Mitsubishi’s hope for increased market share depends on rapid acceptance of its next-generation Triton range.
In light of the increasing competition hotting up from Ford and Holden, with their Ranger and Colorado models adding more bling to justify higher pricing (and increased profitability), Japanese ute maker Mitsubishi Motors has slammed down the industry accelerator to bring the next-generation upgrades to market on a global scale.
With its hometown for manufacturing being the ‘Detroit of Asia’ in Bangkok, Thailand, Mitsubishi Motors held its world premiere coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Triton model range. These days, the specific ownership of the manufacturer has become somewhat clouded, with Nissan having taken a one-third ownership as recently as 2016, bringing the independent into the family to comprise the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
Triton comes off a highly credible history of motorsport involvement, dating back to the days of Andrew Cowan campaigning the Pajero and proving its ability in rally events such as the Wynn’s Safari and later the Australian Safari rally, plus of course the full blown rally raids of the Dakar events.
With an on-sale date for the Thailand domestic market of November 17th, manufacturing takes place at the Laem Chabang Plant operated by Mitsubishi Motors (Thailand) Co. Ltd. (MMTh), MMC’s producer and distributor in Thailand.
The vehicle is a global strategic model which, following its Thai launch, will be launched in the in other ASEAN markets as well as Oceania, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Latin America. Eventually it will be sold in some 150 countries around the globe, and, for those eagerly awaiting its Australian launch, the best guestimate at this stage is mid to late January 2019.
Japanese manufacturers like to work to a scripted definition that underlines their design philosophy, and for Mitsubishi and its Triton the catchphrase is ‘Engineered Beyond Tough’.
With the word ‘tough’ underlining its creation, the design brief was to include elements making it significantly more competitive, starting with more powerful styling that incorporates the latest iteration of the Dynamic Shield front design concept.
The frontal lower skirt area surrounding the grille carries on the ‘tough’ impression, as with its heavier appearance comes the impression of increased strength. This is important to the promotion of Triton as it shows a perceived strength that Mazda has lacked right through the developments of its current BT-50 through using a softer frontal styling approach.
Backing up its tougher external appearance is an enhanced 4WD system that delivers improved off-road performance, and the latest in active safety and driver assistance systems. Overall, the new model features significant refinements to the durability and reliability required by the commercial user and to the comfort and ride sought by the private user.
The styling is certainly more imposing than the previous design, even though elements such as the rear section of the side bodywork curving upwards from the rear side panels retains the basics of the previous version. Stylists have done some work around this area with newly sculpted body curves with contrasting sharp lines, extended wheel flares and bright accents. The lighting and bumper parts become part of the tough design, framing the front and rear designs and adding visual width.
The interior has benefited from a substantial makeover, not just in looks but also in feel, touch and overall impression. Some of its competition have remained with fairly low rent trim standards of panel fit and finish, and, together with the texture of the plastics used the interiors, haven’t necessarily lived up to the highest expectations of the levels of quality. First impressions here for Triton are that the product has moved up a peg on the scale, with framed surrounds for the switch panel and air outlets. A higher-quality look is created by soft pad materials and stitching on the floor console, armrests and parking brake.
The jewel in the crown for Triton, and carried on through the Pajero, has always been the Super-Select 4WD system, which delivers optimum traction and handling characteristics for any type of on-road or off-road surface.
In its more basic form, the Easy-Select 4WD simplifies switching between drive modes for different road surfaces, but it’s no match for the greater sophistication and higher inherent safety levels of the Super-Select 4WD that enables all-wheel-drive, without the centre differential being locked, when travelling on the highway in low grip situations such as torrential rain or slippery road conditions. Drive split is 40 percent front and 60 percent rear.
Both the Super-Select and Easy-Select 4WD systems use a new Off-road Mode, which has GRAVEL, MUD/SNOW, SAND and ROCK (in 4LLc only) settings. When engaged, Off-road Mode integrally controls engine power, transmission and braking to regulate the amount of wheel slip and thereby maximise all-terrain performance and self-extraction performance in mud or snow. There’s also the inclusion of Hill Descent Control where the vehicle speed is electronically controlled to allow the driver to negotiate steep or slippery descents more safely and with more assurance.
All these safety and traction enhancements are valuable, but it tends to suggest that the driver no longer has ultimate responsibility for safety, having had their required skill set replaced by a computer algorithm that absolves them from having to exercise care and control.
There are many opportunities for seriously bad things to happen when a driver is relying purely on autonomous interventions and is not supervising the vehicle on the basis of knowledge. Similar problems are occurring in the tourism industry with scuba diving and snorkelling, with non-swimmers genuinely believing that donning a snorkel and flippers will enable them to float, swim, dive and surface. No matter what the YouTube clip might suggest on the way to their tourist destination, in most cases they sink like a stone and have to be monitored all the time to ensure safety.
Currently, the only ute manufacturer offering factory-backed driver training and weekend trips away to practise your skill and that of the vehicle is Isuzu Ute Australia with its I-Venture programme. Other manufacturers are content to make the claims for the products, but do not to back them with practical training options.
Safety standards such as five-star ANCAP ratings are now becoming part of the purchase equation, in much the same way as the wearing of seat belts is universally recognised as saving lives.
Triton retains the current model’s high-durability, high-reliability ladder-type frame and high impact-safety cabin structure, while featuring class-leading advanced active safety and driver assistance systems.
The systems providing all-direction safety and reassurance include Forward Collision Mitigation (FCM), which can detect vehicles and pedestrians ahead, and Blind Spot Warning (BSW with LCA), which helps avoid sideswiping another vehicle when changing lanes by detecting vehicles behind or at the rear quarter and alerting the driver with an audible alert and flashing light in their door mirror.
When heading in reverse, the Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) helps avoid collisions when reversing in the same way. The rather clumsily worded Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation System (UMS) reduces accidents resulting from improper use of the accelerator when moving off or reversing in car parks and other confined spaces.
Triton can provide its driver with a total overview of their current situation through its Multi Around Monitor, which generates a bird’s-eye view image of the area around the vehicle, and parking sensors.
The realisation that stopping is sometimes more important that going brings us to the braking system. Braking performance and feel are improved with the use of larger front discs and calliper pistons. No mention has been made of a switch from rear drums to rear discs, which is way past time, but attention has been paid to the back end with a claimed improvement in ride through the use of larger rear dampers with a larger oil reservoir for improved damping control and new rear leaf springs.
Although final specifications have yet to be confirmed for the Australian market, it appears our version will remain powered by the 2.4-litre, variable-geometry turbocharged and intercooled, four-cylinder diesel with 133 kW at 3500 rpm and peak torque of 420 Nm at 2500 rpm. There has been mention of structural improvements having been made to the ladder-frame chassis, but at this stage the maximum towing ability for a braked trailer looks like it will remain at 3.0 tonnes.
There have been changes to the transmission, with the automatic box adding a 6th ratio, spreading the love between the power and torque curves to give a more seamless shift protocol, while mindful of the general trend to downsize engine capacity to reduce harmful exhaust emissions.
As an indication of the importance of the Triton in the overall scale of Mitsubishi’s global operation, the company plans to sell some 180,000 units of the new and current models globally, with Triton playing second string to the mid-size SUV Outlander in the MMC line-up last fiscal year.