When the current-generation Mitsubishi Triton launched in Australia back in 2006, it was a veritable game-changer in its class. The Triton was refreshingly stylish - replacing some of the typical blocky (and blokey) lines associated with ute designs with curves, and brought new levels of passenger comfort not previously seen in the segment.
Apart from its standout looks, the Mitsubishi Triton is also credited with moving the segment forward by transforming the dual-cab ute from building site workhorse to something that doubled as a family/lifestyle vehicle.
For 2012, the pick-up and cab chassis market represents one of the most hotly contested segments in Australia - with no less than 13 manufacturers offering buyers a staggering 147 different choices if you count each individual variant on offer in both 4x2 and 4x4 guise.
For the six-year-old Mitsubishi Triton (a major refresh occurred in 2009), grabbing market prominence is now a tough fight against several new-generation vehicles including the Volkswagen Amarok, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, with an all-new Holden Colorado to come.
These new players have pushed the game further still, with higher levels of comfort, technology and more car-like drivability on offer.
Despite the increased competition, Triton continues to hold its own, with February 2012 sales showing Mitsubishi in third place in both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive segments. That’s ahead of Mazda’s BT-50 and Holden’s Colorado.
It’s a strong result considering the quality offerings from Ford, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota, and testament to the loyal following the Triton nameplate has fostered in Australia over the years.
It’s also a reflection of Mitsubishi’s generous factory backing, with a five- to 10-year new vehicle warranty, five-year roadside assist and capped price servicing.
Despite the growth in the segment, the overwhelming majority of sales are for the more expensive four-wheel-drive variants, due to a whole range of factors including off-road capability and towing capacity.
But for those individuals and families with little or no need to tow more than 2.5 tonnes, and even less requirement to venture off the beaten track, the Mitsubishi Triton two-wheel-drive option will save you around $9000 against the 4x4 variant with the same GL-R specification and double-cab body.
A new-generation Mitsubishi Triton will appear sometime within the next two years, but in the meantime there are plenty of reasons besides offering Australia’s best new car warranty to put the Mitsubishi Triton on your shopping list.
The first of which is the sheer space and legroom it offers rear seat passengers. It’s a voluminous cabin that’s able to accommodate five large adults.
The fabric seats are comfortable enough, but given The GL-R is second only to the top spec GLX-R, perhaps some partial leather trim on the seats might be in keeping with its position in the Triton hierarchy, even if it is only two-wheel drive.
More side bolstering would be helpful, too, particularly in the front pews, given the vehicle’s intended dual-purpose use and likely weekend recreational duties.
There is, however, a stitched, leather sports steering wheel of reasonable thickness and a leather-wrapped shifter signifying the GL-R’s elevated status in the model line-up.
There are no soft trims to add a sense of luxury to the interior, but the plastics employed are at least an interesting mix of patterns and shades. Instead, the Triton goes for a tough modern detailing, with plenty of metal-look accents employed across the dash, instrument dials and door trims.
Creature comforts include the usual inventory of power windows and mirrors, a four-speaker sound system, which belts out notes with better-than-expected clarity, air-conditioning, cruise control with steering wheel mounted controls and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
The extra space that Mitsubishi Triton offers means there’s also an endless array of storage spaces conveniently located throughout the vehicle.
Triton’s passive safety kit includes driver and front passenger airbags only (side and curtain airbags are an option on the GL-R), while active safety features include anti-lock brakes with brake-force distribution and electronic stability and traction control.
With newer models such as the Amarok and Ranger carrying a 5-star ANCAP rating on their dual cab utes and six airbags as standard, Triton is showing its age with a maximum rating of four stars.
Mitsubishi only offers a petrol engine on one Triton variant; the rest of the range in both two- and four-wheel drive are all powered by diesels.
Under the bonnet of the Mitsubishi Triton GL-R is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder intercooled turbo-diesel engine, and in this instance it’s mated to an optional automatic transmission that shows its age with just four gears.
(The VW Amarok auto, when it arrives later this year, will have eight ratios, though expect at least a six-speed auto in the all-new Triton.)
Generating 100kW of power and 314Nm of torque, the Mitsubishi Triton is by no means the most powerful thing in its class and the outputs are lower than those produced by the 3.2-litre four-cylinder diesel (118kW/343Nm) it replaced in the 2009 update.
However, there’s more power and torque on offer with Triton by moving up a spec to the GLX-R double cab, which gets a more powerful tune of the same 2.5-litre diesel engine, but putting out a more robust 131kW and 350Nm.
That’s not to say that the less powerful engine is lacking in any major way, because it’s certainly not. It’s ability to pull this large ute with a fair amount of urgency from as little as 2000rpm is unquestioned. There’s some turbo lag if you drop the throttle too quickly, but most diesels in this segment suffer from the same setback.
From second gear through to fourth, the gearing is relatively tall but, again, there’s enough torque to pull the Triton effectively in all forward ratios, even when driving the car gently around suburbia.
It’s a smooth-shifting transmission, too - and while there’s the usual diesel clatter at idle, that unwelcome mechanical racket does smooth out at speed without endangering the refinement of some of the excellent diesels found in the passenger car and SUV segments.
The VW Amarok, Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 have all proved dual-cab utes can have decent road manners, as well as more car-like steering, despite their basic, load-carrying-biased suspension set-ups. The Triton has been left trailing in these respects, with incredibly slow steering that requires tiresome amounts of arm-twirling and a ride that is choppy.
The brakes - with ventilated discs up front and drum brakes on the rear wheels, as is common practice in this class - are sure-footed, though, and there’s a natural feel to the brake pedal travel.
The lazy steering doesn’t help with parking, and no parking sensors or reverse-view camara are available, even as an option.
At least the Mitsubishi Triton offers a class-leading 11.8-metre turning circle for manoeuvring in tight spaces.
Naturally, the cargo bed is significantly reduced with the double cab body - (around 720mm shorter than the single cab), but a trip to the tip with a tray full of broken gear from the garage proved that you can still get a decent size load into the back without necessarily having to cover the tray - (depending on the composition of the load) due to the vehicle’s 460mm tray height.
There are further benefits to a smaller-displacement diesel engine, and reduced fuel consumption is another area where the Mitsubishi Triton shines. Armed with a 75-litre fuel tank, we were able to achieve an average fuel consumption of 8.2L/100km over the week-long test. That’s 0.4 less than the ADR81/82 figure for the automatic Triton, or the same as what is published for the manual and achieved without the benefit of highway kilometres.
The Mitsubishi Triton still retains some good virtues, though after not so long ago being the pick of the dual-cab crop it now finds itself short in some key areas – notably safety and driving manners – compared to newer competition.