You’ve got $40,000 and you want a dual-cab, diesel, 4x4 ute. But you don’t want to buy a Chinese vehicle – you want a brand name that is known and has the backing of a strong dealer network.
Well, these two utes – the Mitsubishi Triton GLX+ and Volkswagen Amarok Core – could be for you.
While there are more expensive, better equipped versions of both vehicles available, this test aims to see what you get, what you miss out on, and which ute acts as a better workhorse, off-roader and family truck for about $40K.
Both have manual gearbox options that are cheaper to buy, but given that we’re trying to figure out if you can have your tradie cake and eat the family too… um, that didn’t work… we figured testing the auto versions of each of these utes was more sensible.
The Mitsubishi Triton GLX+ is a “limited edition” model that launched earlier this year, and has since gone on to form an important part of the model mix, partly because it ticks a lot of boxes for not a lot cash. About 12.5 per cent of all Tritons sold this year have been this spec (more than 18,000 units have been sold to end of October 2016).
Volkswagen’s Amarok Core was an attempt to appeal to buyers who mightn’t have thought they could afford a Volksy ute. It has proved very popular, too – VW Australia says 40 per cent of all Amaroks sold in 2016 have been in the Core or Core Plus trim levels (there were more than 7000 Amarok sales to the end of October 2016).
Mitsubishi is running an end-of-year sale that is seeing big savings on the GLX+ version of its ute, and there’s an updated version of the Amarok coming soon, so buyers in the market for an even cheaper Core model could be in luck as stock thins out over the coming months.
Let’s figure this out.
Pricing and specifications
Pricing is pretty fluid for these budget-end utes, because they regularly see discounts and incentives added to help keep the numbers ticking over – both in terms of sales logged, and in terms of getting buyers through the door. Brands may lure you in with a cheap dual-cab, but their salespeople bank on trying to upsell you to one that costs more.
We’ll go on the current list pricing of each (before on-road costs), and the current sale price as well.
The Mitsubishi Triton GLX+ went on sale with list pricing of $36,990 plus on-road costs for the 4x4 pick-up manual and $39,490 for the auto. At the time of writing, the sale price for the manual model was $35,990 driveaway and just $38,490 driveaway for the automatic. On top of that, there’s a $2000 factory bonus! That’s some cheap, cheap ute-ing.
The Volkswagen badge may offer a little extra cred over the Mitsubishi diamonds, but the German brand hasn’t held back on its aggressive targeting in the ute segment.
The Amarok TDI400 Core manual is listed at $42,990 plus on-road costs, while the TDI420 (with some extra torque and two extra gears in its auto ‘box) comes in at $45,990 plus costs. At the time of writing, VW was selling the Core manual for just $39,990 driveaway, while the auto – depending on the dealership – could also be had at the same money.
As for equipment, these two certainly lack some of the niceties you find if you’re willing to spend more money – but we’re not exactly talking rubber floors and vinyl seats. Oh wait – both of them have rubber floors!
There aren’t colour-coded handles or mirrors, but both utes have 16-inch alloy wheels, the Amarok with Pirelli tyres and the Triton with Bridgestone rubber, and both have rear step bars to help you haul yourself up.
The Mitsubishi has sidesteps as standard, and our car (literally, CarAdvice owns this Triton!) has a snorkel fitted ($807), as well as a flush-fit tonneau cover ($625), a stainless steel sports bar ($1025) and tow kit ($934).
The Amarok Core we have for this comparison has no options: this is how you get it if you walk into a dealership and hand over your cash.
The pair get cloth seat trim, and the VW even has a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, where the Mitsubishi has a rubber knob and tiller. And while both get a driver information screen with trip computer details, the Amarok has a digital speedometer, which is handy (particularly if you live in Victoria!).
Each has Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and USB and auxiliary connectivity, but the VW misses out on a touchscreen media system: the Amarok’s stereo screen is a monochrome display with buttons and dials on the side. The Mitsubishi has a 6.1-inch colour touchscreen, which is almost as simple as the Amarok’s stereo to use. The VW has a six-speaker stereo system, two more than the Mitsu.
Neither has satellite-navigation, but the Triton has a rear-view camera as standard, which is a big omission on the part of the Volkswagen. In fact, it doesn’t even have sensors to compensate, which means parking it can be a guessing game…
And to further push the Triton’s family appeal, it has more airbags than the Amarok: seven (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee) versus four (dual front, front side). That could be enough to sway you without reading any further – but there’s more to this story than safety kit.
Consider ownership, for example.
The VW has a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, but at the time of writing you could get five-years/unlimited-kilometres included at the point of sale. Mitsubishi has a five-year/100,000km warranty plan as standard.
The Mitsubishi and Volkswagen both require servicing every 12 months or 15,000km, and the Amarok has a longer capped-price servicing campaign of six years/90,000km compared to the Triton’s four years/60,000km cover.
We did the maths and found that over the same four-year/60,000km period the, the VW would cost you just a bit more to maintain – an average of $528 per year, compared with $522.50 for the Mitsubishi.
See – we told you this was close.
In our dual-cab ute mega test, we found the Volkswagen’s cabin to be the most generous of all eight competitors tested, where the Triton’s cockpit was among the tightest.
This is particularly evident when you slot three adults in the back seat, where the Amarok’s extra width is most evident. For those playing along at home, the comparative measurements are below:
Interestingly, though, with the driver’s seat position identical it came as something of a surprise that the Triton – which is shorter between the wheels – offers more knee-room than the Amarok. The way the VW’s seat backs are sculpted means there’s still enough space for a six-foot adult positioned behind their own driving spot, but the top of the backrest forks back into the rear-seat space, making you feel like you’re closer to those up front than you’d expect.
That said, the Amarok’s back seat offers better toe-room, better headroom and better shoulder space with three adults on board. The seats are more comfortable, too, with better cushioning and support.
Neither of these utes has rear-seat air vents, and the Volkswagen even misses out on map pockets (the Triton has one on the passenger-side seatback), and it also lacks a flip-down centre arm-rest with cup holders like the one you get in the Triton.
There are door pockets big enough for bottles in both utes, though, and the VW’s door bins are flocked, meaning loose items won’t rattle around annoyingly.
The seat base of the Amarok can be folded up in a 60:40 fashion, which is handy if you’ve got stuff you need to keep dry and you don’t want to muck up the seat fabric. The Mitsubishi misses out on this clever feature, but both have fold-down backrests on the rear seats to access the jack and child-seat points.
Both of these trucks have dual ISOFIX child seat anchors for the outboard seats, and there are three top-tether spots in the VW where the Mitsubishi only has two. Still, that’s better than other utes in this class that don’t even offer ISOFIX – just remember the VW doesn’t have rear airbag protection…
Up front the Volkswagen again feels more spacious, and its seats are superior for cushioning and support, too. There’s good adjustment in both utes, but the Mitsubishi’s swooped roof line means tall occupants might feel themselves a bit hemmed in.
The materials used in both utes are work-focused – hard wearing and not at all luxurious; they don’t even have fabric on the doors or the centre console lid – but the quality of the plastics is better in the VW, and so is the craftsmanship of the seat upholstery. The grey-on-grey plastics of the Mitsubishi look decent, but they feel a bit scratchy.
The presentation of the cabin again awards the Amarok points, with its nicer dash layout and more informative driver info screen offering better at-a-glance details. The Triton’s dials are easy to read, but there’s no digital speedo, and its dials and knobs don’t feel as high a quality as the VW. The VW’s storage is better up front, too, with bigger door pockets and more central stowage.
The biggest points comeback the Triton stages is the media system, which is simple to use and houses that handy rear-view camera. In some light it can be hard to see, but the controls are a cinch.
The Triton's sound system itself isn’t as good as the VW’s – neither of them are great, to be honest – but at least both of them have good Bluetooth connectivity that reconnects quickly and offers good calling and streaming clarity. And the Triton’s USB port being located in the centre console bin is an advantage over the Amarok, which has its input just below the media screen, making for messy cords.
Load and towing
If you’re buying a budget dual-cab ute, there’s a good chance you’ll be using it for work and play. And each has cred in both areas.
Let’s take a look at how their trays measure up:
|Width between wheel-arches||1222mm||1085mm|
|Tie-down points||Four, bed-mounted||Six, side-mounted|
The VW’s extra width between the wheel-arches means it can cope with a standard Australian pallet (1165mm x 1165mm) in the tray: it’s the only ute in this class that can do that.
And its extra length and depth means keeping larger items in place, or bulky loads of loose materials, should be easier. Further, the fact it offers an extra 71kg of payload is a bonus for those who cart a lot of stuff a lot of the time.
The Volkswagen has a light for the tray, where the Mitsubishi doesn’t, but the VW has four tie down points (two front and two rear, all bed-mounted) to the Mitsubishi’s six (front, middle, rear, all mounted mid-way up the side of the tray).
The fact the Core model comes with a protective tray liner is a big plus, because the floor of the tray scratches very easily.
There’s not much in it for towing capacity, either, with both offering 750kg of un-braked towing, while the Mitsubishi trumps the Volkswagen with 3.1-tonne capacity for a braked trailer (the VW is rated to a 3.0-tonne level).
Unfortunately Volkswagen doesn’t fit tow kits to its press fleet vehicles, so we were unable to test this element.
Both of these diesel drivetrains offer class-competitive levels of power and torque, and each has decent fuel consumption claims on their sides, too.
Under the bonnet of the Mitsubishi is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with 133kW of power at 3500rpm and 430Nm of torque at 2500rpm. Our ute has a five-speed automatic transmission, and a selectable four-wheel drive system with 2H, 4H and 4L modes.
That could put the Mitsubishi at an advantage over the VW, because the Amarok has less power, less torque, and is all-wheel drive rather than having a more serious off-road system under it.
The German-branded ute has a smaller capacity, but twin-turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 132kW of power at 4000rpm and 420Nm of torque at 1750rpm. The fact it makes its torque lower in the rev range is a plus to the VW, though, and it has an eight-speed automatic gearbox to ensure that the engine isn’t too stressed at higher speeds.
Still, its permanent four-wheel-drive system lacks a low-range transfer case, but does have an off-road mode button that enables hill descent control and adjusts the way the anti-lock brakes operate. The Mitsubishi misses out on hill descent control, and it also misses out on a locking rear differential that the VW gets. More on that stuff in the driving section below.
Back to those engines…
The Volkswagen’s refined diesel unit feels perkier at lower rolling speeds, say below 20km/h, if you plant the throttle – the twin-turbo engine churns up quickly and the torque hits lower in the rev range. But if you’re at a standstill, there’s some lag below the 2000rpm mark, and it can take a second to get moving.
There’s lag in the Triton – about as much, too – but the Mitsubishi’s drivetrain can feel punchier at city speeds because you don’t feel like the thing is constantly upshifting. The five-speed ‘box is smart, allowing you to rev it out if you need to, where the Volkswagen has more ratios to choose from, and that can mean it feels a bit more sluggish to react.
But the Triton has a driveline vibration at low speeds – generally in first or second gear as you're accelerating from around 1000rpm to 1800rpm, the engine feels like it’s shuddering under the bonnet.
The Volkswagen’s engine, on the other hand, is very refined, but while the Mitsubishi’s engine is a little gruffer, they’re both about as loud as each other under acceleration.
On the highway at higher speeds the Amarok feels a little more settled, with its extra gear ratios allowing the vehicle to cruise along comfortably. The Triton doesn’t feel stressed at all, but it does rev a little higher at, say, 110km/h.
With weight in their respective trays – we loaded in about 500kg of sand in each of these pick-ups at Lower Mountains Landscape Supplies (thanks guys!) – the drivetrains were again quite different in their behaviour.
The Volkswagen was cruising along at lower revs (1700rpm) in a higher gear (sixth) at the same point the Mitsubishi was up higher in the rev range (2300rpm) in a lower gear (third). That goes to show how much easier the progress felt in the Amarok.
The Triton’s drivetrain didn’t shudder as much at low speeds with weight in the tray, and in fact it felt like the engine appreciated the work being asked of it. Its gearbox did a great job of picking the right gears and holding them just long enough before shifting up, where the VW had so many ratios to choose from that it could be a little annoying.
The Triton felt as though running around with this much weight on board every day wouldn't be to the detriment of the drive experience. Its shifts are a little more noticeable than the VW, which has super smooth changes and will hold gears to allow for engine braking down hills.
But the Triton felt perkier with the load – we tested the acceleration from 0-80km/h and the Triton was quicker using only three gears to get to 80km/h, where the Amarok used five and took longer to get to speed. But with or without weight, the thing about the VW’s drivetrain is that it responds better on the move than it does from a standstill.
As for fuel use, the claimed consumption of the Triton is 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres, and it has a 75L tank. That means you could theoretically travel 986km on a single fill.
The Amarok’s claimed fuel use is higher at 8.3L/100km, but it has a slightly larger tank. Do the maths, and you should be able to cover 963km per tank.
On test, we saw higher figures: 11.1L/100km for the Triton, and 10.4L/100km for the Amarok (which had just 500km on the clock when we picked it up).
These two are surprisingly similar in their levels of driving nous. Wait, what?
That’s right – the Mitsubishi Triton drives quite well, and while the higher-spec Amarok models drive even better than the Core, there’s not a lot between these two.
Around town the Triton feels tighter, firmer – the steering is more darty and quick to react to inputs, and the ride is harder and while the rear is a bit jiggly, it doesn’t have much side-to-side wobble over bumps.
The Volkswagen, on the other hand, is softer over bumps due to its less rigid damping and as such wobbles a bit more, and has lighter steering that requires a bit more arm-twirling at lower speeds. Still, the softer damping of the VW could make for a more relaxed passenger experience.
Both settle decently with an empty tray at lower speeds after hitting a big speedhump – at 40km/h over the same bump there was little in it. The front suspension of both utes soak up impact bumps well, too.
Loaded up, there was a more marked difference between the two.
The Volkswagen, for instance, wasn’t as affected by weight in terms of the way it drove. The steering didn’t go as light as the Triton’s, meaning you felt as though you had better control and accuracy in corners at high and low speeds.
The Triton, on the other hand, felt light at the front axle – it was darty without a load on board but became duller in its steering response when laden.
As you would expect with vehicles claiming these sorts of payload figures, neither was disgraced by the weight. The ride of the Triton still remained a little terse at the rear over small inconsistencies in the road surface, but the suspension did well when soaking up bigger bumps; the Amarok was more compliant at lower speeds, but a little more fiddly than its rival at highway speeds with weight.
Both vehicles braked competently, but the Amarok had slightly better brake response both laden and unladen.
Here’s a table to explain what each of these utes is capable of, off-road:
|Drive type||Permanent 4WD||Selectable 4WD|
|Approach angle||28 degrees||30 degrees|
|Departure angle||23.6 degrees||28 degrees|
|Ramp-over angle||21.4 degrees||24 degrees|
|Hill descent control||Yes||No|
|Locking rear differential||Yes||No|
|Tyres||Pirelli Scorpion ATR 245/70/16||Bridgestone Dueler H/T 245/70/16|
We put each of these utes through some off-road testing, and found that yes, the VW is more likely to touch down over ruts, and the approach angle means it isn’t as adept in mounting steep inclines. Its extra width means you'll have to be careful in narrow crevasses, too.
But the thing is, the Amarok was superior in pretty much every other way. Over a rocky, craggy, slippery hill climb section the Volkswagen walked up comfortably, with the locked rear diff clearly helping ensure there was adequate traction on hand. The off-road mode also made simple work of descents, too – no low-range needed.
The Mitsubishi was also good up the same incline, but its traction control system was working overtime to ensure progress was continued up the hill, even in low-range mode with the transmission in 4L.
The softer damping of the VW came to the fore off-road, too – where it gobbled up rocky surfaces without tossing the cabin around, the Mitsubishi was jolting up and down in a far less comfortable manner.
Overall, the Amarok was definitely better to drive, despite lacking feel through the steering wheel compared to the Triton.
The Volkswagen Amarok Core is, technically, a better-engineered vehicle, one that is more suited to the buyers who want a business machine and a family ferry in one. Except for the fact that it is built to a budget, and that means it misses out on some of the thoughtful things that the Mitsubishi has in its favour.
A rear-view camera should be standard, and we hope it is in the updated version of the Amarok Core. But it definitely won’t come with rear seat airbag protection, which is something that should be standard on all Amaroks, not just the base models.
As for the Mitsubishi Triton GLX+? It’s a budget ute done well.
We haven’t been as positive about this vehicle in higher specifications with higher price tags, but at this price point, with this much equipment, it is hard to ignore. It is the inferior drive out of these two utes, but it is superior value. And that’s why they both score the same overall here.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.
Thanks again to the guys at Lower Mountains Landscape Supplies for helping us out with this shoot.