The Mitsubishi Triton no longer needs a lengthy introduction. Its undoubtedly-unique bulbous front fascia and curves gives the phrase “an acquired taste” a new lease of life. However, looking past all that to see it for the vehicle it is meant to be, would require some quality time spent. Hence the reason why we drove it up to a little hot spring resort situated across the South China Sea.
If there ever was a place to really put a truck to work to test out its capabilities, it would have to be on a vast piece of land with lush, green surroundings, blue skies (without the haze) and a lot of rough and demanding terrain. One would agree that there’s no better place to do that than the largest state in Malaysia – Sarawak.
Recently, Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia (MMM) invited us for an adventure that could showcase the urban workhorse, doing what it was meant to do in its natural habitat. Landing in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah on an early Thursday morning, we made way towards Lawas over in Sarawak. There, I was once again greeted by the same fleet of trucks that I had used to travel from Selangor to Penang for an earlier off-road adventure.
As the sun rose early the next morning, I started out with the high-spec Triton VGT Adventure – smiling away as this was and still is my favourite variant, with all the added goodies and items that impressed me during my drive back from Penang.
It has to be noted that the roads in Sarawak are not exactly paved for comfort. Even before this, I actually pondered as to how the Triton would ride here in the East. Now, the second-generation Triton is said to feature optimised suspension tuning, while the rear leaf spring has been extended – said to contribute to ride comfort. But is all that worth a mention?
While I felt that the Triton rode quite comfortably on West Malaysian roads, the same can almost be said on East Malaysian tarmac, despite its irregular characteristics. Heading to entry point of our off-road route, we needed to travel on a stretch of about 10-km worth of Lawas roads.
During that time, there wasn’t all that much jiggle. However this time round, I noticed that the Triton was a tad stiff in terms of the ride – not overly so, just a little. Of course, what needs to be mentioned again is that 2.5 litre turbodiesel mill’s loud roar. It can really get to you over long journeys. Thankfully, the event organisers provided us with some tunes, which could be played via the USB port, drowning out all that burbling.
However, boring ol’ tarmac wasn’t really the main objective of this drive, not today at least. As we approached the entrance of the adventure route, we were briefed earlier that it is in fact a timber trail – a common playground for off-roaders. One that has its own set of rules that need to be abided by very strictly, or the result could be disastrous and unwelcoming at that.
For those who aren’t familiar with logging tracks, let me explain as to how it works. It is marked with left and right arrows and it’s unlike normal roads, where you keep to the left lane at all times. A left arrow means that your vehicle is required to stay on the left for the entire length of the stretch. When you see a right arrow, you are to switch from the left and stay on the right instead.
But why can’t we just stick to left lane like normal road users do? The system is actually well planned out – for logging trucks. Remember, these tracks are not actual roads – a forest used to be here not too long ago, which means that the terrain can flow steeply uphill or downhill through various gradients, with a ravine that can drop sharply by some 40-feet, by the side.
Another reason is that while light vehicles (pick-up trucks included) do traverse these trails from time-to-time, the trails are dedicated to these logging trucks, which have priority here. The arrows play their role in directing vehicles going into the trail to take the “softer” side, so that laden logging trucks going in the opposite direction take the “firmer” side, or the safer side – bear in mind that logs (laden trucks) only travel outwards and almost never into the track.
In the event of an emergency, laden logging trucks (that take the firmer lane) can come to a halt by shifting their weight and using the side wall of a hill as an emergency brake if needed. Remember, that laden trucks are extremely heavy, as they can carry up to six or seven (or more) colossal, century-old logs at a time. For that very reason, when threading mountainous terrain, the softer side can crumble due to all that mass.
Apart from that, overtaking will certainly be common, especially if you’ve got slow logging trucks carrying a load full of wood. However, one must take extra caution when considering to make a pass. The reason being that since the roads are uneven, overtaking a long timber truck at speeds of 100 km/h isn’t quite possible, or a smart thing to do for that matter, as a slower truck, tractor or road vehicle might be on the opposite lane.
As our convoy gathered at the starting point, I gave way to my co-driver who was quite eager to be at the wheel for the first part of the journey. This gave me an opportunity to take the back seat and truly feel how the Triton’s rear would manage bumpy terrain. As stated before, the Triton’s rear space is quite spacious (though less so than the latest Ranger and Navara), while the seats provide quite a sufficient slant, complemented by an armrest in the middle. The only thing that it lacks are rear air vents, which can be deemed as a necessity in our climate.
Getting on with it, we proceeded to the start of our off-road journey. The track was riddled with little stones and pebbles, with some as sharp as nails. In addition to that, at certain parts, there were little mounts, while deep ruts were certainly abundant. According to our off-road instructor, vehicles have been wrecked before just going through them. For this journey, we were wearing standard all-terrain tyres, which managed pretty well as the terrain was dry throughout.
Back to the bounciness in the rear of the Triton. Oh dear me, bouncy is but just an understatement, which wasn’t so apparent on tarmac. It didn’t help that at certain times, when we met with random elevated humps on the track, going at speeds of up to 50 km/h, the back would just heave up. This happens usually if you’re lugging about with an empty tray behind. That said, there was little rattle from it, despite all the turbulence.
Making up for that bumpiness are the leather seats, which are decently comfy. But again, I reiterate, the lack of rear vents really make sitting in the back a little bit of a pain. The circulation supplied from the front air vents took quite a while to bring down the temperature behind.
Now hear, hear, although I may rant about the bouncy experience, I have yet to meet a pick-up truck with a rear that doesn’t bounce off-road. That said, if you do know of one, do let me know below!
About an hour and a half later, we arrived our first stop at a little family village called Long Lidong, where we would catch (and release) a large local river fish called “semah” and enjoy the breathtaking view of an untouched valley. After getting an hour of rest, we got on with the journey. This time, I took the wheel as we set on straight towards our final destination point. I was traversing in 4L and cruising at around speeds of 50-60 km/h with the rpm needle hovering in the range of 2,000 rpm to 4,000 rpm.
Manoeuvring through the stone-filled path required a lot of attention, but that wasn’t as challenging as what was to come. Progressing through the course, at certain stretches, the road was dry as no rain had fallen. In these parts, despite all four wheels providing grip, it was still slippery due to the smooth surface of the ground. Picking up the pace, where we needed to curve to a small degree, and I could even feel the truck slide a little, despite the balance of traction.
At one part, as we were traveling in a convoy, we kicked up a lot of dust due to the bone dry earth, making visibility next to zero. The only indicator that we could use to move forward carefully (so we wouldn’t fall off the route) were the taillights of the car in front. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit tense. However, it’s situations such as this one that allow a man and his truck to bond, to gain its trust, to know its true capabilities, and so far the Triton had performed to expectations.
While some may wonder what use there is for paddle shifters in a pick-up truck, we actually did put them to work in the last leg of our journey. Cutting away from the timber trail, we turned right onto a random patch of road. As we entered, a beautiful valley could be seen on the left. There, we stopped and alighted from our trucks to take the view in, along with the freshness of the air.
While we took a breather, we were welcomed by our host Tommy, who told us that our destination point was another 15 minutes away. So setting off into the final leg of the journey, where we had to cross through another track that sloped and snaked throughout. It was here, that I found the paddle shifters handy. Especially during those steep slopes downwards, where we needed to engage lower gears frequently.
Rather than having to use the gear shift (one still has to in the Triton VGT), my hands did not need to let go of the steering to do so. The shifts were quite instantaneous as well, so no annoying waits with each pull of the paddle. After much first, second and third gear play, we eventually arrived at Merarap hot spring resort, a gem hidden deep within the rainforest of Sarawak.
As the night matured, we called it a day, retiring to our chalets to get some much needed rest – we needed to drive over more than 200 km back to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, the next day.
After a snoring bout between me and another roommate took place that night (yours truly won), dawn broke soon enough. We were on a tight schedule as we needed to leave the resort by 7.45am to make our way back to Lawas and subsequently to Kota Kinabalu. On the third day, I was handed the Triton VGT with a five-speed manual transmission.
Now, as stated before, the manual transmission felt quite rough. For the entire drive, the clutch gave my left foot a good massage. It vibrated quite noticeably as you lift your foot off a little bit. In addition to that, changing gears required a good amount of strength to pull off. However, the responsiveness of the engine can be better felt here. That’s certainly not a bad thing indeed.
Returning to Lawas and after a quick lunch, we switched vehicles once again. I got back into the Triton VGT Adventure for the trip back to KK – the perfect companion for long-distance driving. Moving along, after about a distance of some 20 kilometres, we soon reached a ferry that would bring us across the Lawas river.
Upon crossing, we headed onwards. At this juncture, the skies were turning rather gloomy – a storm was brewing. The downpour started with a light drizzle, followed by thunder and extremely heavy rain. As the Triton lacked an active stability control system, it would be smart to take it slow especially on rural roads. It was also best to engage 4H as the next best alternative, in this case.
As I had more than an hour more to spare, I stopped to look at the other trucks that shared the road with us. Already it was apparent that the sheer number of pick-ups that I saw along the way were Toyotas, old and new. Back in the old days, the Hilux was truly a common sight, so much so, that it has replaced the term “pick-up truck” in parts of East Malaysia. Some folks here (or most) label a pick-up truck as a “Hilux.”
It’s a given that this is one of those complex equations that MMM is trying to solve, and it’s not the only brand (with a pick-up in its range) that is looking to break through that wall. While I feel that the additional items inside the cabin and the price of the Triton is a good start, maybe this could be resolved by adding in a little bit more safety bits – Like offering more than two airbags and a electronic stability programme as standard.
Getting back towards the drive, the rain was unrelenting, and hellishly violent at that. In the Triton VGT Adventure, while those headlights react quickly to dimming light, the same cannot be said of the automatic wipers. I’ve had issues with them before, and while I wasn’t expecting that they would trouble me this time round, they still did. It wasn’t until the later part of the journey, when the downpour eased, that the auto wipers actually worked as they should.
After the rain left us, we had arrived KK just in the nick of time before the sun set to make way for night. Cruising through town, the suspension still held up firmly despite all the rough driving in Lawas. Trying to find fault in whether there would be squeaks or strange sounds coming from the suspension left me disappointed. That the same trucks have been on rough terrain in both Peninsular and now East Malaysia pretty much sums up their durability.
It was a good drive overall. While East Malaysia may be pick-up truck haven, it’s still unsure as to whether the Mitsubishi Triton will be able to top the Toyota Hilux or even some of its newer, more powerful contenders for that matter. But what I do know, is that the brand is really doing its best to ensure that some things can change. So we’ll just have to wait and see how that pans out.
But it has to be said that the second-generation Triton, while not exactly the prettiest among the range of modern-day trucks, and not the most powerful now, is still a well-packaged and decently priced pick-up. If you just want a workhorse that has all the niceties of an SUV – without going overboard – then the Triton will be right up your alley.
Mitsubishi Triton 2.5 VGT Adventure