We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the humble four-door bakkie is evolving at an amazing pace, making top-end versions more appealing than ever as alternatives to conventional wagon-based SUVs. The brand-new Mitsubishi Triton is a perfect example
The latest model to join the luxury double-cab bakkie fray is the Mitsubishi Triton, introduced initially in the shape of an imported (from Thailand) 4×4 turbodiesel, but the range will grow to the point where certain body styles will be locally manufactured.
It will effectively become the third generation Mitsubishi LCV range to be sold here, with SA production scheduled to start in mid- 2008.
To a degree, Mitsubishi has eschewed the “bigger is better” approach of Navara and Hilux, key rivals for the Triton 2,5 DiD 4×4. It looks surprisingly compact – especially in black – with swoopy bodywork and an unusual curve to the trailing edge of the rear doors, matching the curvature of the foremost section of the short and stubby load box.
The optional, smooth-fitting tonneau cover disguises the fact that this load box isn’t the geometrical offering that we’ve become used to: it slopes downwards at the rear, meeting an almost dainty tailgate that incorporates a high-level brake light and a central release mechanism.
There’s an almost gangling, spidery look created by the big gaps between the bold wheelarches and the 235/65 rubber on 17- inch alloys. Chrome is much in evidence, adding an element of “bling”: you’ll find it on the mirror housings, door handles and around the distinctive “shark’s tooth” grille. The Triton looks racy – almost ready to tackle the Dakar at pace – while its rivals suggest they are muscular urbanites, happier in the concrete jungle.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
Apart from its looks, it does imitate Hilux/Navara in its mechanicals. Gone is the old-fashioned recirculating ball steering, replaced by rack and pinion. The torsion bar front suspension (with its limitations in terms of progression) has been replaced by a wishbone and spring/strut combo, and under the bonnet there is common-rail, direct injection diesel technology.
At the back there’s the standard semi-elliptical leaf spring and live axle set up, fitted with a conventional driver-activated differential lock. The Triton also boasts the first-generation SuperSelect four-wheeldrive system as fitted to some earlier Pajeros, which incorporates a locking centre differential. Drivers use a secondary lever to go from two-high to four-high, to four-high with locked centre diff, and on to mud-plugging low-range where the differential lock remains activated.
At the heart of it all is a substantial ladder frame chassis, which Mitsubishi says is 50% more resistant to twisting and 70% more resistant to bending than before.
Back to the outside: the eagle-eyed may notice something unusual about the rear glass, and they’d be right. Instead of opening it by sliding it manually to the sides, the Triton has a conventional “window”. Push a button on the centre console and the heated glass disappears straight down behind the rear seats, creating an open, well-ventilated cabin.
★ ★ ★ ★
At R307 900 the Triton isn’t cheap, and opting for leather (and electric adjustment for the driver’s pew) pushes the price up to R315 900. But it might be the way to go, for the standard cloth seats are thin, lightly-padded items, and not especially comfortable.
The cushions have a decent firmness but are too flat, and while fast cornering is not the preserve of double-cab bakkies, the backrests are short of lateral support.
Some drivers found the relationship between the wheel and chair wrong, too: they were either sitting with legs too bent or too far back with arms uncomfortably outstretched. The seat is height-adjustable through a generous range but the lever to pump it up and down has all the rigidity of an overripe banana.
The rear compartment, however, is excellent. The seats are exceptionally comfortable and occupants adopt a natural posture, in addition to which there’s more than adequate leg- and headroom, and a central armrest folds down to reveal two cup-holders.
While comfy, the rear compartment isn’t especially versatile: the cushion is fixed to the floor and can’t be tilted up to accommodate large items. Interestingly, the seat incorporates ISOFIX mounting points, so that compatible child seats can be securely attached.
And then there’s the rearmost compartment, commonly known to South Africans as the “bak”. Not only is it the second shortest in its class (just 1328mm from end to end), but it is also the shallowest – a mere 40cm high at the tailgate. It recovers some pride with a width of 1467mm, but even that puts it near the bottom of the double-cab bunch. One thing is clear: the Triton isn’t designed as a load lugger, though its 1045kg payload confirms that it is a true one-tonner.
Nope, this is a sports truck, and the cabin detailing bears this out. The steering wheel is a natty three-spoke item, the blue stitching of its leather trim replicated in the gearknobs. Then there are the faux “torx” screwheads in the transmission tunnel surround, the aluminium-look trim, and the general choice of materials for the dashboard.
Features we liked were the eye-level display which digitally conveys not just the time, but date, air pressure, ambient temperature and direction of travel, as well as info such as average fuel consumption and remaining tank range.
The oversize HVAC controls also work well, and the Triton has pukka climate control, so you just set the temperature and let the system do the rest. We also liked the easy accessibility of the power points, the plentiful storage options and the fact that all five windows have a one-touch up/down function.
Less loveable is the fiddly CD/MP3 frontloader. Apart from being small, there just isn’t enough indent on the buttons to use it confidently on the move.
★ ★ ★
The Triton faces an uphill battle here, thanks not so much to its 2,5-litre capacity, but the fact that despite being intercooled, it produces just 100 kW and 314 Nm.
A couple of years back these would’ve been impressive headline numbers, but the similarly- sized Nissan oil-burner thumps out 128 kW and a towering 403 Nm in the 4×4 Navara.
So the Triton’s performance ends up being pretty average. It picks up reasonably cleanly, without that on/off delivery that can blight smaller turbos, and in normal driving it feels adequate, if a little rough and noisy in the lower reaches of the rev range.
It’s not slow off the mark, but it never feels really punchy, and you’re not going to be tempted to go for gaps, or make “tactical” decisions to stop queue-jumpers. You kind of sit back, settle down, and find a decent pace where you can keep the five-speed box in the meat of the powerband.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we’ll point out that the Triton is yet another modern vehicle that is too heavy, and that it needs more power to become a better than average performer. We see the portliness reflected in the mediocre 60 to 100 and 80 to 120km/h flexibility results, the latter set more unimpressive because the tachometer is stuck in an arc where there isn’t much torque on offer.
Our true 120km/h freeway run, coupled to our Gerotek session, suggested that the Triton is going to return about 11 litres per 100km in mixed driving. That’s pretty good for this kind of vehicle, and the engine proved especially economical when cruising.
Brakes are – you guessed it – average. Our figures suggested it could do with a bit more outright bite from the modestly dimensioned discs and beefy drums. There’s ABS and EBD, so getting the best out of them is easy, and we liked the firm, easily modulated feedback from the pedal.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★
The Triton is obviously a significant improvement on the Colt. It has more precise steering, the front end copes well with changes in surfaces, and it can be aimed into corners with a fair degree of precision.
A couple of minor issues count against it. The steering is very slow, and requires too much wheel-twirling in the driveway and cluttered parking lots.
Then there’s the rear suspension. We don’t expect the magic carpet treatment from leaf springs and the tail is quite plush most of the time, but it goes too rapidly from firm to harsh, lacking the progression that now seems to be more successfully engineered into these simple and rugged suspension systems.
But the Triton did impress us off road. It has excellent approach and departure angles (the test unit wasn’t fitted with either of the optional rear bumpers, one of which incorporates a tow bar), and the 4×4 system is simple to use, even if a firm hand is needed to push the lever through the various settings. Getting up and over, or down and into, obstacles is easy thanks to excellent ramp angle uncompromised by side sills.
With both the rear and centre differentials locked, we’d expect it to be particularly good on loose surfaces, or when the axles run out of travel over rocky, undulating terrain.
★ ★ ★
The 2,5-litre version is priced head-on against the two big guns in the market, and we can’t help wondering what kind of premium will be demanded for the 3,2-litre oilburner with 121 kW/373 Nm when it is launched towards the end of the year.
This introductory version, while laden with a number of surprise and delight features and clad in a sheet metal suit unlike anything anyone else is wearing, just seems to be priced too high for the performance it delivers. Which is a crying shame.