We've just got to ride in the dirtiest ute we think we've ever seen.
The vehicle was so caked in mud it looked more like a statue than a ute. We're not even sure what the colour of its paintwork was - it might have been white or silver - but when we first spotted it, it was the same colour tan as if had been sculpted out of clay and was ready to go into a giant kiln for firing.
Welcome to a media drive of the new Mitsubishi Triton on a farm property overlooking the rugged coastline near Makara, north-west of Wellington.
On that property there is a facility called Boomrock which, thanks to the fact it has a function centre and a sealed motorsport circuit, is regularly used by car companies for various corporate and social events. And, being in the middle of a fully functioning farm property, Boomrock is also the ideal location to show off the capabilities of any new four-wheel drive ute.
Here's why it was so filthy - the Triton wading through waist-deep mud. Photo: Rob Maetzig/Fairfax NZ
That explains why the Triton GLS double-cab was so filthy. It was being used to take attendees on rides up, over and around some of the property's steep hills in an effort to illustrate its offroading capabilities, and an exciting part of the exercise involving tearing through a pond filled waist-deep with very muddy water - hence the impressively mud-caked state of the ute being used.
Triton - or L200 as it was orginally called - is Mitsubishi's player in the one-tonne ute market, and various generations of the model have been on the scene in New Zealand since 1978. Its popularity has varied over the years, ranging from being the country's biggest-selling ute at one stage, to around fifth or even sixth spot in recent years as its popularity has waned in the face of challenges from the likes of Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger.
How not to load a trailer. Luckily the Triton's trailer sway control kept things in check. Photo: Rob Maetzig/Fairfax NZ
But despite those market challenges, Triton has remained an important member of the Mitsubishi fleet in New Zealand, with sales last financial year of 1800 units.
Now there's this new Triton on the scene, and Mitsubishi New Zealand is expecting big things from it. In fact dealers are so confident that the new ute will achieve sales success, they have forward-ordered 900 of them - triple the usual order bank for new Mitsubishi product. And armed with these orders, Mitsubishi NZ is forecasting annual Triton sales of the Triton will surge from last year's 1800 to more than 3000 this year.
"With this new Triton we expect to pass the Holden Colorado and the Nissan Navara on the ute sales ladder and move into third spot behind the Ranger and the Hilux," said the company's head of sales and marketing Daniel Cook at the media function.
"The dealer enthusiasm for the new ute is extreme. As a result we've already wholesaled 900 of them, way above the previous wholesale record of 300."
Timing couldn't be better for Mitsubishi to be launching the new Thai-built Triton, which is available in 2WD and 4WD forms, with single-cab, club-cab and double-cab body styles, all powered by a newly-developed 2.4-litre turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine.
"May and June are ute months in New Zealand," said Cook, referring to the fact there is traditionally a big spike in ute sales coinciding with the annual National Fieldays at Hamilton in June.
"So our timing is perfect. Add this to that the fact that right now one in every five new vehicle sales is a ute, which means there could be as many as 30,000 ute sales this year, and you can see we are being presented with a colossal opportunity. The Triton is the most exciting new model we could be launching right at this time."
While the new Triton remains obviously a Mitsubishi in appearance, the new model looks more sturdy than the ute it replaces. It is a good-looking truck that, while still reasonably compact in exterior dimensions, has much improved interior room, with perhaps the most telling statistic bering that the interior length from the front footwell to the rear seat hip point is now 1745mm, which is considerably more than that on offer in last year's top-selling ute the Ford Ranger.
At the media event ther Mitsubishi NZ people went to great lengths explaining all the areas where the Triton is now the class-leading ute - interior, fuel economy, torque to weight ratio, 4WD system, safety, turning circle, towing weight, and warranty. Not only that, but the Mitsubsihi has just a wide range of accessories that the company is expecting its dealers to sell an average of $3500 worth of accessories for everry ute sold, with many buyers spending more than $12,000 on optional extras.
Powering the Triton is a freshly-developed 2.4-litre turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine that is now all-alloy compared to the previous engine which had a cast iron block. The engine develops 135 kilowatts of power, and the top torque is 437 newton metres. The diesel impresses as a flexible power that offers a very relaxed motoring experience on the open road - at 100 kmh in top gear on a motorway the engine is ticking over at just 1600 rpm.
Most of the models are available with a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions, and thanks to major upgrades to the suspension system the ute's ride is now a lot more car-like than before, despite the fact the rear suspension continuers to be leaf-sprung. The 4WD models have either Mitsubishi's Easy Select or a new version of the Super Select depending on their level of specification. At the media event Mitsubishi NZ claimed the Super Select aboard the top GLS model to be one of the very few 4WD systems that allow the ute to operate on the seal in 4WD High without voiding the manufacturer warranty.
The 4WD is very easy to use, as the drive over the Boomrock farmland illustrated. Safe, too - as was vividly demonstrated on the racetrack.
Among the standard safety specification aboard the Triton is trailer sway control, which uses ABS brakes to automatically apply the brakes to indvidual wheels to help bring swaying trailers back under control. At Boomrock the Mitsubishi people placed a container holding 350 litres of water on to the very rear of a single-axle trailer, hitched it up to a single-cab Triton, and then took journalists off on very fast rides around the track.
Water sloshes around the trailered container as a Triton roars around the Boomrock track. Photo: Rob Maetzig/Fairfax NZ
Under normal circumstances the water sloshing around the container would have very quickly caused the trailer sway to develop into a jack-knife situation - but instead the trailer sway control held things in check. Overall, it was an impressive demonstration. The Mitsubishi people said this control will never entirely prevent a jack-knife from occuring - but it will give it its best shot.
Mitsubishi also used the media event to unveil a heavily facelifted Outlander SUV, which last financial year was the biggest selling Mitsubishi in this country.
Exterior styling has been refined with the biggest change being first use of the Japanese marque's new "dynamic shield" front end, ride and handling has been improved, and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) is now considerably lower thanks to 39 different changes, many of them pinched from the Outlander PHEV such as more use of sound deadening material and installation of thicker glass.
Prices of both the Triton and Outlander are unchanged. Triton RRPs start at $34,790 for a 2WD single-cab GLX manual and go through to $59,490 for a 4WD double-cab GLS auto, while the Outlander retails for $39,990 for a 2.0-litre 2WD LS to $56,990 for a 2.2-litre AWD VRX.
Last financial year Triton and Outlander accounted for about 60 per cent of all Mitsubishi new vehicle sales in New Zealand, and the company expects the percentage to increase further.
General manager of sales and marketing Warren Brown told journalists the company had been "flying under the radar" anyway, achieving a 19.5 per cent increase in retail sales last financial year, compared to the total market's 10.4 per cent increase.
"We have in fact enjoyed 63 consecutive months of monthly year-on-year sales increases, which is a world record for Mitsubishi. Now we have these new models here. We're looking forward to the coming 12 months," he said.