Triton Athlete Well Up To Mark Off-roading

By Lee Pang Seng

THE Mitsubishi Triton has enjoyed a strong following since it was introduced here and the latest generation model appeared to have endeared it to a bigger market with its bold and aggressive frontage. This forward design gave the Triton a distinctive brand identity that many Mitsubishi pickup owners could relate to readily and enthusiastically.

Recently, Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia brought in the Triton Athlete to take over from the Adventure X flagship model. The Athlete name is always preserved for the flagship model but as there were still Athlete variants for the previous generation model, the flagship Triton for the current generation was given the Adventure X name to avoid confusing buyers between old and new.

To give the new Triton Athlete a fresh appeal, it was endowed with a glossy black theme for the front under garnish and ‘Dynamic Shield’ front styling that incorporates the black radiator grille. Sporty ‘Athlete’ graphic design decals at the rear complete the refreshed exterior look. Interior highlights were in the orange-stitched leather wrapped steering and gear knobs along with the LED (light emitting diode) lit scuff plates.

And to celebrate the latest Triton Athlete’s entry into the market, Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia organised an off-road media drive in Janda Baik. As we missed the opportunity to experience the Triton six-speed automatic models in off-road conditions during the Kota Kinabalu drive in Sabah two years ago, the event was certainly something we looked forward to.

Back then, we recalled going down a very slippery slope in KK driving the six-speed manual Triton by engaging first gear and trying our best to steer the pickup from sliding from the desired course and going down a steep bank on the side. It might have been a different experience doing the same with the six-speed automatic transmission Triton that comes with Hill Descent Control (HDC).

We are not new to HDC, having sampled its operation in other pickups and SUVs (sport utility vehicles) but it would be nice to see how the system fare in the Triton. It was this single-minded objective that made us look forward to the Triton Athlete Janda Baik drive. And we came away happy enough as conditions were generally good although not as ‘treacherous’ or gruelling as that in KK.

The HDC is part of the Super Select 4WD-II, which is described as a first-in-class feature that Mitsubishi proudly acclaims as the Triton’s 4Sure Control package. Selecting the respective drive systems is straight forward and easy. A rotary dial on the central console allows selection of the respective drive; 2H, 4H, 4HLc and 4LLc. The latter two are for demanding off-road terrain.

To select the drive mode for the off-road conditions, it was advised that the Triton be brought to a stop and the gearshift being slotted to N(eutral). Then, the button for HDC next to the rotary dial was pressed to activate the system. Our first downhill experience was too gentle and using HDC to get down was painfully slow.

Subsequent slope declines were steeper and we could feel the effectiveness of the HDC in controlling vehicle speed and wheel traction while going down the muddy terrain. This was all done without us touching the brake pedal and all we had to do was steer the Triton along the best course down.

The Triton came with dual terrain tyres (265/60R18) that were more suited to tarmac driving and tackling the off-road conditions was more of an experience in the Triton’s mechanical capability in handling such challenges. We were curious though as to why the Triton Athlete in front was being driven down the same slope with the brakes being used. Doing so defeated the purpose of using HDC.

We also had quite a few mudholes to wallow through, thanks to the overnight rain. Here, we had the choice of selecting the off-road mode to suit the terrain, another first in class feature, by Mitsubishi’s account. By pressing a button next to that for the HDC, we could prime the four-wheel drive system to handle driving over gravel, sand, mud and rocks. For the Janda Baik drive, we only used two – gravel and mud.

Once, we forgot to select the muddy terrain mode and found the Triton Athlete slip sliding a lot more when driven through the muddy stretches. On realising our error and engaging Mud mode while stationary and with the gearshift in N(eutral), our mud drives were a lot better controlled as the system could apportion the traction to the respective tyre for better grip over the slippery sludge.

Generally, the Triton Athlete was well up to mark being driven off-road like a good pickup should be. It also handled well being driven along a shallow stream with a rock-strewn bed and going up slippery river banks. The thing is today’s pickups are a lot more comfortable to drive and travel in without losing sight of its primary focus in performing off-road duties.

Our driver and front passenger experience echoed our sentiments from the Kota Kinabalu off-road outing (where we had a rear-seat passenger experience as well); we couldn’t be more comfortably accommodated, never mind the mild tossing over dips and bumps. On the road, the Triton Athlete is nearly as comfortable as the SUV, even when travelling beyond legal speeds.

Of course, having leaf springs at the rear for heavy-duty loads make for a firmer ride but good suspension tuning has led to a fair balance in general ride quality. The Triton’s front is sprung by wishbones and this adds positively to the overall ride comfort factor.

The Triton’s small turning circle of 11.8 metres made manoeuvring in tight turns along the off-road route in Janda Baik very manageable. There were only a couple of turns where we had to stop, reverse and steer to continue but most times, we could handle the tight ‘corners’ quite nicely.

It also has good approach angles – lateral, front and rear, and ramp break-over – to cover most ground without the underside scraping against the off-road terrain that was being driven over. Mitsubishi describes this as its ‘4Sure Agility’ advantage.

Power-wise, the award-winning 2.4-litre turbodiesel with Common Rail VGT Intercooler and variable valve timing provides more than enough oomph to take on off-road terrain and highway driving. The undersquare engine has a long 105.1mm stroke and 86mm bore to displace 2,442cc, and delivers 133kW (181PS) at 3500rpm and 430Nm torque at 2,500rpm.

The low torque delivery allowed us to mosey along at low speeds over the off-road trails without having to use the brakes much with the gearshift in D(rive). The high torque also served as a decelerator when we lift our foot off the accelerator pedal while allowing us to pick up the pace quickly on open stretches.

As a flagship model, the Triton Athlete commands a higher price of RM141,500 on the road without insurance. To measure up to its lofty status, it comes with a full range of Mitsubishi Advanced Safety features such as Forward Collision Mitigation, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Change Assist with beep alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Auto High Beam, Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation System and seven air-bags.

This equipment would come in handy in urban driving and tight city spaces. But generally, the justification for such a flagship model is that the Triton Athlete is a nice status symbol to be seen in when surveying work sites at building and construction projects, or the sprawling farmlands and estates.