Splen­did in iso­la­tion

The Advertiser - Motoring - - NEWS - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER

IF I hadn’t driven the lat­est Ford Ranger or Toy­ota HiLux, I’d prob­a­bly think the new Mit­subishi Tri­ton was pretty hot. But I have. And it’s not.

The new Tri­ton is pleas­ant enough but it’s not nearly good enough in the hotly con­tested field that ex­ists to­day.

That means it is likely — again — to be­come a car that sells best once it’s had a red pen­cil put through the show­room sticker.

I strug­gle to get en­thu­si­as­tic about the Tri­ton, even though there is lots of good news in the de­tail, from the 2.4-litre turbo diesel en­gine to more legroom for the driver and more knee space for rear pas­sen­gers.

My test ute is a fully loaded Ex­ceed, which means a bot­tom line of $47,490. That’s a hefty haul for a pick-up, even a dual cab with 4WD on the fly and leather trim in the cabin.

The styling is more like a facelift than a to­tal over­haul de­spite changes to more than 80 per cent of the pan­els and parts. The ex­tra strength­en­ing un­der the skin helps it to a fives­tar ANCAP safety rat­ing and the smoother front end as­sists the im­pres­sive claimed econ­omy of 7.6L/100km.

The cabin is a big im­prove­ment but the open­ing win­dow through to the tray in the pre­vi­ous Tri­ton is gone, sac­ri­ficed for ex­tra legroom.

My mate Shane, who drives a su­per­seded dual-cab Tri­ton, finds a lot to like in the new model. He’s im­pressed by the over­all quiet­ness, the ex­tra sup­port in the front seats and lighter steer­ing with a tighter turn­ing cir­cle. This ute feels — to him — like a big step up.

There are as­pects to enjoy, among them the quiet­ness and the smooth five-speed auto, which comes as a bonus af­ter bat­tling the heavy five-speed man­ual in the HiLux.

The turbo diesel (133 kW/ 430Nm) is not a fire­ball but works well enough with peo­ple in the cabin and noth­ing to tow. On that front, Mit­subishi rates the Tri­ton at “only” 3100kg, which is still up by 100kg from the pre­vi­ous model and — de­spite a 3500kg rat­ing for the HiLux — it’s only 100kg be­hind the equiv­a­lent Toy­ota auto.

Look­ing in the back, I’m re­minded, just as in the Ranger and HiLux, that dou­ble-cab utes are really not that good if you want to carry some­thing like a mo­tor­cy­cle in the tray. Even moun­tain bikes have to sit di­ag­o­nally and the bar fit­ted to make it look like a “tuff truck” lim­its the abil­ity to load gear.

In­side, there are cushy new seats and the driv­ing po­si­tion feels less cramped. It eas­ily car­ries five adults.

I like the au­dio and re­vers­ing cam­era but that’s a ben­e­fit only in the two top mod­els of the Pa­jero and so the com­pany de­serves a kick for leav­ing it out of the base car. You can buy a dealer-fit­ted cam­era for $750.

To drive, the Tri­ton is be­low the best in the class. It is less con­nected to the road, more prone to jig­gling over bumps and wob­bling un­der brakes.

Cor­ner­ing is no fun. It also pitches more than its ri­vals, as the sus­pen­sion lacks the wheel con­trol of the op­po­si­tion that al­lows them to roll through un­du­la­tions in­stead of bounc­ing about.

That’s pretty much the story. The Tri­ton feels cheaper, less solid, than the class lead­ers, even VW’s Amarok.

It’s not that it’s bad, just that oth­ers are bet­ter. And, con­sid­er­ing the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of the Tri­ton ran for a decade in show­rooms, that’s bad news for Mit­subishi.

For me, the out­go­ing Tri­ton was al­ways the ute that was bat­tling the Nis­san Navara for a “best-of-the-rest” rank­ing be­hind the HiLux.

Dis­counted prices helped and it was easy to rec­om­mend the Mit­subishi be­cause it was close to the Toy­ota but a fair way be­low on pric­ing.

But the fully loaded Tri­ton Ex­ceed is not cheap and the Ranger and HiLux are might­ily im­pres­sive, which means the new Mit­subishi still trails — prob­a­bly even fur­ther be­hind — in the class.

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