One of the Big Things in the motoring world at present is the advent of the highly specified two-wheel-drive double-cab ute.
All of the ute manufacturers are doing it. They're recognising that there's growing demand from predominantly city people who now prefer a new-age double-cab ute to a traditional wagon or even an SUV.
While I suppose one reason for this change in preference is because it's fashionable, another strong reason is because the new utes do offer very good flexibility of use - that tray out the back is very useful for all sorts of jobs.
And another strong reason is that because these utes are rear- wheel drive instead of four-wheel drive, they are less expensive, which means all the purchaser is paying for is the higher specification.
An excellent example is a new addition to Mitsubishi's range of Triton utes, the 2WD GLS Sport auto. This vehicle carries the same level of equipment as the 4WD equivalent, which retails for $57,440 - but in this case the sticker price is $50,890.
That's a substantial saving if you don't need four-wheel drive, which most owners who live in the urban areas don't. The ute still comes with the same 133 kilowatt turbo-diesel engine, however; the same three-tonne braked towing rating, and the same level of equipment that includes sports seats, fog lamps, privacy glass, side steps, cruise control, and automatic air conditioning.
The only features it doesn't have that the 4WD version does, are a choice of manual transmission, and 17-inch wheels - this model has 16-inch alloys.
Introduction of the 2WD Triton GLS is part of an upgrade of the Mitsubishi utes for the 2012 model year, a project which has seen a raft of improvements including suspension changes for better ride and comfort across all the double- cab models, better connectivity via introduction of the Bluetooth hands-free system, and installation of the Smartbrake brake over-ride system.
And this time the ute is powered by the high-powered version of the Mitsubishi 2.5-litre common rail turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder diesel engine. Whereas the other two-wheel drive models offer 102 kW of power and 319 Newton metres of torque, the GLS Sport boasts 133 kW of power at 4000 rpm, and the torque is 356 Nm at 2000 rpm.
Not only that, while the lesser GL and GLX double-cab models are available with a choice of five- speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions, the GLS Sport comes exclusively with a five-speed auto with Sports mode, which means it can be manually operated Triptronic style. So that's more auto ratios on hand to make better use of all that diesel grunt.
It has to be noted that, while the power on offer is the same as the 4WD models, the amount of torque isn't as much as the 407 Nm available with the manual versions of the 4WD GLS ute, simply because the automatic transmission wouldn't be able to handle that amount of down-and- dirty grunt.
But 356 Newton metres remains a pretty substantial amount of torque, and during a recent week behind the wheel of a bright red GLS Sport I found it easy enough to do all sorts of things - including carry some hefty loads.
And the really good thing about 2WD utes is that out on the open road they drive well. They lope along with engine speeds not much over 1000 rpm, all of which contributes to a lazy motoring experience and an official average fuel consumption of 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres - although I got quite a bit lower than that.
A significant new feature of the facelifted Triton ute is that they all have active stability control and traction control too, which reduces the chance of understeer or oversteer occurring by adjusting engine power and even applying the brakes independently at each wheel if necessary. It also improves traction under acceleration by preventing the driving wheels from spinning on slippery surfaces.
While this is all very useful in any ute, it has special relevance in rear-drive models because it helps overcome the all-too-easy tendency to wheelspin when moving off from an intersection.
One of things I never did like about the pre-facelifted Triton ute was the sloping shape of its wellside, which always gave the vehicle the appearance that its back was broken.
That's now been changed, and the tray's lines look squarer. The tray is also 180mm longer and 55mm deeper, and this means that although the Triton's tray remains the smallest on the market, there's good room there. The interior length of the wellside is 1505mm, and the width is 1470mm.
The vehicle also has an electric rear centre window than can be wound down to carry longer loads.
So all in all, this new high-spec two-wheel drive version of the Mitsubishi Triton ute is a vehicle that I really like.
It makes sense to go the 2WD way unless the extra traction of four-wheel drive is really needed, not the least because there are substantial savings on offer.
But despite the drive coming off just the rear wheels, this ute can still tow up to three tonnes. All in good comfort, too.
It's an appealing combination.
MITSUBISHI TRITON GLS 2WD AUTO
POWER PLANT: 2.5-litre four cylinder high-power common rail intercooled turbodiesel, 133 kW at 4000 rpm, 356 Nm at 2000 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Rear-wheel drive. Five-speed automatic transmission with manual over- ride. Wishbone front suspension, Leaf spring sports rear suspension.
HOW BIG: Length 5385mm, width 1800mm, height 1780mm, wheelbase 3000mm.
HOW MUCH: $50,890.
WHAT'S GOOD: High level of specification, comfortable and relaxed drive, ute flexibility of use.
WHAT'S NOT: There's no four- wheel drive!
OUR VERDICT: This Mitsubishi appeals as a welcome addition to the high-specification 2WD ute ranks.
- Taranaki Daily News