SA bakkie war: Will Mitsubishi's new Triton give Hilux, Ranger sleepless nights?

UPDATE: We've added readers' comments at the end of the article.

Heidelberg, Gauteng - Thunderstorms and lightning was not what greeted me when I stepped off the airplane en route to the local launch of the new Mitsubishi Triton.

Instead, clear skies and a hope for tomorrow filled my soul as I embarked on a journey that will hopefully turn South Africa's bakkie market completely on its head.

Trump made it possible

The Triton, Mitsu’s bakkie in a market dominated by the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger, had lacklustre results in the local market. Sales dropped drastically and the product itself fell behind in comparison to its more advanced competitors.

READ: SA's best-selling bakkies - Toyota Hilux ends year on top

To make matters worse for Mitsubishi SA, the weak Rand meant that it could not launch its latest bakkie sooner. So when America’s new president, Donald Trump, was elected in late 2016, the rand made up some ground to the dollar and Mitsubishi SA’s decision-makers made the choice to launch it in January 2017.

A photo posted by Wheels24 (@wheels24_sa) on

Isn’t this just a ‘fancy’ Fullback?

This is probably a question many people are asking, but in reality, the Triton is so much more than the Fiat Fullback. Yes, the Fiat is based on an architecture borrowed from the Triton, but that is about where the similarities end. From its mechanics to the way the driver’s seat is positioned, the Triton is a big departure from the Italian bakkie. An earlier test mule shared traits with the Fullback, but the production bakkie is quite different.

READ: New Mitsubishi Triton in SA - Spec, prices and details revealed

The Triton sports a 2.4-litre diesel engine which can be coupled to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The engine, an aluminium block developing 133kW/430Nm, weighs 30kg less than the previous Triton’s 2.5-litre engine. Coincidentally, the Fullback uses that old 2.5-litre.

The “J-line”, the crease that separates the body from the loading bay, has also been made more pronounced. What this means is that interior space has been significantly increased and the bakkie’s wheelbase has also been shortened. It does not only influence road holding, but it also decreases the turning circle to only 5.9 metres.

 Do you think the new Mitsubishi Triton will be a success in SA? Let us know via emailFacebook and Twitter.

What about those gearboxes?

Upon leaving the airport, I first sampled the 4x4 automatic. What immediately struck me was how easy the ‘box changed cogs. It was near seamless and made stop-go driving very easy. Even through the towns on the outskirts of Johannesburg the auto’ never felt uncomfortable or difficult to manage. On highways it proved to be adaptable to various throttle inputs and barely felt like it was in the wrong gear.

The manual unit is much more involving, but the first two gears are relatively short. Hit third, however, and the Triton will pull like there is no end to its power. A downside though is that the 430Nm is only available from 2500rpm. This is higher than its rivals, but somehow the new engine fits well with either gearbox choice.

The open road

One of the Triton’s best aspects is its sound insulation, because really, that bakkie is quiet on the inside! On tar the cabin was almost eerily quiet and exterior noises had virtually no part to play in the Triton’s driving experience. The bakkie is also more manageable over any distance and offers the type of ride quality you’d come to expect from an SUV. And even with the selected routes being drenched in puddles of standing water and mud, the Triton kept its cool and carried on as if conquering slippery conditions was the most natural thing in the world.

Further testament of this bakkie’s improved road holding was how solidly placed it was on the gravel. It was as if bumps, ditches and loose sand could not deter it. Like all other bakkies, however, the Triton makes use of a ladder frame architecture with leaf spring suspension at the rear. The downside of this is that the rear suspension can be a bit jolty. Though not perfectly calm, the Triton is a lot softer and forgiving than the likes of the Ranger and Hilux. This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that it is more lifestyle orientated, but it does so without sacrificing the ruggedness bakkies are known for.

What also makes being behind the wheel a pleasure is the application of various technologies and driving aids. Stability control, traction control and ABS are things that come as standard and it really does improve the vehicle's cornering, acceleration and long-distance comfort.

And the controls and dials are easy to understand and to navigate through. It is a package that, holistically speaking, offers one of the best driving experience of any bakkie on sale in SA today. It’s a bold claim sure but finally, the Triton is a force to be reckoned with.

Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

Super Select II

Part of sampling the 2017 Triton was taking it on an off-road course. The course itself had something of everything that can test the metal of both bakkie and driver. Fortunately, Mitsubishi fitted the Triton with its new Super Select 4WD system; a system that is quite easy to understand. Four driving modes are available - from 2H to 4LLc (4WD low range with centre differential locked. For the most part, 4LLc (additionally locking the rear diff, too) was engaged and the Triton scaled the inclines and slopes with tremendous ease. With this hardcore 4x4 setting engaged, the turning circle of the vehicle increases and the engine becomes less adhering to throttle inputs. Off-road experts will understand.

But perhaps the most impressive part of this bakkie’s off-road prowess came when we made our way up a mountanish hill. Proper boulders and rocks laid scattered across the path and at times it seemed that the bakkie will scrape its underbelly to pieces, but this proved not to be. A ground clearance of 215mm ensured that we could glide over the cringe-evoking rocks. Even approaching these monsters was easy given the impressive approach and departure angles of 28° and 22°.

From a hardcore off-road perspective, the automatic transmission will maybe be the gearbox to go for. Though the manual is perfectly capable, modulating the clutch with 4LLc engaged can be a bit of an issue. It requires sensitive, full-on concentration and if not careful, you can find yourself on the wrong side of burnt out clutch. The auto, though not immune to burning, will at least lessen the risk of it being the fault of “user error”. Either way, both gearboxes can take a punch, but deciding on one could perhaps come down to your own personal use for the bakkie.

 Do you think the new Mitsubishi Triton will be a success in SA? Let us know via emailFacebook and Twitter.

Will it make an impact?

It remains to be seen how the Triton will be received by SA’s motoring public, but Mitsubishi is not ignorant to the fact that the Hilux is the country’s best-selling vehicle. The Triton will not chase the 2500+ sold units the Hilux and Ranger are achieving on a monthly basis, but will instead focus its position on being a niche lifestyle bakkie in this highly competitive segment. Whichever way it is received, the Triton should at least be considered if buying a new bakkie is on your to-do list for 2017. It is leaps and bounds better than the outgoing model and with an overall ride quality that'll impress you for all the right reasons.

The battle for bakkie supremacy is about to go into overdrive this year and the fight could get downright dirty. The market leaders will (perhaps) continue their dominance, but they’d definitely need to keep an eye in their rear view mirror. The Triton has arrived.

For a full and comprehensive list on what Mitsubishi offers with its new Triton, click here.

Image: Mitsubishi SA

Wheels24 readers responded:

Corne Coetzer - This is simply put 'an awesome vehicle'. Can’t wait for the launch here in Bloemfontein here on Saturday (January 28)! I compared the launch prices to that of the Hilux 4x4 auto and Ranger 4x4 auto Rand it definitely seems like better value for money. I recently drove a Ranger 2.2 down to Mosselbay and was not impressed with the manual gearbox. It felt like it was digging in a bag of gummy bears with a screw driver!

Just because it’s a 2.4-litre compared to the Hilux’s 2.8 and the Ford’s 3.2 doesn’t make it a slouch. There is a great Aussie video where drag races are held on tarmac, gravel and grass and the Triton hands out a hiding.

I love my 2013 Triton and will most definitely trade in on the new Triton as soon as a few cheaper used vehicles become available.

I wonder if the Triton Phantom will make an appearance in SA...?

Gregory Fendt - I have a 2006 Mitsubishi Colt Club Cab 2.4 diesel 4x4. It has a rugged manly look to it, performs incredibly well and after 10 years in Umhlanga has absolutely NO RUST! Of all the vehicles I’ve owned from Alfa Guilietta Exec (1982) to BMW 525e (1992) to a number of 3-Series BMW's from 1992-2007, this bakkie is the one that has served me best!

It's the one I have enjoyed the most and it was only intended to be my second weekend vehicle - was so good I never bought another BMW at end of lease!

Looking at the picture and video I feel that the aesthetics is ‘sloppy’, better than the horrible previous Triton, but still it has no appeal. The back lights look like ‘Chinese eyes’ - not appealing. The rugged looks have been disposed of and I think that is detrimental to appeal. Probably still a very good machine, but I don’t think it will rival the looks of the Ranger. The Hilux has never been my favourite and always thought it to be over-rated and way over-priced! 

Depending on comparative selling prices, if it comes in say 5 – 10% cheaper than Hilux or Ranger, it may corner third place of SA's best selling bakkies

Aubrey Kabelo - Yes, it will be a success in SA compared to Hilux and Ranger. It has enough capacity to load more loads with its long base.

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