DUELLING IN THE DUNES

Dave Whyte heads to Fraser Island for his first impression of Mitsubishi’s new Triton.

It must be the cycle of the automotive industry, but it seems that lately most manufacturers have been busy looking for new ways to improve their offerings to the market. The idea of a facelift has given way to totally redeveloped models, whether it be in the car, truck or ute categories.

One of the more recent releases is the new Mitsubishi Triton, which was launched in April. The Triton carries high hopes, not only for those loyal customers who have been looking forward to its revamp, but also for Mitsubishi. The Triton is the strongest performing model for Mitsubishi in Australia, and the acceptance of the new model will be a big factor in the success of the company in our local market.

The new Triton is much more than an update, with only two panels carrying over from the previous model. The chassis has come in for some strengthening (especially up front), the interior is all new, and even the model range designations have changed. Having spent time talking to buyers of previous models, and listening to comments from dealers, Mitsubishi is confident that the new Triton has what it takes to continue the sales success of its predecessors.Mitsubishi_Triton_16MY_Exceed_26_HR

To demonstrate the improvements and the abilities of the new Triton, Mitsubishi invited Delivery to drive the whole model range on Fraser Island, Australia’s largest sand island. While Fraser Island is well famed for its dingo population, it’s also a favourite haunt for four-wheel-driving enthusiasts, with a network of narrow sand tracks across the island and a highway that runs along the beach – literally. With the sand dunes on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, this was a truly spectacular setting to experience and test the new Triton.

All new Tritons are fitted with the same power plant across the board, that being the 2.4-litre MIVEC diesel engine. This engine delivers 133 kW and 430 Nm of torque, which is then driven through either a six-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic depending on the model variant. Whether you choose the base model GLX or the top-of-the-line Exceed, you can feel safe in the knowledge that it has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and the safety of stability control and trailer sway control to help out in the tricky situations that may arise.

There are two different rear suspension setups ­– the base model has the worker in mind, while the Exceed is a little softer when driving with no load. Both specs feature elliptical springs and carry the same load rating, meaning the top-of-the-line model is still a capable worker. The rear springs are also longer than those on previous models, providing benefits in ride and stability.

Driving the Triton along the beach was an easy and entertaining experience. Most serious four-wheel-drivers will tell you there are some recommended preparations you should do before hitting the sand, including fitting different tyres and reducing the pressures to provide a better driving experience. It is worth mentioning that the utes we drove were all standard spec, with the tyres inflated to recommended road going pressure. While we may have avoided the worst of the tracks, those we did use were far from perfect, with deep ruts and plenty of rough spots to test the ride and tractability of the various Tritons on offer. With that said, high range 4WD was sufficient to keep things moving. The fact that none of these utes got stuck is more of a testament to the vehicle ability than the driver.

With the same engine up front offering plenty of torque and response, the biggest factor in driveability came down to the gearbox. The step between first and seMitsubishi_Triton_16MY_Exceed_25_HRcond gear in the manual transmission (which were in use for 90% of the time) was a big one. This, combined with the loss of speed during gear changes due to the drag associated with driving in sand, meant the engine was either revving hard or lugging low in the rev range for the majority of the time. The engine noise was, therefore, always evident in the cab.

The auto, on the other hand, handled the conditions very well with low interior noise levels. The benefit of the manual came in the form of engine braking, but this was also achievable with the auto by selecting a gear manually, and holding it until the bottom of the slope before returning to auto operation. The difference in the suspension also provided some interesting results. While the GLX was very rigid in all conditions, the Exceed offered a more subtle ride over the minor bumps, but hardened up over the more testing terrain. It would seem the balance between comfort and strength is well worked out on the Exceed, while I guess a little weight in the back would have helped to smooth out the ride on the lower-spec GLX.

The driving position in all models was very comfortable, with plenty of leg and headroom for a driver of my stature. The cab is slightly larger than the previous model, with the “J line” at the rear of the cab being retained to maximise cabin space without impacting on the load area. This allows for a more comfortable rear seat in the crew-cab variants, and plenty of space for your lunch box behind the seats in the single-cab. In each case, there is a feeling of having plenty of room, without feeling like you’re driving a truck. All the controls are within easy reach, and the removal of the old manual drive mode selector in favour of an electronic dial leaves the centre console uncluttered and clear. The fit and finish, both inside and out, is also greatly improved over the previous model.

Having driven various Triton models around Fraser Island over two days, it was time to see how the Triton handled on the black top, and so it was time to head back to the mainland. After the short ferry ride, the plan was to head south along various back roads before finding the freeway near Beerwah and heading into Brisbane. There I would say goodbye to the rest of the group and continue my journey to Sydney aboard the top-of-the-line Exceed model. This trip, around ten hours of drive time, should be long enough to find any faults with the Triton.

As I travelled south, the weather rapidly deteriorated until I was driving through Ballina in strong winds and torrential rain. While a few other cars had pulled off to the side of the road, the Triton gave me no cause for alarm, and felt rock solid even in the wind shear from the oncoming trucks. While a little weight in the back would have been nice, by slowing down a little and driving to the conditions I found the Triton to be very stable, giving me the confidence to proceed.

Even through this, or perhaps due to it, I developed a real liking for the Exceed. With dual-zone climate cMitsubishi_Triton_16MY_GLX_56_HRontrol, auto wipers and auto headlamps, I was left to concentrate on the job at hand – that being controlling the vehicle. And that in itself was easy with responsive steering, good throttle response and easy to judge braking.

With the weather much improved for the second half of the journey, I could spend some time critiquing the car, and found there was not much to criticise. The five-speed auto transmission (with paddles behind the steering wheel) shifted beautifully, and at highway speed kept the engine right in the sweet spot. The ride and handling of the Triton were impressive, though it did feel out the joins in the concrete sections of the freeway. This aside, the Exceed demonstrated car-like characteristics, including strong acceleration, good vision and plenty of driver comfort. Noise levels were remarkably low, with the engine being barely audible and very little wind noise. This changed when the driver’s window was open, with the wind noise and buffeting inside the cab prompting me to close it again, and turn my attention to the climate control instead.

Having driven the Triton both on and off-road, I was left with the impression that the Mitsubishi engineers had indeed earned their money in the development of the new model range. While it may not be as big as some of its competitors, many would say that has its advantages. It may also miss out on a few of the techno gadgets, but one has to wonder how much use they would get any way. Here you have a great balance between safety, practicality, driveability and comfort, without the hefty price tag that many of the others carry. In fact, with the top model Exceed costing just over $50,000, it would seem to be a great value package all round, and one that should see Mitsubishi succeed in Australia for a few years to come.

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