The South African double-cab market is set for a significant shake up in the coming months with the launch of the all-new Ford Ranger and revised Toyota Hilux aiming to offset the successful introduction of Volkswagen’s Amarok range.
With Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen eagerly looking forward to changing the face of the pick-up market it’s easy to forget that Mitsubishi introduced its own ideas on subject a good few years ago. Launched in 2007, the Triton bakkie not only replaced the hugely popular Colt range in South Africa, but also brought with it a new way at looking at the traditional double-cab.
Where South Africans had grown used to the idea that a pick-up was simply a squared-off, butch front grille with matching upright cabin bolted to a load bay, the Triton introduced curves and carefully molded lines never before seen in this segment. Whether or not this new more car-like design language immediately hit the mark with the traditional bakkie buyer, few could argue that the Triton changed the perceptions that a pick-up needed to look purely functional.
For various reasons, not least a lack of availability of test units, it had been four years since I last drove a Mitsubishi Triton and I have to admit that I had forgotten what a capable pick-up it is. Now with a slightly revised grille and sporting new bumpers front and rear, the Triton range has not only received small upgrades in appearance but also fresh impetuous from Mitsubishi Motor’s SA’s new local distributors, Imperial Motor Holdings' new subsidiary, Brietta (read an interview with its chairman here).
Reacquainted with the double-cab Triton during a recent launch event our first days driving route covered almost 300 km of both tar and gravel surfaces. Having recent drives of a double-cab Hilux, Amarok and Isuzu KB fresh in my mind I have to admit to being slightly surprised at just how comfortable the Mitsubishi is in comparison. I would hand the edge in ultimate comfort to the newer Volkswagen, but the Triton certainly has the measure of the Hilux and KB in terms of most closely mimicking car-like comfort on both tar and gravel.
Both the driver and front passenger seats offer impressive comfort levels and the cabin feels well enough insulated and put together. A comprehensive standard specification list includes a large electronic central display unit, front-loading CD player, air-conditioning and all-electric windows and mirrors. It’s easy to forget that the sloped rear section of the Triton’s cabin is not only a distinctive design element of this pick-up but that it also affords the Mitsubishi with one of the most comfortable and roomy rear passenger compartments in its class.
Heading onto the looser of the two surfaces I was able to, on the fly, move the slightly old-fashioned second gear lever (Amarok and KB both offer electronic transfer) into its four-high position in order to maintain a comfortable and confident pace. Remaining in fourth (out of a potential five) gear the 3,2-litre turbodiesel engine with its 340 N.m of torque proved nicely flexible and able to power me out of any sideways action.
Runner boards are standard exterior fitments to the Triton range though these items had been removed for our test drive. The obvious reason being that these “luxury” items hamper the off-road ability (most notably the ground clearance) of the vehicles.
Once again I have to admit to being suitable impressed at the off-road abilities of the Triton. Although I’m a firm believer in driver ability being a key factor in how far any 4x4 vehicle will travel off-road, from what I witnessed on our drive through the beautiful Witwater Safari reserve, the Mitsubishi Triton certainly proved that it is up for the tough stuff.
While the jury remains out on whether the Triton can match its latest rivals in terms of offering a bold and in-your-face presence both on and off-road, Mitsubishi and its new local distributors should feel confident that, given the right exposure and convincing potential buyers to take a test drive (bums in seats is what the marketers will call it), should highlight the fact that the Triton still has plenty to offer the South African pickup market.