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We live in an era where dual-cab utes are becoming more luxurious and style-focused than ever before. The fact is, rivals such Ford Ranger XLT, Toyota HiLux SR5 and Volkswagen Amarok Sportline V6 are all objects of lust – or something close to it.
Which leaves the Mitsubishi Triton Exceed range-topper in a curious spot. The substance is here, but even in such a utilitarian part of the market, style has become a prerequisite. And let’s be honest – despite the flashy wheels, bars and steps, the Mitsi is a little frumpy.
Yet, if you don’t judge books by their covers, there are solid reasons to consider the Triton. For one, the Exceed has a list price of $48,000 before on-road costs, and is almost always available before haggling for $45,990 drive-away.
Despite industry-wide discounting, fellow Thai-built rivals are all more expensive. At the time of writing, Toyota was selling HiLux SR5 autos for $54,990, Ford was selling XLT Ranger autos for $55,490, Nissan was doing Navara ST-Xs for $49,990, and ditto Holden with its Colorado LTZ.
And we’re not talking about some unproven lump from China or India here – the Triton is an established name, and this MQ generation is generally holding up well based on industry feedback we’re getting from fleet buyers.
Another reason is specification. The Exceed is equipped like a passenger car, with standard fare including a proximity key with button start, heated leather seats, auto wipers and headlights, climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (though no integrated sat-nav), digital radio and a rear-view camera.
The third is cabin fit-and-finish, which matches the HiLux and Navara for build quality and material use, and has none of the soul-sapping cheap plastic you’ll find in a Ranger or Isuzu D-Max. The interior feels tough, but smoothes off its utilitarian edges.
The back seats are good as well, with ample legroom, shoulder room and headroom for two burly adults, flip-up grab handles that don’t poke your forehead like the Toyota’s do, child-seat top-tether and ISOFIX anchors, and rear airbags – not found on the Amarok.
Mechanically, the Triton Exceed runs the same engine as the rest of the range – bar the very base GLX single-cab-chassis. The 2.4-litre MIVEC single-turbo-diesel engine makes 133kW of power and 430Nm of torque, at 2500rpm.
These outputs aren’t bad considering the HiLux’s 2.8-litre and the Navara’s 2.3-litre twin-turbo have 450Nm, and the D-Max’s 3.0-litre makes 430Nm, though naturally a bigger capacity engine is going to go about its business in a more relaxed manner.
It's a decent engine in terms of road-going pulling power and happily chugs along off-throttle, relying on engine braking – though where it really shines is refinement. Mitsubishi has done a fantastic job of reducing rattles and noises that typically enter the cabin through the firewall. It's SUV-like in this area.
The engine is also extremely efficient. Mitsubishi claims 7.6L/100km, while on our segment-wide comparison test we managed eight per cent variance. Which is great. On this loop, your reporter managed 8.1L/100km, including some modest off-roading. Watch that figure climb when towing though...
The Exceed comes standard with an automatic gearbox unlike rivals that offer a manual option. The Pajero Sport SUV has an eight-speed unit, but for now the Triton uses an older five-speed 'box with paddle-shifters reminiscent of a Lancer Evo’s.
Mitsubishi claims a maximum towing capacity of 3100kg with a 310kg towball download maximum. This figure is 400kg short of the class-leaders, but to be frank we'd never tow 3.5t regularly in anything this side of a 70 Series LandCruiser anyway.
Towing your average boat or box trailer isn't an issue with the Triton, though we've previously had a few issues with tail movement and wandering when towing particularly heavy loads. Ditto wind buffeting. Were we to tow a big van or float regularly, we'd look at the Isuzu.
In fairness, Mitsubishi's Trailer Stability Assist system fitted here controls individual wheel slip to stabilise the trailer. The system also detects when the trailer is starting to oscillate and automatically warns drivers behind by flashing brake lights on both the car and trailer.
Under the tray is the typical leaf spring setup – only the NP300 Navara has coils, until the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class arrives. The base models get a heavy duty setup, but the Exceed's Standard setup cuts the payload maximum by 140kg to 945kg. Enough for a quad bike.
Other stats: kerb weight is 1955kg, gross combination weight is 5885kg (second-lowest in-class), clearance is 205mm, departure angle is 22 degrees (that long arse doesn't help), while the tray is 1520mm long and 1470mm wide (1085mm between the arches). An Amarok's benchmark tray is 1555mm/1620mm/1222mm, for context.
Dynamically the Triton is a mixed bag. The ride comfort on 17-inch wheels is okay, while the steering is relatively light around town. The noise suppression is also excellent. However, the body control/handling is average, with pronounced lateral movement compared to others in the class, both through corners and on the straight-ahead dover uneven surfaces.
That said, anyone who belts down a bad backroad in a MY17 Triton after stepping out of a previous generation HiLux, Ranger, D-Max or anything else will be impressed... It's all about perspective.
Perhaps our favourite piece of mechanical engineering in the Triton Exceed (and also the cheaper GLS variant) is the shift-on-the-fly Super Select II 4WD system, which you operate by dial. The 2H (RWD), and 4L (low-range) are normal, but there are – unusually – two 4H modes.
One is a full-time 4WD system that is designed for regular road use, just like an AWD SUV, and one called 4HLC that locks the centre differential for more rugged, low-grip off-roading. Having the surety of AWD on wet road or gravel without worrying about excessive drivetrain loading is great.
If we were inclined to go off-road often, we might buy the Triton GLS, save $7500 give-or-take, and splurge at ARB... If you just want a workhorse to bash around, the GLX+ version will cost you $11,000 less, carry more stuff and still offer proper low-range gearing. Which is a remarkable bargain...
From an ownership perspective the Triton gets a five-year warranty, though the kilometre limit is capped at 100,000km. Country buyers take note. Service intervals are a good 12 months or 15,000km, with the first three visits currently costed at $350, $450 and $450.
All told, the Triton Exceed offers compelling value against its rivals, modern car-like cabin design and refinement, a good 4WD system and a good reputation for reliability in this latest generation.
However, the Triton's biggest strength – price – is perhaps even more marked on the GLS or GLX+, both of which are stupendously well priced. A tarted-up lifestyle ute like the Exceed probably doesn't play to Mitsubishi's core strengths quite as well.
Not that it's anything other than solid.
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