BANG FOR YOUR BUCKS

WITH A FEW TWEAKS AND A NEW FACE, HOW DOES MITSUBISHIíS STRONG-SELLING TRITON STACK UP AGAINST ITS IMMEDIATE CLASS RIVALS?

WORDS FRASER STRONACH PHOTOS ALASTAIR BROOK

MITSUBISHIíS new MR Triton. Itís not so much of an all-new model but more a mid-life refresh of the fifth-generation MQ that arrived in Australia four years ago.

Most obviously the MR brings distinctive new styling, but thereís also new active safety kit and Ė the most significant mechanical change Ė the adoption of a six-speed automatic that replaces the previous five-speeder.

This evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach is very much Mitsubishiís way when it comes to the Triton, as this new model can trace its roots back to the ML of 2006, the first of the Tritons where the rear of the cabin has the distinctive rounded-off styling.

In between then and now new engines have been the most notable changes, with a 3.2 diesel making way for a 2.5 diesel and most recently a 2.4 diesel, all the while offering more power and lower emissions. Meanwhile, extra ratios have been added to both the manual and automatic gearboxes.

In a very crowded and very competitive dual-cab market the Triton is outsold only by the Hilux and Ranger, thanks largely to pricing only bettered by Chinese, Indian and now Korean utes. And while this new Triton is a little more expensive than the outgoing model, itís still the least expensive of the mainstream dual-cabs, with prices starting below $40K for a dual-cab 4x4. However, what we have here isnít the least expensive Triton but the topspec GLS Premium, which is $52K plus on-road costs.

To keep the Triton honest we have two of the other less expensive mainstream utes in the form of Nissanís Navara D23 and Isuzuís D-Max. Like the predecessor of this new Triton the Navara D23 first appeared in 2015 but has been updated twice in quick succession, the last time early in 2018. Here we have a topspec Navara ST-X, which is $54K plus on-roads. The D-Max effectively dates back to 2012; although, it received a significant powertrain upgrade in 2017 and some chassis tweaks a year later. Our mid-spec LS-U test vehicle is $51K plus on-roads.

WORKING MAN

While not the fl ashiest or most sophisticated ute on the market, the D-Max has slowly gained in popularity thanks largely to its robust and reliable powertrain.

FROM THIS LOT TO BEST IN CLASS THEREíS A FAIR GAP IN OFF-ROAD PROWESS BUT THE D-MAX IS STILL ARGUABLY THE BEST HERE

THIS generation D-Max arrived in Australia in 2012 and unlike every other ute that Isuzu had produced up until that time Ė familiar here as the Holden Rodeo Ė this D-Max isnít a 100 per cent product from the ground up. The chassis and body shell actually owe more to General Motors; although, the engine, gearbox, transfer case, rear axle, suspension springs and dampers, interior fit-out and exterior body parts are all very different to what GM sells here as the Holden Colorado.

Unlike Holden, which initiated an ongoing revision program with its Colorado right from the get-go Ė no doubt to help bridge the gap to Fordís superior Ranger Ė Isuzu left the D-Max alone until 2017 when mandatory compliance to tougher (Euro 5) emission regulations brought a significantly revised engine along with new six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes (replacing the previous five-speeders), additional NVH control measures and equipment upgrades. The most recent changes for the 2018 model see all SX, LS-U and LS-T dual-cabs with more compliant three-leaf rear springs designed to improve the unladen ride. LS-M models retain the five-leaf springs.

POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE

THE D-Maxís 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, now a big capacity engine in its class, traces back to 2006 when it first appeared here in the Holden Rodeo. Since that time there have been a number of updates, the most recent of which has brought higher-pressure common rail injection, a new variablegeometry low-inertia turbo and new pistons.

A diesel particulate filter (DPF) is the key Euro 5 technology that is found on all three engines here.

Despite all these MY17 engine changes maximum power remains at a modest 130kW (the lowest here) and, while maximum torque is now 430Nm (up from the previous 380Nm), itís an equal-low figure here. On the road thereís not much between these three utes with pedals to the metal, even if the D-Max tails the field. In general giveand-take driving, though, it does better with strong response from low engine speeds.

With its latest changes the D-Max is quieter than before, especially on light throttle running as you reach highway speeds on level roads. In this sort of environment itís quieter than the Navara and a match for the generally more refined Triton. When asked to work on steeper hills or when overtaking it becomes noisy and the most agriculturalsounding of these three, which could be attributed to it being the largest capacity engine here.

The six-speed automatic from Aisin, offers smooth and generally well-timed shifts and is notably proactive in the way it downshifts on off-throttle descents without brake prompts from the driver. The two very tall overdrive ratios (like the Hilux) still means the gearbox is more about economy than performance, and the D-Max can shuffle back and forth between fifth and sixth on undulating country roads.

ON-ROAD RIDE & HANDLING

THE D-Maxís more compliant and slightly softer rear suspension makes for a generally agreeable unladen ride, and on most rough surfaces the D-Max has the best ride of three utes. It rides better than the Triton all the time and better than the Navara most of the time, even if thereís not much between it and the much-improved Nissan. Of the three the D-Max has the heaviest steering and one that lacks the feel of the sportier Triton.

Unlike its Colorado cousin, with its loweffort-yet-communicative electric power steering, the D-Max relies on conventional hydraulically assisted steering. The D-Max still handles well, but the bar isnít set all that high in the company. VWís Amarok almost feels like a sports car against this lot, and Fordís Ranger and Holdenís Colorado are also well ahead in terms of on-road steering and dynamics.

WHAT YOU GET

ALL D-Max dual-cab 4x4 utes have six airbags, a reversing camera, an eight-speaker audio with a CD slot and USB and iPod inputs, a seven-inch or bigger touchscreen, cruise control, and trailer-sway control as part of the chassis electronics package.

There are four spec levels, topping out with the LS-T (auto only) which has leather, electric adjustment for the driverís seat, smart-key entry and start, an eight-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, side-steps, projector headlights with DRLs, and 18-inch alloys. Our test vehicle is a mid-spec LS-U.

OFF-ROAD

THE barís also not set particularly high amongst this trio in terms of off-road prowess; all three sit at the bottom of the wider class of dual-cab 4x4s when it comes to getting dirty.

From this lot to the best in class (Hilux, Ranger and Amarok, not necessarily in that order) thereís a fair gap in off-road capability but the D-Max is still arguably the best here.

It could be a lot better if Isuzu would do what Holden did to the Colorado in 2016, namely add off-road specific calibration to the electronic traction control.

As it is, the D-Maxís modest wheel travel, lack of a rear locker and road-tune traction control are all limitations, but in this company it has the best ground clearance and the added benefit of a solid bashplate, two decent front recovery points and inner-mudguard engine air intake. In terms of going off-road without modification of any type, the D-Max is the most ready of this trio even if itís not technically the most capable.

CABIN & SAFETY

THE recent D-Max upgrades have brought a noticeably better-finished cabin than before and more equipment (such as sat-nav on this mid-spec model), but the general dash and cabin presentation is still the poorest here.

THE D-MAX OFFERS CLASSCOMPETITIVE PAYLOADS AND A CLASSEQUAL-BEST 3500KG TOW RATING

ISUZU D - MAX LS - U

The D-Max has a marginally bigger cabin and good driver comfort, even if the steering wheel doesnít adjust for reach. At the rear itís also the best for three adults with more legroom, even if itís no wider than the Navara. None of these three are all that good for three adults in the back Ė two adults and a child at best.

Six cabin airbags help contribute to a fivestar ANCAP safety rating, but at this stage the D-Max doesnít offer active safety features such as autonomous emergency braking.

PRACTICALITIES

DESPITE the D-Max getting more compliant rear springs for most models in the MY18 upgrade the GVM of 4x4 models increased by 100kg to 3050kg, which is a welcome upgrade for fitting accessories or carrying a load.

The D-Max offers class-competitive payloads and a class-equal-best 3500kg tow rating and, while we tested neither here, when put to the test previously with a big load the D-Max has performed honestly without being a front-runner.

In more general practical terms the D-Max offers a surprisingly wide dealer network (142 dealers nationally at last count) despite Isuzu Ute only setting up shop in Australia in 2008. In the meantime the D-Max has earned a good reputation for reliability, simplicity of service and low service costs. Plenty of aftermarket support off the back of its strong sales, too.

MIXED MESSAGE

A new six-speed automatic gearbox and extra safety kit are the headline changes to the Triton, but not the only things Mitsubishi has changed.

YOU canít help but notice the new MR Triton given its radical re-style from the previous MQ Triton thatís been around since late 2015. Behind the new face itís more familiar, with engine, chassis and unique 4x4 system largely carried over from the MQ.

Where the MQ was more a generational change from the 2009 MN, bringing a new engine and significant chassis changes, this is largely a mid-generation facelift. Leading the changes is a new six-speed automatic that replaces the previous five-speeder; while a new six-speed manual arrived with the MQ, so thatís carried over to the MR. Changes to the rear suspension means that low-spec GLX and GLX+ models get an extra leaf in the rear springs to improve load-carrying compared to the GLS and GLS Premium, which also get new rear springs. Larger diameter dampers are also fitted at the rear.

MORE NOTICEABLE AND SIGNIFICANT IS THE SUPERIOR REFINEMENT OF THE TRITONíS ENGINE

Non-mechanical changes include the introduction of terrain-specific modes to the 4x4 system and safety features such as blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and partial autonomous braking.

POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE

IN THIS company the Tritonís 2.4-litre diesel doesnít have the benefit of size (as does the D-Max) or an extra turbo (as does the Navara) to get the job done. On paper itís still competitive, effectively falling between the other two in power output and matching the bigger D-Max for torque, even if it needs more revs to make the claimed 430Nm.

On the road things played out even better and the Triton proved the zippiest of the three, perhaps helped by the closer ratios of its new six-speed automatic. Last time we tested these utes together the Navara edged the Triton in acceleration, but this time the tables were reversed.

More noticeable and significant is the superior refinement of the Tritonís engine compared to the other two. Itís especially quieter when all three are working hard, and even under light load itís noticeably quieter than the Navara. Itís generally smooth, even if it needs more revs than the other two engines to get the job done, and the new and long overdue six-speed automatic is nicely refined.

ON-ROAD RIDE & HANDLING

THE Triton Super Select 4x4 system sets it apart in this company, as it does generally across the dual-cab ute class where part-time 4x4 is the norm. Super Selectís special trick is its full-time 4x4 mode, which can be used on any surface Ė wet or dry, sealed or unsealed Ė and is most useful for mixed road and mixed weather touring where road conditions constantly change.

Unlike other full-time 4x4 systems (such as VW Amarok and Mercedes Benz X-Class V6) Super Select allows the driver to select two-wheel drive, as you may do for highway cruising on dry, sealed roads.

With the benefit of Super Selectís full-time 4x4 included, the new Triton continues where the old one left off, in as much as it feels generally smaller and nimbler in the wider dual-cab market. However, the changes to the rear suspension, even on this GLS Premium with the theoretically lighterduty rear springs, have brought a noticeable deterioration in the unladen ride quality and a less harmonious relationship between the front suspension and rear suspension than there was before. On smooth roads the Triton is fine, but on bumpy roads the unladen ride and stability has taken a backwards step.

OFF ROAD

THE Tritonís new ĎOff-Road Modeí system with terrain-specific settings becomes available when the Super Select system is in ĎLow Fourí or ĎHigh-Four Locked Centreí, so, in other words, when the mechanical centre diff is locked. The modes cover Mud/Snow, Sand, Rock and Gravel.

Otherwise the Triton is as it was before when off-road, which isnít special due largely to its modest wheel travel. This top-spec model gets a rear diff lock, but itís not always of benefit as engaging it cancels the traction control across both axles. Wading depth has risen from 500mm to 600mm and ground clearance from 205mm to 220mm Ė both welcome changes.

While more time in different off-road conditions is needed to fully test the effectiveness of the Tritonís new Off-Road Mode system, thereís only so much it can do given the Tritonís diffs are all mechanical and beyond any electronic control.

In this company the Triton is competitive enough off-road, but the off-road bar hasnít been set too high in the company.

CABIN & SAFETY

THE Tritonís cabin is the smallest here, but itís the best finished and best presented. Itís also the only one of the three that offers tiltand-reach steering wheel adjustment for the driver. The cabinís relatively small size is most noticeable if you wish to seat three adults across the back seat, as the D-Max and Navara both do a slightly better job.

Only the top-spec GLS Premium model gets smart key entry and start and heated front seats, but the Tritonís top-spec is also less expensive than the top-spec D-Max or Navara. Seven airbags, as per the Navara, help contribute to a five-star ANCAP rating; while Triton is the only ute here with blindspot warning and rear-cross traffic alert, which is a very useful feature for nose-to-kerb angle parking found in many country towns. The new Triton has ĎForward Collision Mitigationí which warns the driver of a possible collision and will automatically apply the brakes if a collision is imminent, but the system apparently only works at urban rather than open-road speeds.

WHAT YOU GET

ALL Triton dual-cab 4x4s get seven airbags, tilt-andreach steering wheel adjustment, cruise, voicecontrolled Bluetooth, a touchcreen, USB port, trailer sway control, and the usual electronic chassis controls. Through five equipment grades the Triton tops out with the GLS Premium, which gets smart-key entry and start, leather, heated front seats, power-adjust driverís seat, smartphone connectivity, auto wipers, auto LED headlights, and safety features including forward-crash mitigation, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. GLS and GLS Premium models also get selectable full-time 4x4 instead of part-time 4x4. The Premium gets a rear locker.

IN THIS COMPANY THE TRITON IS COMPETITIVE ENOUGH OFF- ROAD, BUT THE OFF-ROAD BAR HASNíT BEEN SET TOO HIGH IN THE COMPANY

PRACTICALITIES

THE Triton has the lowest payload and tow rating here. The fact that its short wheelbase means just about all of the tray overhangs the rear axle doesnít help either when heavily loaded. Surprisingly, the Gross Vehicle Mass is the same for both iterations of the rear suspension system, and at 2900kg is unchanged from the previous model.

When the previous model was tested with a heavy load onboard or being towed behind, the engine did a good enough job but the chassis became very nose-up, tail-down. With the changes to the rear suspension it will be interesting to see if this has improved when put to the test with a decent payload or towload.

TAKE THREE

With its coil-spring rear suspension, Nissanís D23 Navara has been controversial from the get-go.

ON TRACTIVE ABILITY ALONE THAT PUTS THE NAVARA IN FRONT OF THE D-MAX AND THE TRITON

THE Navara D23, tagged at the time as the NP300, arrived here in mid 2015 and was a significant departure from the outgoing Navara D40, which was second only to the Hilux in sales for a good part near decade-long run. All but one dual-cab D23 feature a coil-sprung live axle at the rear, a feature unique among all the popular dual-cabs.

In what Nissan said was response to ďfeedback from customers and dealersĒ changes were announced a little more than a year later in October 2016 and implemented for the 2017 model year.

This included the dropping of the NP300 tag (replaced by Series II), the introduction of a new work-spec model and, critically, new coil springs at the rear and new dampers front and rear.

Then in early 2018 the rear suspension was revised again with new coils and new dampers, the steering ratio and weighting were changed and the equipment adjusted.

POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE

THE Navaraís Renault-sourced engine is the smallest here and is unique in as much as it has two turbos rather than one, so itís both more sophisticated and more complex. Similar bi-turbo systems are not uncommon on other small-capacity European diesels.

At 140kW and 450Nm it claims the most power and torque of the three engines here, while also reaching its 450Nm maximum torque output at just 1500rpm, 500rpm before the D-Max and a full 1000rpm before the Triton reach their respective 430Nm best. All this is the benefit of having two turbos, where the small, quick-spooling one is there specifically to enhance off-idle performance, leaving the main turbo to get on with the job at higher engine speeds and under higher engine loads.

On the road the Navara proved stronger in acceleration than the D-Max, as it always has done, but was outdone by the Triton which, despite the new six-speed auto, still looked the slower on paper. After all, the Navara has a seven-speed automatic, is fractionally lighter than the Triton and has slightly shorter overall gearing.

The Navaraís engine is still effortless enough in general driving, but it gets noisy and more fussed when worked hard. Its overall refinement is behind that of the Triton, and even the usually gruff D-Max engine beats it for refinement under light engine loads such as level-road highway cruising.

ON-ROAD RIDE & HANDLING

THANKS to the significant work Nissan put into the Navaraís suspension and steering in the 2017 and 2018 upgrades, the on-road driving experience is vastly improved from what it was. In its original iteration, the D23ís unladen ride didnít live up to the promise of its coil-sprung rear end, the steering was heavy and slow, and the 3500kg towing claim (or indeed the 800kg+ payload claim) was more marketing hype than anything the Navara could do with any sort of conviction in the real world.

Now the Navara feels much better in terms of its unladen ride and handling.

On poor quality roads in this company itís generally better than the Triton in both ride and stability and, while itís still not quite as compliant as the D-Max, its handling is as good. Still, itís nothing special as the ride-andhandling bar isnít set very high amongst this trio.

WHAT YOU GET

ALL Navara dual-cab 4x4s have seven airbags, a rearview camera and a 12-volt outlet in the rear tub. The SL then adds LED headlights with DRLs, while the ST gains 16-inch alloys, seven-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, fogs, side-steps, a chrome Ďsports barí and a rear locker. The top specification ST-X model then gains leather seats (heated up front), electric adjustment for driverís seat, a slide-opening in the rear window, and fore-and-aft adjustable tub tie-downs unfortunately mounted too high in the tub to be useful for anything but tall loads.

OFF ROAD

THE Navara has never been particularly capable off-road as itís not overly endowed with suspension travel and is relatively low slung. Compared to every other popular dual-cab itís always the first to run out of clearance off-road.

The lack of suspension travel is in part overcome by the fact the ST and ST-X models have a rear locker and, just as importantly, when the locker is engaged the electronic traction control remains active on the front axle. On tractive ability alone that puts the Navara in front of the D-Max and the Triton, but the lack of ground clearance and low recommended maximum wading depth (just 450mm), due to the engine air intake being located under the bonnet lip, are notable negatives in this company. The Navaraís raised bonnet edges are also annoying off-road as they restrict the driverís vision.

CABIN & SAFETY

THE Navaraís cabin is a little bigger than the Tritonís, but not quite as big as the D-Max.

Itís also mid-field in terms of its finish and presentation; smarter than the D-Max but not as polished as the Triton. The seats up front are comfortable, but thereís no steering wheel reach for the driver. In the rear seat the shoulder room is as good as it gets, but thereís not as much legroom as the D-Max and thereís no centre headrest.

The top-spec ST-X has plenty of kit, especially for the price, with leather, heated front seats and lumbar adjustment for the driver. Thereís also the option of a sunroof, something unique in this class Ė before the last equipment adjustment, the sunroof was standard on the ST-X.

A sliding section in the centre of the rear window is another feature unique to the Navara, while no fewer than seven airbags help contribute to the five-star ANCAP safety rating.

THE TOP-SPEC ST-X HAS PLENTY OF KIT, ESPECIALLY FOR THE PRICE, WITH LEATHER, HEATED FRONT SEATS

NISSAN NAVARA ST-X

PRACTICALITIES

THE Navara claims a 3500kg tow rating. At 300kg, though, its maximum towball download is the lowest here. The Navaraís GVM (and therefore payload) and GCM figures, like those of the Triton, are quite low by overall class standards.

Since its run of chassis revisions we havenít tested the Navara with a 3500kg tow load hooked on behind, but we have tested it with 650kg in the tub and three people onboard Ė effectively maximum payload Ė and while it was acceptable it wasnít as good as a D-Max when subjected to the same test, or most of the other utes tested at the time. The bottom line is that if you want a heavy-duty tow and load ute the Navara is certainly well down the list.

THERE CAN ONLY BE TWO WINNERS

PICKING a winner from any group of dual-cab 4x4s is difficult as they perform so many diverse roles: they can be weekday family transport, weekend off- escape machines, tow-tugs for caravaners, or work, trade or farm vehicles, or some combination of that lot. Thatís why they are so popular and lead the sales charts in the overall new car market.

In many ways the three here are similar. All of them sit at the more affordable end of the dual-cab market, and they can all do the all of the roles asked of a dual-cab 4x4 with varying degrees of success.

The least convincing of the three is the Navara, despite the fact itís a far better ute than it was when it first appeared in 2015. At that time it didnít feel like any great advance from the D40 it superseded and, in terms of performance, was a big step back given the V6 diesel that appeared in the D40ís latter years. For off-road duties itís the least suitable of these three straight out of the showroom, as its various updates have only addressed tow and load performance and on-road dynamics.

Separating the other two comes down to intended role. As a general duty ute the Triton is the pick. Itís both smaller and more manoeuvrable, thanks to its shorter wheelbase, so it can be handier in confined surrounds. Itís also more refined, sportier to drive, and nippier performance-wise than the D-Max.

Its clever Super Select 4x4 system Ė particularly full-time 4x4 mode Ė brings a significant advantage in terms of day-to-day functionality and primary safety. Itís also more sharply priced, better equipped (new active safety features included) and is noticeably better finished inside.

Itís just a pity that with the new suspension tune the unladen ride and handling on bumpy roads is poorer than it was before. Perhaps with this new rear suspension calibration it will carry or tow heavy loads better, but it would have to carry and tow significantly better to make up for the deterioration of its unladen performance. Still, this should be a relatively easy fix via an aftermarket suspension specialist.

The D-Max is the winner for heavy load carrying and towing thanks to its chassis and relatively large capacity engine. It has a bigger and more useful tray, too, and more payload and tow capacity than the Triton.

In this company itís the easy winner for any significant tow and load duties; even in our recent six-way heavy-duty combined load and tow test, which comprised all the heavy hitters including Ranger 3.2 and the V6s from VW and Mercedes-Benz, the D-Max performed well. It may have gone into that heavy-duty load and tow test as the backmarker, but it came out more as a mid-fielder.

In more general day-to-day driving its general refinement and performance is also much better than it was. At times it can be quite pleasant to drive, something that would have been a stretch before the recent upgrades. A well-proven, reliable and relatively easy and cheap to service powertrain is also a significant ownership bonus.