Words by Angus Boswell
In a deal signed in October 2016, the Renault-Nissan Alliance took a 30% controlling share in Mitsubishi Motors, promising exciting times for the manufacturer which has held back for years on significant R&D, and kept older models beyond the average replacement date. The promise is that Mitsubishi will now accrue economy-of-scale benefits in parts supply, and share platforms, technology and manufacturing facilities.
It’s a potential leap forward, and while the results are yet to become manifest, the latest Triton bakkie is a harbinger of future quality offerings from this brand.
Launched locally in January after an agonisingly long delay, in which every other local bakkie vendor had leapfrogged it in the technology race, it is finally here after the dollar exchange rate improved– and no doubt a myriad other strategic factors fell into place.
We can report that the fifth generation of the Triton-Colt lineage is more than an alternatively skinned Fiat Fullback. It is everything one expects: refined, wellmannered on both tar and gravel, capable off-road, and packed with enough gadgets to place it on par with the rivals.
Mitsubishi Triton Images
Some 185 areas have apparently been improved, rejigged and revised, and this is borne out by the real-world experience of driving and using the vehicle’s features.
What are the main changes? Its exterior echoes the Fullback’s crisp shoulder line and sharp upsweep to the C-pillar. The load-bin profile loses the strange downturn at the tailgate in favour of a more pleasing, gentle slope downward. The tailgate features a useful, inset LED brake light, and an add-on reversing camera, a-la Legend 45. The controversial J-line between the cab and the toughened-up load body remains as a key design element and safety feature, but revised to extend interior roominess by 20mm. (Hard to tell.) The front is typical Triton with its grinning grille and dogears-in the-wind headlights. New, rather busy, alloys add a trendy touch, in sensible 17-inch size.
The interior is significantly improved. It offers a new dash with neat piano-black trim, a practical, ergonomic design replete with big stash places for daily clutter, deep door-pockets, Bluetooth and USB inputs, and a touchscreen interface with a generous screen. The steering controls are satisfying to the look and touch, and the binnacle readout clear. It’s easy to use, well resolved, and the fonts and colours are an improvement over the last generation. Ditto the driving position and the front-row seats, which are now securely fastened to the floor, leather-shod, and easy to spend time in. The second row benefits from a bigger cabin space and comfortably canted seatback.
Work on the ride- and handling character has involved stiffer front springs, revised stabiliser bars, extended rear leaf springs, and bigger body/chassis rubber mountings, says Mitsubishi, leading to less body roll and pitching. The addition of more sound-deadening material at the firewall has contributed to the feeling of a refined, controlled driving experience. The wheelbase is 3000mm as before, but the steering ratio has been quickened from 4.3 to 3.8 turns, lock to lock.
A new 2.4-litre MIVEC turbodiesel engine with an all-ally block is 30kg lighter than before, with outputs of 133kW at 3500rpm and torque of 430Nm at 2500rpm. It is responsive and perky enough, although it suffered some lagginess in the lower rev ranges during our Highveld testing stint. Power delivery is more rewarding than the 2.5-litre it replaces, which had 131kW at 3500rpm and 400Nm at 2000-2850rpm. On paper, the gains show throughout the rev range, but much of the improved tractability has to do with the new six-speed manual (a long-throw box that gets on with the job) and the much-improved five-speed auto, which suffers far less from viscous lag; shifts are crisp and seamless, as they should be. The fuel bill should drop by 20% over the previous mill, though the combined fuel index figure drops only from 7.8l/100km to 7.6l/100km.
The Triton proved surefooted and free from rattles on corrugated gravel sections, testimony to good build-quality and a decently calibrated ABS-based traction control system which Mitsubishi calls ASTC (Active Stability and Traction Control). The latest Super Select II fourwheel-drive system, its four modes actuated by a dial on the centre console, offers default rear-drive in 2H, and a 60/40 rearbias drive in 4H (previously 50/50), which makes it easier to control. Locking the centre differential in 4HLc high-range and 4LLc low-range modes gives a 50/50 axle split as before, and a rear diff lock (button on the dash) means that the Triton can climb, clamber and rock-hop with the best of them. Ground clearance is an average 215mm, but there are tough enough steel bash plates underneath, and decent off-road DNA: approach angle 28 degrees, departure 22 and breakover 25. It did particularly well on a narrow obstacle course involving steep ascents and descents, cross-axle climbs and muddy sluices, ending with a rocky boulder hop up the side of a steep hill. The only damage was to those running boards – fine for your aged aunt, but no good at all for off-road excursions.
At R539 900 for the manual, R559 900 for the automatic, does the Triton seem overpriced for the drivetrain? My guess is it will hold its own. This is a decent, wellthought-out, solidly built bakkie, in for the long haul.