Having been on numerous new pick-up and SUV (sport utility vehicle) drives over the years, the off-road terrain that we often drive through were mildly challenging at best, with a few exceptions.
The one at the Jeep ‘proving ground’ or Rubicon Trail in the US in the mid-1990s was one of them and the other was the Range Rover Sport experience at its dedicated testing ground Eastnor in Britain.
A third experience, also in the 1990s, was with the Land Rover Discovery in very trying and muddy conditions near the Gua Musang region.
We would now like to include the recent Mitsubishi Triton off-road excursion in Tamparuli, about 50km from Kota Kinabalu, as one of the more memorable ones.
The drive was made so much more exciting due to two primary reasons; one was the weather and the other was the tyre fitted to the new Triton.
It hadn’t been raining for a while but the skies suddenly opened up on the day we arrived in Kota Kinabalu and it continued raining overnight.
This made the off-road track very slippery and that was when we discovered that the Dunlop AT20 245/65 R17 tyres fitted on the new Triton assigned to us simply lacked the vital traction required on the unforgiving ground.
A third factor was that we were given the six-speed manual transmission Triton VGT MT Premium and there went our opportunity to gauge the newly included Hill Descent Control (HDC) on trying conditions.
The HDC is only available in the flagship VGT AT Adventure X and VGT AT Premium, which are equipped with the new six-speed automatic transmission.
As such, we were left to gauge the new Triton manual’s off-road prowess mostly in first gear with the four wheels locked in 4L (four-wheel drive low transmission ratios).
Under such conditions, it was highly inadvisable to hit the brakes as that would mean the tyres would lose all traction completely and we would go into a slide.
The other advice we received was to dab at the accelerator hard enough to raise engine revs and use the torque produced to serve as some sort of engine braking to slow vehicle descent.
Perhaps the most important thing was to maintain steering control and avoid the nasty bumps and dips, and pretty deep ones at that.
We did suffer going into some deep holes on two successive descents, jolting us badly, and as a rear passenger, we came away with some elbow scrapes to show for the experience.
Thankfully, the new Triton now comes with hand grips on the B-pillars for rear passengers to get on board or exit and we could use that as a brace in subsequent descents.
We believe the latest Triton would have fared a lot better through these highly greasy conditions if it was shod with dedicated off-road tyres that the pace Triton was running on.
The guys in the Triton automatic, however, appeared to have less of a handful going down the same slippery gradients with the HDC controlling the crucial areas in engine speed and braking to provide the best possible tyre traction.
After this exciting downhill experience, the subsequent three water crossings and rolling off-road sections were a stroll in the park.
On subsequent tarmac driving, the six-speed manual transmission seemed to be a little wanting as the ratio between second and third gears was a bit too wide.
This showed up quite painfully on the hilly and winding drive to Kundasang as it required a lot of work selecting the gears manually to keep up with the Triton six-speed automatic.
Although the clutch action was not heavy, it wasn’t light either and for someone who hadn’t driven manual transmission vehicles in a long, long time, an aching left leg was soon the order of the day.
Added to that the frequent manual gear shifting while crawling along due to the heavy vehicles and traffic along the hilly route, driver fatigue soon set in.
Furthermore, continuous rain, thick fog and heavy traffic didn’t give us much of a chance to feel much of the award-winning 2.4-litre MIVEC turbodiesel engine.
This engine, which is now the standard engine offered across the 4X4 range, delivers 181PS and 430Nm of torque.
We were all too glad to move to the Triton VGT AT Adventure X automatic half way through as it was nice to enjoy the leatherette ambience from the fabric interior of the Triton VGT MT Premium.
The instrument panel was also a nicer sight with the multi-information display, the leather wrapped steering wheel provided a more likeable feel and the soft supports on the central console added to the comfort factor.
The control panel on the centre console was also a lot busier with the HDC button as well as that for Offroad mode that features the addition of a 4HLC mode for sand and the 4HLL for rock, gravel and mud.
Common between them was the air circulator system on the roof with individual controls and inclined seatrest for the rear passengers.
The former is similar to the air-conditioning controls in cars for rear passengers and the roof vents have movable deflectors to direct cool air accordingly.
The latter feature made long distance travel a lot more pleasant along with the foldable centre armrest with cupholders and UBS power sockets.
By having an inclined rear seatrest, Mitsubishi has also provided some space for storing slim items behind it.
We also noted during the convoy drive that the Triton VGT MT Premium comes with less engaging rear lamps without the characteristic ‘question mark’ design of the automatic flagship.
Another hiccup was that the Triton automatic we took over had this quirky electronic warning – Transmission Service Required - on the instrument panel that came up from time to time.
And when it did, the engine response became less powerful as it was running on ‘safe’ mode; it was a ‘suspected’ electrical problem that the technician could only solve when the vehicle was returned to the service centre.
At the end of it, whether it was the manual or automatic drive experience, you could say our Triton adventure in Sabah was not the usual run-of-the-mill outing and we certainly came away knowing more about the new Triton than we would have under less demanding circumstances.