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2021 Isuzu D-MAX vs Mitsubishi Triton According To Steano

26 Jul 2021
2021 Isuzu D-MAX vs Mitsubishi Triton According To Steano

By Steane Klose

Thankfully, I’ve never had to give birth to anything with a heartbeat, but I’ve heard it’s a tough gig. Creating Episode One of our new YouTube series was – and I’m guessing here, but I think I’m right – second only to actual childbirth and we did it twice. Yep, 2020 was a year full of campfire stories.

But we got there in the end and believe me, this is just the start as what we have ‘in the can’ for Episode Two is amazing, so it’s onwards and upwards from here as we move to create YouTube content and let the old ways, you know, words and stuff, slip gently away into the night. Except, of course, the words will never completely run out. Without them we couldn’t put a thought together or even talk, which would be equal parts peaceful and alarming and what would we all do with our phones?

Besides which, we have David Wilson at Loaded 4X4 and he can punch out 2,000 words a minute on any subject that he’s passionate about, which is usually Isuzu 4WDs, diesel engines, tyres, vinyl flooring and using a key to start your car. You know, good old-fashioned stuff, except that the latest Isuzu 4WD has shrugged off its cardy and stormed into the present.

In Episode One, we put the new Isuzu D-MAX up against the MR Triton at Bendleby Ranges, and the verdict was surprisingly split, with David and Rose saying they’d buy the D-MAX and Georgia and me finding the Triton easier to live with and offering better value for money.

D-MAX X-Terrain and MR Triton GSR in the Hungry Ranges. The D-MAX is better but I’d buy the Triton. Makes perfect sense yeah?

It’s interesting how different our respective takeaways from Episode One are, which just goes to show you that this car reviewing palaver is all just one person’s opinion at the end of the day.

Now, I currently own an MQ Triton – TREV our camera car – and so far it’s been four-years of trouble-free motoring, which includes a Simpson Desert crossing, several High Country and NSW Snowies trips and many Outback jaunts in NSW and the NT all resulting in a little over 70,000kms on the ODO. I’ve previously owned a 2007 ML Triton as well, the car that was my introduction to off-roading and a bunch of new friends.

All of which means I know the Mitsubishi Triton quite well, but I can tell you with hand on heart, that I’m not a Triton fanboy. I highly doubt my next 4X4 will be a Triton or even a ute, so I didn’t go into Episode One thinking I’d pick the Triton, quite the opposite in fact.

TREV our tame Triton.

The MR Triton GSR featured in Episode One uses a platform that debuted with the ML Triton 15 years ago, which is why it is narrower and retains that awkward shorter chassis and large tub overhang. If you remember the ML, it hit the market with a significantly shorter tub and looked right, well it looked bloody horrible at first, but you got used to it, and it was proportionally correct. Since then, Mitsubishi has retained the platform, persevered with the short wheelbase and improved it incrementally over the years. What it’s ended up with, in MR form, is a well sorted and highly-capable 4X4 ute, particularly off-road.

The next generation of the Triton is on the horizon, and it is being co-developed by Mitsubishi and Nissan and you can expect it to be an all-new jigger, that will no-doubt be wider, feature a longer wheelbase and hopefully be devoid of any Nissan/Renault running gear. A disc-braked coil-sprung rear-end would, on the other hand, be a nice addition.

The all-new D-MAX is an all-new jigger right now, although suspiciously, it retains many of the same dimensions as the old D-MAX and aftermarket suspension kits for the old one will fit the new one with a tweak or two, and even the sidesteps are identical and interchangeable. So all-new but similar?

Whenever we talk about 18″ rims David’s blood pressure rises. Rose and Georgia get it though, 17″ rims just look wrong.

Whatever the case, you’d expect an all-new 2020 4X4 ute to resoundingly grind a significantly cheaper competitor based on a 15-year-old platform, into the ground, and drive over the wreckage. But the D-MAX didn’t grind the Triton into the ground. It was, in a holistic sense, the better vehicle, but only just and that’s not what I expected at all. I thought the hammer would be dropped on the Triton, from a great height, by a well-muscled D-MAX Thor and when the dust cleared, that would be that.

The reality, well the reality in my head at least, is that the Triton was better than the D-MAX off-road. Its traction control is superior, the shorter wheelbase allowed it to negotiate the difficult tracks without smashing sidesteps, its narrower track makes it more maneuverable, it has a range of terrain modes to choose from to assist with off-road driving and you weren’t constantly being beeped at by rogue elements within the active safety systems. In essence, the Triton clambered over the same rocky ground as the D-MAX with less banging and crashing and fuss and in some situations, with more aplomb.

Sure you can turn some of the D-MAX’s IDAS active safety features off, but doing so requires a pain in the arse deep dive into the system that resets as soon as you restart the car. I’d tried that with a previous D-MAX tester and it’s too fussy to contemplate doing after each stop. A button to turn all of that safety nonsense off, with one push, is badly needed.

One day, the only vehicle that will be awarded a 5-star ANCAP rating is one that can’t be driven, but in the meantime, plug-in active safety systems are what it’s all about. I’m not against them, but they must only poke their noses out when the shit’s hitting the fan, not when Aunt Fanny is turning left in front of you and you’ve noticed and allowed plenty of room. Elements of Isuzu’s IDAS system need some fine-tuning.

Both the Triton and the D-MAX are highly specced when it comes to active safety features, yet the on-road driving experiences are quite different, thanks largely to the tuning of their respective AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) systems.

The Triton lets you drive normally and I presume only intervenes when there is an emergency situation, either that or its AEB doesn’t work at all, whereas the D-MAX is best described as neurotic and constantly interferes, often emergency braking when it has no earthly need to.

If you think it’s okay to drive past that vehicle turning left out of your lane, you’re WRONG! And you’ll be wrong about the next turning car as well. You quite literally, throw your intuition out the window and drive to keep the D-MAX’s safety systems happy and honestly, they aren’t smart enough to deserve that sort of attention.  The lane keep assist system, that actively steers you away from lines on the road, is equally as aggravating and it perplexes me why it’s even needed in a 60km/h zone. In the Ranger, for example, a button on the end of the indicator stalk will turn that particular function off for you. I’m buying David a knitted shawl and jerkin to go with his new ‘old geezer’ driving style.

TREV next to the first all-new D-MAX in South Australia back in 2020. It was a revelation compared to the previous model.

Having said that, I’ve driven a Pajero Sport press car that set about its autonomous emergency braking protocol (slammed the brakes on) on a completely clear road, but that was a one-off event over the course of a week of driving, not the constant ‘WTF are you braking for now’ IDAS experience.

In my opinion, some of these active safety features are half-baked and not quite ready for human consumption. Unfortunately, these NQR systems have enormous appeal with the billions of nervous nellies out there that are looking to be saved by their car or their god or something, anything really, except themselves. Those same systems also buy ANCAP brownie points, so perhaps it’s ANCAP that my lawyer needs to write to about my whiplash?

Could acronyms be the real issue here?

My 1994 Defender has disc brakes and coil-sprung suspension on all four corners, permanent AWD with a locking centre diff and you can use low-range without locking the centre-diff. This was 27 years ago!

Speaking of which, how much better is AWD than 2WD? The answer is lots, particularly in the wet, and you guessed it, the Triton has it and the D-MAX doesn’t. You can drop the Triton’s Super Select II system into permanent AWD and leave it there, forever if you want. Yes, you really can (don’t listen to those idiots on Facebook) and I don’t understand why it even has a 2WD option, as AWD makes no difference to fuel usage or tyre wear in Tritons or Pajero Sports.

David has tried explaining the logic behind the 2WD option to me many times, but I don’t get it. My 27-year-old Defender has AWD (or full-time 4WD if you prefer that terminology) and no 2WD option at all, you can even run it in low range without locking the centre-diff, which is how you engage 4WD. My best guess is that it’s got something to do with progress, except there hasn’t been any in those 27 years it seems, certainly not when it comes to 4X4 utes.

Oh, and let’s not forget the Triton’s paddle shifters. If you think that paddle-shifters aren’t needed in a one-tonne ute then you’re wrong because they are bloody brilliant additions to the Triton, being both super useful on and off-road and far more intuitive to use than the regular shifter in sports mode. Off-road is where they really shine, but I use them constantly on-road as well. When I drive a car without them, I’m usually too confused (yeah I know…) to bother trying to manually change the auto. The Triton’s auto is tuned for snappy manual changes as well.

It’s fair to say, that right now, the D-MAX’s cabin, trumps them all.

Where the Isuzu engineers have outdone themselves is under the bonnet. They’ve redesigned the old car’s 4JJ1 3.0-litre turbo-diesel and dropped it off at finishing school for some new manners. In its new 4JJ3 iteration it’s noticeably quieter and more responsive and it’s right here, under the bonnet, that I think the D-MAX is the better machine. The Tritons 4N15 2.4-litre turbo-diesel is still quieter, but it lacks the D-MAX’s more muscular and relaxed delivery and feels thrashy and strained when you get up it. It needs more cubic-inches or more gears, possibly both.

The D-MAX sports a bloody lovely interior as well. It sets the standard for these utes now, although I’m not at all convinced about that big screen infotainment set up. I have a strong hunch the smaller system in my MY17 MQ Triton (same setup in the MR) connects, works and maybe even sounds better, and it’s not perfect by a long shot. I’m quite thankful, on a couple of levels, that ‘big isn’t always best’, continues to be a thing.

If you forget IDAS for a moment, the reality is that the D-MAX is a nicer drive than the Triton around town, on the open road and on corrugated dirt as well. That electric steering is something else – when you drive one you’ll see what the fuss is about – it rides better, brakes a smidge better, has a nicer and more capacious cabin and feels like it’s built to last, much like the old car, but seriously betterer.

The D-MAX is really good, but if I’m honest, I’m just a little disappointed that Isuzu didn’t take the opportunity when reimagining the D-MAX to make a generational leap over the competition, rather than just putting the D-MAX’s nose out in front of a bunch of 4X4 utes that are now long in the tooth. I think they should have been looking to compete with the next generation of their competitors’ utes, many of which are just around the corner.

A drivetrain that offers AWD as well as 4WD and the ability to use low-range without locking the required centre-diff (ie use low-range on hard surfaces), coil springs and disc brakes in the rear, off-road-ready wheels and tyres, better quality infotainment, properly sorted active safety systems that can easily and selectively be turned off, terrain modes, decent underbody protection and a pie warmer could have put the D-MAX in contention for the next decade.

Episode One – a split decision.

Right now you can buy a Sunflare Orange Triton GSR for $55,240 if you don’t option the mostly useless hard top or roll-top tonneau covers. The D-MAX X-Terrain in Volcanic Amber is currently ‘on special’ for $60,490 but has an RRP of $62,990 and you have no choice but to accept the roll-top tonneau. At any one time, depending on the tub cover option you choose for the Triton, and what ‘special deals’ Isuzu is offering on the D-MAX, there will be a $3,250 to $7,750 saving in the Triton’s favour and it’s the only one with AWD included in the price. I can guarantee you, that if we weren’t in the midst of COVID-19 induced new vehicle supply issues, the Triton’s pricing would be even sharper as Mitsubishi has always been a discounter, but people are prepared to pay top-dollar at the moment.

You could buy the Triton and spend the savings on an 8 ball of low-grade coke, some camping gear, lots of dozens of Clare Valley Shiraz and go bush for three months looking for Lasseter’s Reef, and that’s exactly what I’d do.

Actually, no it’s not.

My next 4X4 is going to be the INEOS Grenadier and I suspect it could be the best 4X4 by far. I hope you’re digging the Land Rover irony there.

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