MITSUBISHI Motors has reinforced the importance of the Australian market to it global business when launching the all-new 2016 Mitsubishi Triton last month – making it clear that local customer requirements set the benchmark for global tuning, while fleet and industry sales were a company priority in its packaging and marketing.
Australia’s Mining Monthly managing editor Michael Cairnduff attended the two-day launch and drive program in April, which centred on Fraser Island and its surrounds in the state of Queensland, so plenty of genuine testing opportunities for those not familiar with the terrain on the world’s largest sand island.
Mitsubishi put on a real show for the local Triton launch – no doubt reinforcing how serious the Japanese carmaker is treating the potential sales growth of this model in Australia – with about 35 motoring journalists and representatives of industry bodies flown to Hervey Bay in preparation for making the journey across the Great Sandy Strait to Fraser.
Most of the party disembarking at the regional airport assumed we would collect a vehicle and make out way to one of the nearby barge points from the Queensland mainland across to the island. However, Mitsubishi deliberately left he transfer details vague and after a gruelling 500m coach ride from the front of the terminal to somewhere around the corner, it became apparent that our mode of transport across the strait would instead be a convoy of three light charter aircraft.
Full points for dramatic effect, particularly as it provided a birds-eye view of the scale and picturesque nature of Fraser for those not familiar, plus putting an aircraft of any size down on a thin and, thanks to the tide, diminishing strip of pristine beach is an experience worth having on any given Monday morning.
On arrival, the scale of the event became clearer, with 15 of the new model Tritons, in various specifications, awaiting us along with a handful of Challengers acting as support vehicles and guest transport as well as a couple of Pajeros on point and recovery duties if so required.
In addition to the interested parties there to test the Triton, Mitsubishi Australia had a large group of key stakeholders on hand and there was also a significant contingent of executives present from its parent company, having made the trip across from Japan for the launch. Australian customer feedback was instrumental in the new model’s early stage development, with extensive kilometres clocked-up on local soil and time spent meeting with existing Triton owners across mining, farming, small-to-medium-enterprises and other industries in an effort to better understand the average day-to-day use of the vehicle.
Mitsubishi makes no secret about the fact it is targeting mining fleets specifically now it has achieved the necessary five-star ANCAP safety rating for the Triton and although there been interest in the Triton in the past from this sector, it has not stacked up with it competitors in this regard for the past two years.
The company is also mindful of maintaining its loyal tradesperson clientele and has been cautious around pricing for this new model for that reason, and will also continue to sell the now superseded model in parallel at a very attractive price point until ran out.
Mitsubishi Motors Australian CEO Mutsuhiro Oshikiri – who attended the launch – said more than 295,000 Tritons had been sold locally, making Australia one of Mitsubishi’s biggest and most influential Triton customers globally.
“I’m glad Mitsubishi sees Australia as a very attractive place to test new models, mainly due to our broad mix of roads and environmental conditions, but I’m more pleased testing on Australian soil has resulted in improvements to new Triton that suit Australian driver preferences for faster torque delivery and responsiveness,” Oshikiri said.
“These improvements will not only benefit customers in Australia but, more importantly, all Triton customers around the world.”
Testing work in Australia included multiple exercises carried out on sand, gravel and coarse chip bitumen, along with towing and heavy duty off-road testing.
The resulting changes for the Australian market – and as a consequence the global tune of the new vehicle – were designed to deliver improved high-speed stability on gravel surfaces as well as better overall towing performance and stability.
Although the launch didn’t afford an opportunity to test those particular characteristics, it did provide myriad opportunities to test the Triton’s off-road capabilities, particularly when it comes to its sand driving performance, manoeuvrability and commuting performance over a decent distance.
On approach to the new vehicle, there is no doubt this all-new model is a good looking vehicle by any measure, and its dimensions are certainly not imposing like some of its immediate peers including the Ford Ranger. This matters to fleet buyers looking for the flexibility to be able to hand the keys to the full complement of employees, not just the two-axe-handles-wide site supervisor who has driven light commercial vehicles for their entire career.
That brings me to a key packaging (and marketing) point with not just the new Triton, but the volume-selling immediate past model as well – Mitsubishi’s design and development team have maintained the lowest turning circle in the class, 11.8 metres, while improving in cabin comfort and its ability to haul practical loads both in the tray and attached to the tow hitch.
In case you are a cynic when it comes to car manufacturers re-tooling a few panels for visual effect, bolting them on to essentially the same vehicle and calling it an “all-new” model, this allegation ca not be levelled at Mitsubishi with the Triton, hence the subtle but worthwhile improvements to more than a few key areas.
In fact, the only carryover components, according to the Mitsubishi development team at the launch, were the floor pan and main chassis rails. That’s right, even the power plant is an all-new unit and the transmissions are new to Triton at least.
The reason it appears so familiar is the carryover styling cue of what the company calls the “J-Line”, or for you and me the top-to-bottom swooping curve of the rear cab, which as well as making the vehicle immediately identifiable as a Triton, also play a large part in the car’s practical packaging by allowing a full length passenger cell where it matters, while accommodating the existing three-metre wheelbase in a position that maintains manoeuvrability.
With those first impressions and basic facts dealt with, Australia’s Mining Monthly’s first drive of the Triton was in a mid-spec GLS Double Cab along the beach on the seaward side of the island, from the temporary landing strip to a sheltered spot where the manufacturer had set up an impressive spread for lunch.
This is a very quiet car, even when giving it a few more herbs over some softer, sandy washouts. The engine did not take long to impress, although the five-speed auto was a little disconcerting when traversing the softer patches as the tall gearing resulted in a discernible delay between asking for a bit more and the torque spooling up.
It didn’t take much to settle into a rhythm, it just felt a fair bit different to the vehicles I drive more regularly, and every car behaves differently in the sand. The issue was probably acerbated slightly by the fact all of the Tritons on test were running highway pressures, which was causing the car to dig-in a bit over the washouts.
Later in the day, we had a chance to punt the same vehicle up some more challenging interior tracks on Fraser, culminating alongside the stunning scenery of Lake McKenzie, a 1200m long and 930m wide (at its widest) perched body of water. The first obstacle – and perhaps the once most likely to result in bogging on Fraser for the unweary – is picking your line off the firm sand of the beach and up over the small soft dune barriers to access the seemingly endless interior four-wheel-drive tracks.
The Mitsubishi techs were so confident in the car’s ability they had (in addition to not deflating the tyres) set the Super Select II part time transfer system to “four high”, not even the available “four high lock” (which locks the centre differential) or my preference for the run over the dune lip, low range. The official word on set off was that we would get through everything comfortably without low range and to be honest in most places it did.
Needless to say we didn’t get stuck, otherwise I would have found something else to talk about for the last couple of paragraphs, and on discussion at the end of the day with the Mitsubishi scouts who set the course it was confirmed that the path off the beach was a lot softer and more cut-up than when they had driven it last – in case you think we took the unadventurous option.
My external appraisal of the Triton before setting off was that there did appear to be a couple of vulnerable, low-slung components but the GLS never once touch down, even on some quite challenging ruts and step downs as we made our way into the centre of the island. Another point worth noting for those, like myself, who are not a fan of bush pin-striping on new four-wheel drives, the Triton’s manoeuvrability kept it clear of some tight sections of overhanging bush and eroded embankments.
The benefits of the revised, faster steering ratio really did make for a pleasant drive on these rough tracks, and this characteristic was confirmed the next day when completing a twisty back road section through a series of small towns along the Fraser Coast hinterland, as we meandered our way back down to Brisbane.
Before we get to that bit though, we swapped cars in the afternoon and picked up the keys to a range-topping Exceed. This did feel like a different class of vehicle inside courtesy of leather trim, upgraded communication system with satellite navigation and a keyless push-button start arrangement. However, the one feature that really stood out with the Exceed on this leg was the capability of the high intensity discharge headlamps (also standard on GLS) in lighting up the track as the sunset on our trip back to Kingfisher Resort.
As luck (if you like this kind of thing) would have it, the final stages of the track back to the resort were among the most challenging, with some significant climbing sections that had the added difficulty of large, exposed (and in some case sharp) tree roots and a large helping of soft, cut-up sand.
The Triton’s engine really got down to business here and pulled us through to the top and eventually back on to the eerie quietness of the small bitumen stretch from which you enter the resort. This is a highly capable off-road vehicle straight out of the dealer and inspired confidence in most situations encountered.
The new power plant – which I am positive you will see rolled-out to other upcoming Mitsubishi models, starting with the new Challenger later in the year – is a slightly smaller 2.4L unit, putting out 133kW at 3500rpm and a hugely improved 430Nm of torque from 2500rpm.
Mitsubishi told those on the launch it was not interested in lifting the power output of the Triton significantly and put most of its effort into lifting overall torque and delivering it lower in the rev range to improve responsiveness. It is clear a lot of work has gone in to the ignition system, with the key benefits being reduced emissions, noise reduction and economy improvements.
For the record in regard to the three vehicles driven by Australia’s Mining Monthly on launch, the top-spec Exceed Double Cab automatic has an official economy rating of 7.6L per 100km, while GLS Double Cab automatic returns the same and the GLX Club Cab manual uses just 7.2L. Indicative pricing for the corresponding four-wheel-drive models, according to Western Australian driveaway offers at the time of print, was from $51,550, $43,550 and $38,050 respectively.
Day two’s driving campaign resulted in Australia’s Mining Monthly having a decent run in the more likely work horse of the range, the GLX Club Cab with a manual transmission and an alloy tray. This model immediately felt like an honest performer and this leg took us back on some heavily corrugated internal tracks, across the island and out onto the beach along the mainland side of the island in search of the barge back across the strait.
It was apparent that the six-speed manual transmission is also quite highly geared, no doubt for efficiency, once you are out of first and combined with a very narrow pick-up point of the clutch it took a bit of getting used to through the sand. This was overcome by selecting low range (on the simplified Easy Select system for GLX) and using predominantly second and third gear to maintain momentum on the tracks.
Once the chaos of barge mounting and dismounting was dispensed we were on to some typical Australian country back roads, where the passenger comforts of the new Triton even, in the workhorse models, was far easier to access.
This is a comfortable car for commuting long distances, due partly to the new engine and transmission combination, but also as a result of the noticeable effort by Mitsubishi to redesign the seats based on Australian customer feedback.
I am a fan of tall-gearing generally and I don’t want to labour the point, but my take-away impression of the Triton’s gearing – particularly at highway speeds in manual guise – is that it is too biased towards putting this exceptional little engine to sleep. On anything but a perfectly flat and straight section of bitumen, I struggled to pull 80km/h in fifth and 100km/h in sixth which meant a few more changes down than necessary.
The final world on the new Triton, and one that is likely to be important to booth trade and fleet clients, is a point on the vehicle’s load carrying capacity. Mitsubishi has upped the Triton’s towing capacity to 3100kg with 310kg on the hitch, but that doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to comparing the vehicle with some of its competitors that claim a 3500kg tow rating.
What Mitsubishi wants known in the market is the Triton’s full story in regards to its Gross Combination Mass, which in all four-wheel-drive Double Cab versions is rated at 5885kg. This number gives you the total allowable mass of the vehicle and trailer you are hauling, and this is where the company has focused its attention to provide a practical, real world balance between towing capacity and vehicle payload.