Cape Town - The year 2007 was a great one for the South African rugby union – but less so for a certain Japanese bakkie brand.
A decade ago South Africa outplayed England and justly won the Rugby World Cup in Paris. It was also a year before toxic American home loans would crash global economic markets, but for bakkie acolytes, 2007 was a crisis in being. Why? Triton.
It’s worth remembering the cachet of Mitsubishi a little more than ten years ago: its WRC homologated Evo road cars were deservedly regarded as supercar rivals and in South Africa, the double-cab bakkies were popular. Very.
The double-cab to have
Colt had established Mitsubishi as the default choice if you couldn’t bear buying a white KZ-TE double-cab. Ford’s Ranger wasn’t yet the alternative to Hilux a decade and a half ago, that it is today, and Isuzu’s fortunes were waning. But Colt, it was terrific: a smooth 2.8 turbodiesel, with proven Pajero Dakar heritage and durability, striking styling and an effortlessly ergonomic cabin for bakkie standard of the time.
In the early 2000s, the double-cab to have, was a Colt. Then, it all changed, in 2007. Colt was replaced with Triton, and suddenly the most ungainly looking double-cab to have: was a Mitsubishi. The tragedy here was that perception didn’t correlate with content. The Triton had superior ergonomics, ride quality and agility of any of its 2007 rivals. But a tide of resistance to its appearance swelled in the market.
A decade on, there’s an all-new Triton. Launched at a time of perceptible brand weakness for Ford, its public image battered by the Kuga immolation issue, is this the bakkie to re-establish Mitsubishi’s credentials as the alternative to Hilux? A position it occupied with Colt, all those years ago?
Engineering discrepancies are never an issue with Mitsubishi. This is a company of thorough technical proficiency and Pajero’s reputation for durability is an excellent anchor for any brand retailing workhorse or off-road vehicles in a market as testing as South Africa.
But there are issues with Triton 2.0.
Styling is a subjective issue and I don’t think the new bakkie is at all awful in appearance. It’s worth noting that much of the 2007 Triton’s weirdness in appearance was pedestrian crash-safety future-proofing from Mitsubishi, In the decade since, all bakkies have altered their traditional square-cornered appearance with softer curves.
The problem Mitsubishi faces is a pricing one. Ford and Toyota both manufacture in South Africa (Silverton and Prospecton, respectively) and therefore benefit from handsome export credits, which enable them to offset wild pricing fluctuations due to the Rand speculative nature on international currency markets. Mitsubishi, as an importer, is fully exposed to the Rand’s vagrancies.
As such the new Triton range, which is only four derivatives strong – as opposed to the Hilux (more than 20) and Ranger (amazingly, in excess of 30) – prices rather strangely. The 4x2 double-cabs are R479 900/R499 900 and the 4x4s R539 900/R599 900. Comprehensively better equipped, yes, but only a bit more powerful than Hilux 2.4 and Ranger 2.2, at a fair bit more money.
Troublingly, the 2.4 Triton 4x4s are priced uncomfortably close to the Hilux 2.8 and Ranger 3.2. Triton 2.4 4x4 auto is R599 900, the Hilux 2.8 4x4 auto, R573 500. Ford and Toyota both, cleverly, are not marketing their 2.2 and 2.4 double-cab bakkies in full XLT or Raider trim, which means Mitsubishi’s Triton 2.4 is undercut by its natural capacity rivals, and forced to compete with bigger engines alternatives.
Admittedly, the entire double-cab bakkie segment is engine downsizing. Both Ford and Hilux table best buy Ranger and Hilux as being those of less swept capacity. Ranger’s 2.2 being remarkably equal to 3.2, and Hilux’s 2.4 losing virtually nothing to its 2.8 sibling, in the real world, unless you are towing peak loads at maximum allowable gradient all of the time.
For Triton, the availability of only one engine derivative is not the fundamental issue, its the pricing, which places Mitsubishi’s bakkies in a Rand pincher movement: above the 2.2/2.4s of Ford and Toyota – and too close to the bigger engined alternatives. Some bizarre specification doesn’t help, either. Triton 4x2 double-cabs don’t have lockable rear differentials, which render them awfully vulnerable on elementary sand tracks or anywhere near a water-craft launching slipway.
The 4x4 models, though, retain their sand driving superiority: a super-select 2 transfer case system with 4HLc functionality. This lockable centre-differential high-range mode is a phenomenal unique selling point with Triton, especially if you are in Namibia and huge dunes need to be negotiated, where speeds way in excess of low-range gearing are required, but with the security of a locked centre-differential to ensure any slip on either front wheel doesn’t render the entire front axle drive inactive.
It’s a fine bakkie and for those who’ve waited for a Colt revival, new Triton is as close as Mitsubishi’s come. If the Ranger image has been spoilt by seeing too many of those Raptor-grille versions in traffic, and a white Hilux is too formulaic for you, the three-diamond brand has an alternative, if you can separate engine capacity and price – in your mind.
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.