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OFF-ROAD TEST

Road test: Toyota Hilux VS Mitsubishi Triton





23 July 2019


Things have been quiet at the Mitsubishi SA headquarters recently. But business is looking up, with the launch of the latest Mitsubishi Triton.

Featuring a bold new look and with plenty of safety features, it has the potential to change Mitsubishi’s fortunes in the sales department. We pit the new Triton against SA’s favourite bakkie (and vehicle), the Toyota Hilux.

A week. That’s the margin by which we missed the chance to include the updated Ford Ranger in this test. The folks at Mitsubishi are probably relieved about this timing mismatch.

ALSO READ: Driving impression: 2019 Ford Ranger XLT and WildTrak

Although you need to look really closely to spot the obvious difference between the new Ranger and its predecessor, it’s the new two-litre twin-turbocharged diesel engine, coupled to a 10-speed automatic gearbox that could be a gamechanging combination in the bakkie market.

The new Triton lined up against SA’s most popular bakkie by far, the Toyota Hilux. The bakkie that’s been setting the benchmark to which all other bakkies have been measured. But before we delve into any comparisons, a short summary of the new Triton.

Can a Triton a day make the sales pains go away?

Some perspective: in Australia, the Triton has recorded some impressive sales numbers. Like the third bestselling vehicle (of all vehicles) in June 2018, with only the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger beating it to the line.

Here in SA, it’s a whole different game, and to call a spade a spade, Triton sales have not lived up to Mitsubishi’s expectations. In February this year, for example, only 25 units were sold, compared to the Hilux’s 3 504 bakkies and the Ranger’s 2 578. It’s never been a bad bakkie. On the contrary, it’s outstanding.

But the days when more than 1 000 Mitsubishi Colts were sold in a month are long gone. The reason? Hah, bring out that crystal ball… But essentially a series of delays saw the introduction of the latest Triton postponed by several years.

Eventually Fiat’s Triton clone, the Fullback, was introduced here… ahead of the actual Triton. Now the latest Triton has landed. The styling is bold, modern and rather distinctive, and it appears to go where no other double cab bakkie has gone before.

It’s an evolution of the previous model, with some handy updates. The styling is probably the most controversial element, and the one that will be most talked about. We were divided about the look of this new Mitsubishi; some reckon it takes the bakkie genre to a new level of cool, others are of the opinion that the designers maybe tried too hard to be different, and cool.

The more practically minded among us pondered how on earth any customer is going to fit an aftermarket bull bar on that nose, with all those swoopy lines. Which is a fair point. Whatever your view, you can’t ignore the fact that it stands out. It is, by a significant margin, the most interesting looking bakkie on sale today. It has a futuristic, cutting-edge appeal, all round. What else is new?

Apart from the updated exterior styling, the updates and enhancements centred more on improved safety, offroad ability and minor styling updates in the cabin. The same 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel has been carried over from before. The ladder-frame chassis remains as is but the suspension has been slightly tuned to offer more comfort and refinement. Mitsubishi’s awesome SuperSelect II 4WD, with its open centre differential, is standard on the top derivatives.

New is a six-speed automatic transmission, a trendy terrain response system, as well as hill descent control. The cabin features minor updates too, with new materials used in places. The previous generation Triton’s touchscreen infotainment system, featuring Apple CarPlay, is an optional extra (retailing at R14 375). Although the Triton sold in Australia is available with rear traffic cross alert, autonomous braking and blind spot warning, our version makes do without those expensive bits. It does have seven airbags.

Which is faster?

The Mitsubishi’s four-pot dishes up 133kW and 430Nm, which sounds grand on paper, especially when compared to the Toyota’s 130kW and 450Nm (the manual derivative has 420Nm). But there is a catch: the Mitsubishi’s engine delivers the 430Nm at 2 500r/min, while the Toyota’s 450Nm peaks at 1 600r/min. So although it’s not nearly as bad as the numbers suggest on black and white, the Triton does have more turbo lag at lower revs than the Hilux. Both bakkies use six-speed automatic gearboxes.

In the Triton you can go all ‘Evo’ with two large paddle shifters behind the leather-covered steering wheel but it’s debatable how often you’ll actually use them during your daily drive. You can also do the manual gear change thing in the Toyota but only via tipping the gear lever forwards and backwards.

The Hilux also has a ‘Power’ button, located next to the gear lever. When activated, the gearbox holds onto gears a bit longer, and kicks down more readily. But just like the Triton’s paddle shifters, it’s doubtful how often Hilux owners will use this option. Truth be told, both gearboxes do a rather splendid job all by themselves.

You hook Drive and just drive them. Both units fare well in and around the city. On the open road, the differences between these bakkies is more pronounced.

The Triton weighs in at 1 945kg, just over a 100kg less than the Hilux (at 2 064kg). Still, the Toyota’s additional grunt at lower revs, combined with a gearbox that quickly and effectively gets the job done, sees the Hilux leave the Triton behind when compared head to head, once on the roll. Not by much, but the Hilux’s more readily available Newtons come into play here.

Drive it like you stole it?

Push on in both these bakkies on a twisty tar road and there’s no hiding the fact that both are essentially workhorses by nature, with leaf-sprung rear ends which must cope with heavy loads. When pushing the envelope, the Triton feels the sportier and more composed with the steering providing good feedback. Not that the Hilux is not composed but it is a bit more floaty than the Mitsubishi. Both bakkies have traction and stability control as standard so even with just the rear wheels providing propulsion, there are plenty of safety buffers in place.

Here the Triton has a trump card up its sleeve: the Super Select II 4WD system. This system allows the driver to select 4WD with an open centre differential, so you can drive it all day on any surface (driving a vehicle in 4H with a locked centre diff on abrasive surfaces will cause the differentials to wind-up, resulting in drivetrain wear and possibly long-term reliability issues).

Of course, you don’t have to drive in 4WD all the time but this option is pretty handy if you drive your bakkie in a torrential downpour with no load on the back, and mud terrain tyres on all four corners. Sure, the electronic nannies are always at hand to try and save your bacon but with 4WD selected, the traction is just so much more sure-footed and composed. The Triton remains the only bakkie in SA to offer this drivetrain option.

The Triton’s steering system also needs a mention: it’s more direct than in the Hilux, which gives it a sportier edge. In town, its smaller turning circle is more noticeable, as it makes parking a lot easier. Life with a bakkie is usually a series of three-point turns but not so in a Triton.

On the inside

When the current Hilux was launched, we lauded the fact that Toyota finally got with the times and gave its bakkie a thoroughly modern interior. The latest Triton makes the Hilux feel like it needs an update again.

The Triton’s infotainment screen is neatly integrated into the centre console, while the Toyota’s tablet-like infotainment system remains a love-or-hate affair (This issue has been resolved with the introduction of Legend 50).

While the Hilux’s system has Bluetooth connectivity and a USB input (for charging, too) it does not have the option of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality. It’s surely just a question of time before Toyota gets on the Apple CarPlay and Andriod Auto bus but for now, the Triton has the Hilux’s number in this department. CarPlay has revolutionised the way we interact with our vehicles.

As cool and as handy as the CarPlay and Android Auto kit is, the fact remains that you’ll have to fork out another R14 500 to have it fitted in your Triton. And then the asking price is R605 000 – which is not so cool anymore. The Toyota does have satellite navigation and it remains one of the most intuitive systems to use. However, navigation with live traffic updates – which is more handy than the traditional navigation – is now available through your smartphone, and the CarPlay or Auto functions. Leather trim for the seats is standard in the Triton, and it offers the more upmarket option, with a luxury car feel to it. There’s a keyless start system and the steering wheel won’t be out of place in a luxury car. The Hilux cabin, on the other hand, is more spacious.

The Toyota’s all-black finish combined with the cool and classy cloth material on the seats, ensures you won’t really miss the leather trim. In summary, the Mitsubishi’s cabin is the more luxurious. But the Toyota’s is the more comfortable and spacious.

Let’s get dirty

Both the Toyota and Mitsubishi have a stellar off-road reputation so we needed a robust playground and eventually settled on a quarry. There was loads of open space for sideways antics and even more obstacles to clear. First up, some rock climbing.

The larger and heavier Hilux was first up. With 4Low, first gear and the rear differential lock engaged, we pointed it up a steep incline, with some loose rocks afoot. It clambered over the rocks with little exertion. In the Triton, the process was slightly more engaging, as you now also have the terrain management system to choose between Gravel, Mud/Snow and Rock. So we selected Rock Mode, with 4Low and the rear locker already engaged… and up she went too, no sweat.

Honestly, the difference in ultimate ability on a rough and tough track will only come down to the nut that holds the steering wheel and, in some cases, maybe the sheer girth of the Hilux versus the more nimble dimensions of the Triton.

From a mechanical ability point of view, they are very much on par. And the Triton’s new terrain management system? It’s a cool party trick, for sure. But we reckon 99% of Triton owners will get by without that option with no sleep lost. After the slow-speed 4×4 driving, things got more frisky as we upped the ante on the gravel tracks.

The difference in ride quality and feel was soon obvious. The Hilux is softer sprung, and glides over most of the bad surfaces, almost surreally. In the default 2H drive mode, the traction and stability control do a grand job of keeping the Toyota’s nose pointing in the right direction, without the dashboard lighting up with flashing warning lights as the electronics get into the game. In the Triton, the ride is harder, again more sporty, the steering more direct and communicative.

Maybe those ‘Evo’ paddle shifters are actually handy after all. The Mitsubishi ups the game even further when you select 4H (with the open centre diff). Understeer is less, grip is more and you start feeling like Mitsubishi world rally legend Tommi Mäkinen, chasing a stage victory. Kudos then, for a double cab bakkie that feels like this (and makes the driver feel like he’s Tommi’s African cousin), even if its ultimate speed is no match for some of the big-power bakkies on the market.

It’s all in the details. Or is it?

A bakkie’s bak is a rather important aspect of it being, well, a bakkie. The Hilux takes the lead with a load bin that’s 1 525mm long, 1 540mm wide and 480mm deep. The Triton’s is 1 520mm long, 1 460mm wide and 475mm deep. But while the Hilux can carry a larger object, the Triton can carry a heavier load.

The maximum permissible weight you can load on the Triton’s bak (gross weight minus tare weight) is 935kg compared to the 846kg of the Hilux. Interestingly, the Triton’s tailgate is fitted with a single shock absorber. So you open the tailgate via the handle, stand back, and watch the tailgate descend to its open position in a stylish glide. As for towing, the Hilux is rated at a maximum of 3 500kg.

The Triton has finally been upgraded from the previous so-so rating of 1 500kg to 3 100kg. Crime is unfortunately a realistic consideration in South Africa. This has a direct influence on insurance and the cost of ownership.

We all know a Hilux ranks pretty high on the tsotsis’ shopping list. The good news is that the Hilux’s popularity won’t hit you too hard when you talk insurance. Following some research and quotes, the average monthly premium for a Hilux 2.8GD-6 Raider 4×4 AT is just R200 more than that of the Mitsubishi Triton.

Safety is becoming an increasingly important consideration for families who use double cab bakkies as daily runners, ferrying kids to and from school. Researching the new Triton in international markets, we were excited to learn it is fitted with all the latest safety systems, over and above standard fare like airbags and ABS, that puts it on par with the Ford Ranger. So sadly we don’t get the autonomous braking, blind spot warning, or rear traffic cross alert.

Verdict

The revamped Mitsubishi Triton certainly has a lot counting in its favour. The daring looks, the very latest Super Select II drivetrain, a decent relationship between the 2.4-litre oilburner and the new six-speed gearbox, the luxurious interior and the cool infotainment system. But that infotainment system adds nearly R14 500 to the sticker price, which sees the ‘competitive’ sticker price rise to a less competitive R605 000.

ALSO READ: Toyota’s Legend 50 Hilux now on sale in SA

Here’s the Triton’s conundrum: it’s the combined sum of the Hilux that is so tough and nigh impossible to beat. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the Toyota may not be an absolute class leader in any one department, but it does so well in all departments that its average outguns its rivals. Time and again. Look, the Mitsubishi Triton is hard to flaw. We applaud the Japanese company for going so bold with the styling and love the 4WD drivetrain but we fear Mitsubishi’s Triton sales woes are far from over.

A simile to help explain the Hilux versus Triton situation: you travel overseas and stay in a stunning, five-star hotel with a view over the Caribbean ocean and there are free drinks in the fridge. That’s what the Triton is: exotic, fresh, new, cool. But then you return home and you get to sleep in your own bed. And it’s heaven. Even though it’s not as flashy, there’s no ocean outside the window and you have to pay for your own beers.

This is like a Toyota Hilux: it’s the familiarity and the youknow-exactly-what-you-are-getting. Then there’s that new 132kW Ford Ranger 2.0TDCI in the game. Either way, the cool new Mitsubishi Triton still won’t have an easy time of it.