Who exactly do we lay the blame on here? The Nissan Navara or the VW Amarok? Who is responsible for the gentrification of the double cab?
I remember a time when bakkies were agricultural – and proudly so. And that was fine, because it meant Piet Pompies could go about his business out in the platteland and leave the cars to the rest of us non-plaasjapies. Not anymore. The monthly sales battle between the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger has descended into something resembling a blood sport; supersubs such as the refreshed Isuzu KB and bullish Fiat Fullback have burst on to the scene, and the new Navara, Renault’s Alaskan and the upcoming Merc X-Class from the fatherland are all clamouring for a fight, even sharing one and the same platform, nogal. Double cabs have become très chic, don’t you know – less hard-worker, more lifestyle load-lugger.
But someone still needs to hold the wooden spoon, which on the face of it is not so convenient for the likes of the Mazda BT-50 and Mitsubishi Triton. Each of these Japanese utes has traditionally followed an evolutionary process, taking their time, relying on brand loyalty and exacting minor changes to their offering for the greater good. But I’m happy to report that the new Triton has broken the habit. It has taken the revolution in its stride and brought some newness to the malaise – newness founded in a triple threat of a fresh engine, opulent interior and re-sculpted exterior. A multi-slat grille is the first thing to grab your attention and in these peculiar times of a pickup’s styling counting for just as much as the number of logs it can accommodate in the load bay, the Triton strikes a positive chord. It’s a tad chintzy perhaps (if you go for all-
chrome), but still brawny and wide wheel-arched. Unlike the new Hilux, there’s not an obscene beak-like front overhang, so your approach angle is still an impressive 30 degrees, and the tapered bonnet that runs to the rakish A-pillar gives it far less of an apartment-block-like coefficient of drag as it cleaves the air.
This is arguably where, out of the 185 areas engineers focused their attention on, Triton makes its biggest strides. From the comfortable seats of our 4×2 model, you can scarcely believe the refinement and quality. It’s smooth and whisper-quiet. Upgraded materials in the interior lend it an impressive level of noise suppression,and the whole rugged, but the ergonomically challenged layout of its predecessor is gone. It’s a well-worn phrase in modern bakkiedom, but ‘car-like interior’ most certainly applies to the new Triton. The dash may lack the styling flair of the latest Hilux (did I seriously just refer to a Hilux as having flair?), but there’s superficial quality, backed up by what feels like tactile integrity to all the switchgear and controls – decent to look at, great to operate. The central touch screen looks a little retrofitted, but provides control of the Bluetooth- and USB-compatible infotainment system, and there’s even single-zone climate control, reverse camera and cruise control in this cheapest-to-finance cabbie. As an addendum to my test, I needed to load up three burly blokes for two days of meetings in and around the Big Smoke of Gauteng. The lads in the back seat should’ve been particularly grateful for the tweaks Mitsubishi wrought to the cabin. Stretched by 20 mm, the rear bench seats have been re-angled by 25 degrees, so you no longer have to sit bolt upright in the back like before.
So those are the basics taken care of, but what about the new 133 kW/430 Nm common rail diesel motor, particularly travelling four-up in the thinned Jozi air? Once again, the Triton impresses on start-up with a sense that the mechanicals are happening off in the background, well-insulated, with clatter and vibrations kept to a minimum. But slip her into gear, floor the throttle, and the lethargy off the line is pretty unmistakable. Modern Hiluxes and Rangers suffer from overeagerness these days (their torque plateau starting at about 1 500 rpm, versus 2 500 rpm here), but no such luck in Tritonland – the age-old three-second rule of turbo lag still applies here. Thankfully, once you’re up to speed and you get into the teeth of that 430 Nm of thrust, it feels like it will pull for days and days. And I’m reliably told by the man from Mitsubishi that the five-speed automatic is much less obtrusive and masks these lag issues better.
Perhaps the most tacit reason to consider the new Triton lies in the gains made in the suspension department. Despite still being a solid rear axle with leaf springs, it’s not only planted and assured in the corners, but also magic-carpet smooth across a wide variety of surfaces. As a crosstown tourer, it has the measure – maybe even the beating – of the VW Amarok. And well-calibrated power steering means it’s an easy steer anywhere, with a class-leading turning circle of 11.8m. The whole experience is reassuringly similar off-road – although in our 4×2, sans any 4WD on-the-fly gubbins, we didn’t exactly go off and point it at the top of a mountain. But on a section of corrugated farm roads, the standard Active Stability and Traction Control kept the rear end in check, stopping it from bouncing out à la deathly swing axles of old.
In the double-cab stakes, the Mitsubishi Triton is most probably still destined to be outshone by firm local favourites – the Hilux and Ranger – but that doesn’t mean it is outclassed. Quite the contrary – based on ride quality and refinement alone, the Mitsu deserves not to be overlooked. I reserve judgment on the laggy drivetrain till I drive a 4×4 auto, but it’s undoubtedly a comfortable, competent and well-priced pickup that has had all the rough edges of its predecessor satisfyingly smoothed away. An excellent effort on Mitsubishi’s part, then.
In a nutshell:
A formidable foe in a double-cab throwdown – with handsome good looks, refinement, practicality, and most importantly, car-like comfort.
Strong, yet lethargic 2.4-litre engine and a six-speed manual that takes some stirring. Allegedly, the automatic solves all, though…
- Engine: 2 442 cc, 4-cylinder, diesel
- Power: 133 kW @ 3 500 rpm, 430 Nm @ 2 500 rpm
- Performance: 0–100 km/h in 11.4 sec, top speed 179 km/h
- Tyres: 245/65/R17
- Economy: 7.6 ℓ/100 km
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- CO2 emissions: 173 g/km
- Price: R479 900
Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq LX 4×2 Double Cab
Arguably the best off-roader of them all, thanks to its sublime wheel travel – it’s great for the trails, but less useful as a 4×2. Go 4×4 or nothing at all. 0–100 km/h in
13.2 sec, top speed 170 km/h, power 130 kW/380 Nm, price R486 900
Ford Ranger 2.2 TDCI XLS 4×2 Double Cab
A phenomenal athlete even in downsized 2.2 guise, with great payload and tow capacity,
it just lacks the refinement of the Triton. Auto gearbox is the one to have ideally. 0–100 km/h in 12.3 sec, top speed 176 km/h, power 118 kW/385 Nm, price R450 900