Words and pictures by Andrew Middleton
It’s a whole lot more than the Fullback sibling, and might even help turn that bakkie scrum…
Unbeknownst to most, the Mitsubishi Triton can trace its roots as far back as 1978 when the brand’s first pick-up, the ‘Forte’, was launched in Japan. South Africa got the second-gen Colt, also known as the L200, from the mid-eighties, and then there was the Rodeo… Now in its fifth generation, the Mitsubishi one-tonner remains a fringe product in SA’s bakkie segment, but majors on a great reputation for reliability, good value and a unique 4×4 system to entice customers. The Triton is available in four double-cab flavours including manual and auto options, with two- or four-wheel drive.
All new bakkies are moving upmarket at a steady rate, with all sorts of luxury bells and whistles as standard. The Triton has most of these, but without too much shouting – it achieves an appropriate compromise between workhorse and luxury frills. A fine leather wrapped steering wheel and some of the most effective air-con this side of an arctic gale is certainly refreshing, and general occupant-comfort is high. Rear legroom has been improved by almost 20mm from the previous generation double cab and the seats are superbly comfortable – at least on par with the rivals.
On a weekend of 4x4ing and Cederberg exploration, there was never a single squeak or rattle, and the dash remained planted over corrugations. Unfortunately, it’s not all rosy, as the infotainment system is extremely frustrating to use, not to mention completely illegible in direct sunlight, which makes the reversing camera near useless when it’s sunny.
Whether you loved it or loathed it, the previous-gen Triton polarised opinion with its curved ‘J-line’ between cab and load bay. The new ‘MQ’ model keeps the original aesthetic, but tones it down a bit and adds a splattering of chrome to the nose. Speaking of which… the front end, just like the rear end, looks near-as-dammit identical to that of the Fiat Fullback with which the Triton shares its base… though you’ll identify the Mitsubishi thanks to the prominent propeller standing proud on its nose.
Fitted as standard, the securable tonneau cover provides added security to the load bay. It won’t stop dust ingress, and the tail gate doesn’t lock, but it’s both practical and visually appealing − especially when paired with the chrome ‘sports bar’.
After climbing out of the Hilux 2.4 and into this, the first thing you’ll notice is a huge step up in power. While the peak output isn’t quite on par with the Ford Ranger 3.2, or even the 132kW biturbo Amarok, the engine spins freely, offering impressive thrust right up to the redline.
It is fast off the line, but to get the engine on boil, it needs to be revved hard and offers poor torque at low revs, taking a bit of skill to get the clutch-control right without stalling. Master that, and the Triton is an accomplished tourer with impressive refinement, compliant suspension and, of course, the viscous 4WD system that can be used on slippery mountain passes for extra safety.
The Triton has also received an impressive four-star safety rating from Euro NCAP, partly thanks to a sophisticated stability control system.
Comparing bakkies in their off-road ability is often near-futile, thanks to the obvious similarities all new 4×4 pick-ups share. The Mitsubishi, however, offers a unique 4×4 system that is more than just a gimmick, but a true safety enhancement on all roads with poor grip. The system uses a viscous centre differential to distribute power, so preventing transmission wind-up while maintaining drive to all four wheels.
This is an absolute boon on slippery roads, and can be used on any surface, including Tarmac, at any time you want to improve stability. On tight gravel passes, the lack of transmission windup also improves manoeuvrability without sacrificing traction.
In more technical terrain, the centre difflock can be engaged in high range, as can the low-range, from a centrally mounted rotary dial which is fast-acting. One issue noted was that the hill-hold-assist function, which holds the vehicle in place during hill starts, would often resist disengaging the brakes soon enough off-road, which resulted in stalling and lurching.
Another drawback is the long overhanging rear bumper, resulting in the poor 22 degree departure angle. The tyres are also poor, being extremely road-biased options, whereas the likes of Ford and Isuzu are fitted with all-terrain rubber. Easily changed.
The Triton is most certainly an impressive package as far as an overland rig goes, thanks to a large load capacity, proven reliability and possibly the best gravel-road stability of any bakkie. A few small niggles taint what is overall an excellent product with a far more sophisticated drivetrain than before.