Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Drive Review: Mitsubishi Triton 2.5L DI-D

By Dr Long

Imposing, modern and trendy: that’s my first impression of the Red Metallic tester unit collected from Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia (MMM). Yes, I have never imagined describing a pick-up in such a manner, until the Triton came along, as replacement model for the Mitsubishi L200 aka Mitsubishi Storm.

You’d probably have heard this half a dozen times or more by now. Whether its Gundam, Star Wars’ Storm Trooper or even Darth Vader’s helmet-inspired frontal stare is appropriate or tough-looking enough for a pick-up, the right hemisphere of my brain deciphers it as something very attractive and desirable. Based on Mitsubishi’s Racing Truck Concept, the Triton sports a colour-coded triangle smack in the middle of the grille, topped off with a distinct tri-diamond chrome emblem. The entire visage, with a pair of inverted slant headlamps, takes its DNA heritage from the Dakar-winning Pajero Evolution’s. Despite the best of intention, opinions has been split among truck enthusiasts and car owners alike, no doubt about that, since its launch more than 6 months ago. The fact that it created a long waiting list for deliveries speaks volume of its general popularity moments after its launch.

External styling is fluid and unconventional, while its non-boxy design infused fresh blood into the pulsing arteries of the truck segment. In practical terms, the shapely rear door aperture was very accommodating for easy ingress and egress. The helicopter cocoon-like upswing of its capacious cabin towards the posterior, serves up more space and legroom, apart from being more aesthetically refreshing and appealing – curvy rear quarter windows et al. All the smoothen edges, soft curves, clean lines and neat sheet-metal surfacing are rendered so well, that it looks rather futuristic and even classy to a certain extent. We happened to be at one hypermarket car-park when the wife of one gentleman who retrieved his Perdana V6 (facelift model) remarked: “…the colour of this car is very nice and attractive …”commented the missus much to the chagrin of the husband. To have a workhorse truck (in a brighter shade, of course) drawing such attention – more so not a truly recent newly launched model – is a pleasant compliment indeed.

Frontal cabin space is generous too, with a dashboard design and layout more akin to say, the 7th generation Accord (being lower-slung and in two-tone presentation), making it airy and inviting, unlike those found in utilitarian trucks of yesteryears. Front seats are however, a tad too flat for snug support and desired body hugging when driving around corners. The rear seat while being claimed to be more passenger car-like, still needs to be a little more laid-back, despite the nicely thought-out foldable centre armrest with cupholders. Materials on the dashboard and door trim are a little too ‘dry’ and hard to touch but I suppose they were meant to weather a truck’s harsh daily routine, when called to duty. However, the gear knobs – for the A/T and the 2WD/4WD transfer case - are nicely leather stitched.

The 314Nm on tap from a low 2000rpm spinning from the 2.5L DI-D common-rail turbodiesel is truly palpable. I had the slightly unsettling experience of inducing power oversteer in the wet when I was powering the ladder-frame chassis on just rear-wheel-drive (2H) mode. In one other rainy episode, the front axle even broke traction a little when I was a wee bit too enthusiastic turning a right-hander crossing a traffic junction. Thankfully, I was alone in the Triton then and both were minor slides; with quick lifts of the throttle the lengthy vehicle corrected itself. For the rest of the test period, I had the gear transfer case in 4x4 mode for hard driving and in the rain. Somehow, these subsequent drives in 4H mode felt torqueier, had better road feel and tighter body control. Overall, the Triton’s Hyper Common Rail DOHC 16V Intercooler Turbodiesel was pretty smooth, adequately punchy while mated to an equally refined 4-speed automatic tranny.

Using the 4x4 over a weekend, my family and I swapped our regular sedan for this ‘bootless’ truck. My wife was particularly worried by the absence of a normal boot for our belongings. Sure enough, after we picked up my mother-in-law from the airport, the sky opened up! Though it swallowed up all the luggages plus extra stuff with ease, we found our belongings to be rather exposed and truly at heaven’s mercy. Thank goodness we had plastic sheathed most of the major non-waterproof baggages and boxes. A rear gas-strut aftermarket flatbed cover is a must if I were to own this truck as a family vehicle, I thought to myself. My young kids got accustomed soon enough to the tall ride height which afforded a near tourist-bus-scenic-view of things. In testament to its pliant ride and non-bouncy nature, my rear passengers were pretty quiet during drives over varying road surfaces. At times, the Triton’s rear leaf-spring suspension can be caught a little hard and unyielding over bigger humps, but that’s about it. NVH refinements were good for a vehicle of this segment. Having heard from a close associate of mine that his previous Toyota Harrier 2.4 had irritating wind and road noises at motorway speed, I was especially on a look out for these little ‘gremlins’. No abnormal whistling wind noises were audible and road rumble at cruising speed was negligible. Even the idling diesel clatter was near absent once you shut the double-lined doors. Truly impressive.

Driving the Triton up hilly B-roads, it behaved more civilised than expected. The pick-up felt a little like a Toyota Innova (similarly ladder-frame truck but turned MPV) except that it has more torque and is 4x4 capable. Slotting the reduction gears to 4H (high range AWD, which can be shifted-on-the-fly at speeds up to 100kph) the car…oops! I meant truck, has lesser tendency to understeer around winding roads hereafter. Its double wishbone independent front suspension allows more faithful tracking into corners. However, the steering – though rack and pinion – had a very lazy demeanour to react to your input. A little slow-witted and dull to turn but the weighting is quite spot on, not overbearing or over-assisted for this two-tonne behemoth. On a minus side, I really disliked the vibrating and ‘oscillating’ gear transfer stalk. Mitsubishi Motors could have used a rotary dial (think facelifted X-Trail or new Ranger A/T) as a 2WD high range(2H)/4WD high range(4H)/ 4WD low range(4L) selector and isolate the driver from such “lack of refinement”. It mars an otherwise saloon-like serene and relaxing cabin.

In the wet, with the Triton in 4H gearings, it was confident wafting over rain-drenched tarmac with ease and conviction. You can feel the improvement in grip at all four corners, more noticeable over the front axle. At night, the instruments panel is plain easy to read in one quick glance. The blue background meters contrasted excellently with its red gauge needles. The onboard computer is placed at the middle of the dash, displaying a digital clock, compass, barometer, average speed as well as fuel consumption and possible range in km for the remaining fuel. It relays these data in both graphic and numerical presentation. The fuel consumption computed for this automatic Triton ranges from best of 9L/100km to 12.5L/100km. While not exactly record-breaking figures for a turbodiesel, these are somewhat admirable and acceptable figures for such healthy power/torque output propelling significantly hefty kerb weight.

Taking the automatic Triton off–road, the dual purpose but road-biased Bridgestone Dueler H/T were up to grips over dirt and mud roads. Uneven, soft ground and rough ridges were ironed over with expected ease. The truck did not require gear reduction to 4L mode since no hardcore off-roading, mud-bath or river crossing were done. Back onto trunk roads, it was a joy to negotiate sweeping bends with body roll well controlled, at sane speeds of course. The rear Limited-Slip Differential (LSD) also contributed to stable composure around corners, especially in 4H drive mode.

Having driven the pick-up over a couple of days, I got acquainted with the tall ride, high vantage-point visibility, body rigidity and nice low-end torque on tap. In fact, the Triton felt like a decent and well-built SUV from Day2 of this test review. With 136bhp tops at 3500rpm, MMC claims a top speed of 175kph for this lifestyle truck. A feat probably not claimed by alternatives from the other camps, even though the Triton is no longer the horsepower king of pick-ups now. Curiosity got the better of me when I attempted 0 – 100kph sprint for this 1.9 tonne vehicle. The average timing acquired was around 15secs, not bad for a diesel double-cab with an auto ‘box, I reckoned.

Strangely, I was a little reluctant to return the Triton to MMM at the end of the loan period. I never thought that I would grow to like a pick-up this much. Swapping back to my regular executive sedan the same evening, I had found myself weirdly seated-low again and clamouring for the affable and addictive low-end torque of a turbodiesel. To be fair, I didn’t miss the labourious parallel parking of this 5.1 meter vehicle due to its enormous rear overhang! Nevertheless, I had suffered from withdrawal syndrome, needing a wash-out period, much like a subject in a cohort study of a pharmaceutical drug trial. Yet in the end, I can’t help feeling this notion of being able to be cool yet tough, and fashionable…in a Mitsubishi Triton!

1 comment:

Francis said...

overall the truck is good. it scored 8/10 for front seat passenger, but 5/10 for rear seat passenger. too bumpy for rear passenger. very stable drive and top 120kph without noticing (rev under 2000rpm!) it needs to run with cleaner diesel fuel, i need to clean oil filter everytime upon service. well malaysia still needs to work out on purchasing better fuel.