Review: 2021 Mitsubishi Triton Athlete is the best Hilux that you want to ride in
Hans · Apr 15, 2021 11:11 AM
If you think the title for this review of the Mitsubishi Triton sounds odd, that’s because you are not reading it in the context of an East Malaysian. To the other half of Malaysia, the word Hilux does not necessarily refer to a Toyota Hilux, but a noun that refers to any pick-up truck. Yes, any.
Think it’s wrong? Well if you stop calling Cintan or Mamee instant noodles as Maggi, or referring to every plastic food container as Tupperware, maybe the East Malaysians might listen to you.
The Mitsubishi Triton Athlete that you see here is the latest addition to Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia’s Triton range. It’s essentially a de-chromed version of the Triton Adventure X, which the gloss black trimmed Triton Athlete replaces.
What’s new with the Triton Athlete?
At RM 141,500, it’s RM 3.6k more expensive than the Triton Adventure X it replaces. So what extras will the RM 3.6k buy you?
Apart from the aforementioned gloss black finishing on all the previously chrome exterior bits, you also get Triton Athlete decals, black accent headlamps (still Bi-LED, as before), and illuminated Triton scuff plates on all four door apertures.
Otherwise, everything is identical to the Adventure X, including the Android Auto / Apple CarPlay-compatible infotainment and built-in digital video recorder, both were introduced as part of a running change in November 2019.
Power still comes from the aluminum block 4N15 2.4-litre MIVEC turbo diesel (181 PS at 3,500 rpm and 430 Nm at 2,500 rpm), paired to a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
In other words, this drive is more about reacquainting myself with the Triton.
Reasons to love it – comfortable enough to trade your sedan for it
I have already driven the Triton in a wide variety of terrain, from long straight stretches of PLUS to tarred mountain passes of Kundasang and mud-caked off-trails in the deeper parts of Sabah, but just like meeting an illicit lover, I never decline a chance to spend time with the Triton.
The Mitsubishi Triton is still is to me, the most comfortable, best handling pick-up truck on sale today.
What about the Ford Ranger you ask? Yes the Ranger has a better looking interior and better infotainment, but the Triton offers better seats (more supportive, and also allows your sweaty back to cool off better), roof-mounted A/C vents that works wayy better than rivals’ floor-mounted ones.
The Triton's cabin is also quieter than many sedans on the highway. The latter is aided by the lightweight and quiet running aluminum block engine.
Even the rear seats are nicely slanted, courtesy of the Triton’s signature J-line body curve.
You’ve seen the video commercials of the Triton drifting and doing rally-cross style driving stunts. Great marketing, but it’s not without substance, because the Triton is really that agile (for a truck).
My driving partner and WapCar BM’s editor Zamil, who is himself a semi-pro drifter and was the stunt driver who did the rally cross-style jumps for the Ford Ranger Raptor’s launch in Malaysia, concurs that executing such precision driving moves on a Triton is easy.
Mitsubishi may no longer be rallying in the World Rally Championship, but their expertise in chassis tuning for rough road conditions is still peerless, definitely better than a regular Ford Ranger or a Toyota Hilux.
Like all Mitsubishi vehicles, the Triton has a very soft but yet controlled damping.
By the way, do you know that the Triton has the same turning circle as a Civic 1.5 TC-P? Both cars can clear U-turn radius as tight as 5.9 metres. You can blame it on the Civic’s 18-inch wheels.
As before, the Triton’s safety features include AEB with pedestrian detection (Mitsubishi calls it Forward Collision Mitigation), rear-cross traffic alert (super important when reversing a truck into a busy street), 7 airbags, 360-degree parking camera - pretty much matching, if not exceeding your ageing sedan’s list of features.
There ceiling-mounted rear air-conditioning vents is the only one of its kind for a truck. Hot air rises, cold air descends, so you understand why ceiling-mounted air vents always work better than floor-mounted ones.
Reasons to NOT like it
Nothing big enough to be a deal breaker. Unlike other Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia’s models, the Triton Athlete’s infotainment’s head unit doesn’t do that dance club DJ-style colour changing nonsense.
If I am to nitpick on the Triton, it will be the lack of dampers / torsion bar to assist in the closing of the heavy tailgate. It’s not a big deal but when the Toyota Hilux, Isuzu D-Max and Nissan Navara already offer it, customers expect to have it.
Compared to other trucks, the Triton has a shorter wheelbase. This grants it class-leading 5.9 metre turning circle and better agility, but it also means that its rear deck hangs out longer over the rear axle, longer than any of its rivals, and that's not a good thing.
Once loaded, weight distribution for the Triton's rear is not as good as a Toyota Hilux, which also has one of the shortest rear overhang. When going over steep terrain, the long rear overhang may sometimes scrape the ground.
The Triton has an approach angle of 31-degree, better than the Hilux's 29-degree, but its 23-degree departure is poorer than the Hilux's 26-degree.
If you were pit it against the Ford Ranger WildTrak(RM 143,819), the Triton Athlete still lacks a lot, on paper.
For just a little bit more money, the Ranger WildTrak adds adaptive cruise control, Lane Departure Assist, 32 PS more power, 70 Nm more torque, and 4 more forward ratios - the latter sounds good only in theory but in the real world, I find the 10 speed gearbox to be more disruptive than helpful, as the transmission often just can’t decide which of the many ratios to select.
What the Triton is able to counter however, is its well proven reputation for superior reliability – something that’s a bit of a gamble with the Ford. For many who rely on their trucks to get work done, that’s super important.
Off-road prowess – it’s a Japanese Land Rover
Pick-up trucks sold in this part of the world are usually of the Part-Time 4WD variety. In other words, it’s not really a 4WD (but a rear-wheel driven truck), at least not until you push a button to select 4H or 4L modes, both of which you CANNOT do on tarred roads.
The Triton is still technically a Part-Time 4WD truck, but with a twist. Unlike its rivals, the Triton Athlete comes with a viscous coupling centre differential (but no rear differential lock though, more on that later), that allows it to operate in 4WD mode even on tarred roads.
Super Select 4WD II is what Mitsubishi calls it – it’s the sort of name only the Japanese can come out with. Remember the Mitsubishi Starion and Mitsubishi Proudia?
Super Select 4WD II (it’s quite a mouthful, how do sales advisors manage?) is still not quite a Full-Time 4WD system so you should still avoid using it on dry tarred roads (some binding can still be felt when making U-turns in the dry), but on wet tarred roads it is OK.
On top of that, the Off-Road Mode automatically adjusts the Triton’s 4WD’s tolerance for wheel slippage, adapting to different types of terrain. With 4 terrain modes – Gravel, Sand, Muddy, Rock – digital wizardry make heroes out of novice drivers.
Normally, electronic traction and stability control needs to be disabled in off-road situations, because a certain amount of wheel slip is needed for the tyres to dig away the ground’s slippery surface before it can find traction. The Triton’s Off-Road Mode makes these judgment automatically.
Where the Hilux has the benefit of a locking rear differential, the Triton doesn’t. A locking rear diff is available in other markets but not Malaysia. Is it an oversight on the part of Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia? It’s debatable, because fitting two locking differentials (centre and rear) is an overkill for most users.
MMM’s opinion is that the combination of a centre locking differential and the Off-Road Mode’s terrain selection is more than up to the task – which to their credit, has already been proven when MMM sent a few mechanically standard Triton (only modifications were lighting, winch, heavy duty off-road tyres) to the toughest Borneo Safari challenge, which the almost-standard Tritons easily cleared.
Mind you, these were the older Tritons with no Off-road Mode.
To be honest, my re-acquaintance drive with the Triton this time around is not challenging at all. The Covid-19 situation means that it is not possible for us to go to East Malaysia to properly put the Triton in its natural habitat.
Still, we drove through mildly challenging slippery trails with deep ruts, but on standard all-terrain tyres rather than off-road tyres mind you.
Overcoming obstacles was just a matter of pushing the right buttons, whether it’s the Hill Descent Control, switching between 4HLc and 4LLc, or toggling through the four Off-Road Mode options.
Going downhill on a slippery trail used to require finesse and faith. Brake too hard and the rear-end will fishtail, possibly tipping your vehicle over. Now I just push the Hill Descent Control (HDC) button, wait for the green light to flash, lift my foot off the pedals and concentrate on keeping the car straight.
This is already a standard feature in all other trucks but what sets the Triton apart is that Mitsubishi’s HDC works the smoothest - even smoother than ones used by a Range Rover.
Part of me wonder if off-road driving has become too easy. There was a time when 4x4 vehicles required drivers to get down and get their hands dirty to manually lock the mud-caked front wheel hubs before engaging 4WD.
For better or for worse, trucks like this Mitsubishi Triton Athlete makes off-road driving like child’s play.
We now live in an era where you can run Spotify off Android Auto on your truck (not available on Thai specs Triton), and leave all the dirty work to the electronics.
If there anything else I wish the Triton could do better? Probably a button in front for the driver to turn the rear A/C blower on / off.
That, and perhaps making rear differential lock an option, but not much else. The Triton is quieter and more comfortable than many SUVs and sedans on sale today, with better safety features too. What more do you want?
I want to say more power, but having participated in the Borneo Safari and seeing how lower powered, lighter, less extreme trucks tend to do better, I am not so sure if you need more than 181 PS / 430 Nm. Off-roading driving is all about getting the right tyres, pairing it with good finese, experience, judgement, and less about power.
The gap between a work truck and a leisure truck is now almost non-existent, and looking at this week’s crazy flash flood in KL, perhaps having the idea of a "Bangsar or a Hartamas truck" is not that silly.
One problem though – the all-new 2021 Isuzu D-Max wants to pick a fight with the Triton, and it has the upmarket looks to match too. The Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger facelift are also coming, not forgetting the updated Nissan Navara Pro-4x.