The Triton isn’t afraid of the dirt and the shift-on-the-fly 4x4 system is easy to operate.

Johannesburg - According to the Chinese calendar we’ve just entered the year of the rooster. I disagree; we have in fact just kicked off the year of the doublecab.

By the time the year of the dog rolls around next February the South African pickup market will have expanded with Mazda’s new BT-50 (see story in this issue), a V6 diesel engine in VW’s Amarok and Renault’s Duster-based doublecab called the Oroch. Overseas we’ll also have Merc’s new X-Class and Renault’s Alaskan.

And then there’s this one, Mitsubishi’s new Triton doublecab, which when it launched here last month was the first of 2017’s newcomers. We can’t quite call it all new, because this model shares its basic ladder frame chassis with the previous one, but the updates up top are significant.

A completely new body design retains the old Triton’s signature curved line where cab meets load bed, but it’s a far less exaggerated look this time around. The cab itself has been lengthened by 20mm for more legroom, especially at the back seats, and has been shifted forward so that loads sit more squarely over the rear axle.

You’ll notice the rear overhang is quite a lot longer than on other bakkies, and when offroading it does scrape its bum on steeper departure angles, but the trade-off for such a short wheelbase is an impressively tight turning circle.

Mitsubishi’s done well to renovate the interior with a modern look, though it’s not quite on par with premium rivals such as the Hilux and soon to be introduced Navara in material qualities. Loads of black plastics were chosen for “practicality” and their “easy to clean” nature according to press material.

The scratchy dash and door panels are offset by a nice set of leather seats though, and it’s impressively quiet inside even at high speed. A colour touchscreen with reverse camera also helps to bring the cabin up do date, but its reflective surface makes it difficult to read in daylight.

This top of the line 4x4 auto model comes nicely specced too, with features like keyless ignition, cruise control, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and a steering column adjustable for both height and reach. Auto headlights are missing however, and sadly four of the six airbags available in overseas Tritons have been deleted for our market. This one comes with one each for driver and passenger only.

If some other leisure-oriented doublecabs are evolving into softer, more car-like vehicles, the Triton never got that memo. It’s a burly beast of a machine, and if the 17” knobblys, 215mm ground clearnace, and close to chin-high side bedrails don’t get your inner Marlboro Man going, the Mack truck-esque turbo whistle will.

There’s a whine from the tailpipe at all times, but it’s vocal even at idle as the impellers wind on and off boost. This is only from the outside, as most engine noise is cancelled out inside the cabin.

Motivation comes from an all new, aluminum block commonrail 2.4 turbodiesel which replaces the heavier, cast 2.5 from the outgoing Triton. Outputs of 133kW and 430Nm (2kW and 30Nm more than the 2.5) are on par with bigger engined competitors, and its smooth power delivery and turbolag-free pulloffs are noteworthy. Mitsubishi quotes a fuel consumption of 7.6 litres per 100km, but we saw a thirstier 10 during our week-long test.

The Triton’s engine may have moved on in tech but the automatic gearbox didn’t come along for the ride. It’s an old-school five speeder among an industry standard of at least six (the Navara will have 7 and Amarok’s fancy dual-clutcher gets 8 speeds), but to be fair it does the job fine. Shifts are smooth and ratios are spaced well enough.

Thankfully the Triton’s four-wheel drive system has moved into the 21st century, and in place of an antiquated transfer case lever is a four-mode dial switch for shift on the fly front axle engagement.

This Super Select 2 system is almost identical to what will come in the new Pajero Sport (hopefully in coming months), and offers all the usual high and low range ratios and diff locks, plus a new centre lock which apportions drive in a 40/60 split for use at higher speeds, in much the same way as an all-wheel drive car.

Though the chassis is carried over, a lot of work went into the suspension for improved ride and handling.

It is indeed an improvement, but it’s still a firm setup that hops and skips over roads in a way typical to most leaf-sprung pickups – albeit never to the point where it’s uncomfortable.

VERDICT

While it’s indeed a more refined version of its former self, the new Triton still falls short of some rivals in terms of premium feel. Its interior is made with harder plastics, the ride is firmer, and the 2.4 engine, though completely new, is slightly agricultural in terms of the noise it makes. That said, it’ll better suit buyers who long for rough and tumble bakkies of yesteryear, or those alienated by more car-like competitors available today.

TRITON VS MARKET RIVALS

Mitsubishi Triton 2.4 4x4 auto

3-yr/100 000km warranty, 5-yr/90 000km service plan – 133kW/430Nm – R559 900

Isuzu KB 3.0 4x4 LX auto

5-yr/120 000km warranty, 5-yr/90 000km SP – 130kW/380Nm – R563 900

Ford Ranger 3.2 4x4 XLT auto

4-yr/120 000km warranty, 5-yr/100 000km SP – 147kW/470Nm – R588 900

Mazda BT-50 3.2 4x4 SLE auto

3-yr/unlimited km warranty, 3-yr/unlimited km SP – 147kW/470Nm – R555 700

Toyota Hilux 2.8 GD-6 4x4 auto

3-yr/100 000km warranty, 5-yr/90 000km SP – 130kW/450Nm – R573 500

VW Amarok 2.0 Highline 4x4 auto

3-yr/100 000km warranty, 5-yr/90 000km SP – 132kW/420Nm – R587 400

Star Motoring

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