabin. A quick drive of the cheapest Triton reminded us that this is a cut-price machine normally found at rent-a-ute businesses or on company fleets.

Those spending their own money are much more likely to go with the high-spec GLS Premium, or something close to that spec.

We drove the car on a variety of surfaces - torturous ribbons of Targa Tasmania tarmac, steep rocky trails, loose gravel and soft sand, coming away impressed by its breadth of ability.

Taking advantage of its shift-on-the-fly 4X4 system, we barrelled along a broad variety of surfaces, stopped only by a climb in soft sand which needed a second attempt to ascent.

The Triton feels sweet to steer compared with bigger rivals, and reasonably planted on the road thanks to fat new 265mm-wide tyres with a highway bias.

An equivalent Ford ranger weighs in around 230kg heavier than the Mitsu, which is equivelant to having a big trail bike or a small jet ski in the back.

Responding faithfully to driver inputs, the locally-tested Triton brings sound body control and a reasonably impressive ride when unladen. The new six-speed auto is a good gadget, helping make the most of a modest engine and bringing new refinement to highway cruising by keeping the revs down.

We didn’t have an opportunity to tow with the model or put a solid amount of weight in the back, something we plan to address soon.

What's the first impression?

Top-end Triton GLS Premium auto variants on sale for $51,990 drive-away currently undercut Toyota’s HiLux SR5 by $1000, before you factor in a further $2000 for an automatic transmission and $2000 for a premium interior in the HiLux. Ford’s Ranger XLT manual is $52,990 drive-away (an automatic transmission costs an extra $2200), while Holden’s Colorado LTZ is a little cheaper at $49,990 drive-away with auto (plus a further $1000 bonus for 2018 models).

Rival machines best the Triton in a number of areas. A handful of machines from Ford, Holden, Volkswagen and Mercedes bring 500Nm of torque, some have five and six-cylinder engines with engine capacities of 3.0-litres or more.

They can legally tow 3.5 tonnes (400kg more than the Mitsubishi) and carry more in the tray.

The new Triton weighs up to 1998kg, 63kg more than before. That figure trims the same amount from its maximum payload, which drops to 902kg, or less than the HiLux, Ranger and Navara.

Mitsubishi is on to a good thing with the new Triton.

It looks sharp, offers strong safety features and brings outstanding value - particularly when drive-away prices and the current seven-year warranty promotion are taken into account.

Yep, there’s plenty of fight in this underdog.

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