Words by Carl S. Cunanan Photos by Jerel Fajardo
Given that the last three serious car tests I did involve racetracks, test circuits, and cars far closer to track vehicles than most people would ever be, I suppose I went into the corners at the beautiful Sodegauro Forest Raceway with more enthusiasm than I should have. Then realizing I was getting a view far higher than normal and body sway with a bit more lean than in the sports cars, I adjusted. Still though, I have to say I went into the first sweepers with more entry speed than I should have. As such, I was very tender with the wheel and the brakes as I didn’t want to unsettle any of the pickup truck weight that is rather differently distributed than in on-track inhabitants. Two things came to mind, after the notion of kicking myself that is. First was, why the heck did Mitsubishi put us on an open racetrack for the first-ever test of their new pickup. Second thing was, oh yeah, now I see. The truck was actually surprisingly settled. Not flat, gripping the tarmac of course, this is after all a pickup truck and the laws of physics do apply. But when I made small, smooth corrections to the wheel and the speed, I wasn’t answered with as much sway or weight transfer as I expected. No scary moment of wondering if I was going to bounce a wheel or swap ends or anything. That isn’t to say you can drive the new truck like a sedan or a sports car, but it does show that modern vehicle and suspension design have come a long way from the utilitarian beginnings of simple ladder-frame flatbeds.
Our time with the new Strada began at the beautiful Sodegaura Forest Raceway around an hour from Tokyo. The facility incorporates on-tarmac as well as off-road areas, allowing us to try and see exactly what Mitsubishi meant when they said they wanted to produce the most usable vehicle on the planet. Their pickup has been around in various forms and names since 1978, and has been known as the L200, the Triton, the Strada… It has been marketed as a workhorse, as a fun vehicle, even as a rather trendy daily drive for the more adventurous young adult in over a hundred countries and has pulled in over four million sales. When Mitsubishi looked into redesigning their stalwart pickup, it was a welcome move. The last serious rework came closer to a decade ago than you might expect. Still, the truck was and is a fixture in many of the rougher and tougher markets of the world. The company looked into what their trucks were used for and what their drivers and buyers wanted. They put together a list of desires. Quality. Comfort. Strength. Handling. Payload. So on and so forth. But because their buyers were cut from such a wide swathe, their answers showed them that basically they wanted it all. Their trucks were used everywhere from heavy-duty professional use to school drives and everywhere in between. So they focused on improving pretty much everything. The goal was to make the Strada the ultimate multipurpose vehicle. They wanted to make it the most usable, most versatile ride on the planet.
The first areas of improvement came to light quickly on the test track. The truck has a relatively traditional chassis structure, with rear leaf springs where some truck-based SUVs have moved to coils. The leafs allow for more of the truck-like utilitarianism, but the suspension has been adjusted and tweaked for a bit more comfort. The rear elliptic leaf springs are longer, for example. Also the six points connecting the cabin to the chassis have been redesigned, increasing their capacity and reducing shock and vibration. The front suspension uses independent double wishbone with coil springs and stabilizers. The suspension geometry as well as rethinking of the need for more versatility and comfort (as opposed to traditional work truck) contributed to the decidedly more sedan-like handling and stability on the road tests. Keep in mind, still a pickup truck. Having said that, the drive experience is a far more advanced and comfortable one compared to the previous. Many truck fans prize pulling strength or toughness or utility over everything else. It is the mindset that Mitsubishi has brought that may be the one that brings more non-truck drivers over to the dark and dirty side. You know that moving to a truck from a sedan will bring in a good amount of compromise. It’s just that with this, the compromise is skewed in such a way that more people would accept it. I’ve always forced myself to look at a truck as a viable vehicle for everyday use but never quite got there. The Strada has the mix that can push someone over the edge.
Besides a rethinking of the general use of the Strada, it has also benefitted from changes in manufacturing techniques and processes. The cabin is longer and wider than previous, and space is maximized because of a change in how they make certain components. The doors, for example, are no longer built up from the sides on the assembly line. Rather, the doors are put together separately in what was called “one big drop” that creates a tighter “thinner” door that is still stronger and protective than the previous. The end result is more cabin space. Mitsubishi has tried to make the interior even more welcoming, with driver’s seats more adjustable than ever and rear seats that they say are at an even more comfortable angle. The company continues to use what they call the RISE body structure (Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution) that surrounds a high-strength body shell with energy absorption space that will take the hit and collapse during an accident. The driver and passenger both have airbags in all models listed as of press time, with the highest models getting more of them (side, curtain, driver’s knee). To prevent all of this from being needed, all vehicles (again, as of press time) have ABS anti-lock brakes with EBD electronic brake force distribution.
We need to note here that we drove the Strada in different variants, including 2-wheel drive bare-bones manual up to all-the-bells-and-whistles leathered-up 4WD Automatic. The more utilitarian manual models were decidedly noisier than the more upmarket ones, which means that there are significant improvements to be had with noise suppression when you choose further up the price list. You can see all the final specs in the showrooms, but things like improved Noise, Vibration and Handling aren’t always as sexy-sounding as better stereos and multi-function displays. But it is those unseen things that made us see how much Mitsubishi is moving the Strada into the mainstream driving market. The five-speed manual transmission we tested had nice wide gearing up top that made highway cruising speeds more relaxing than if you had to keep operating the gearshift like a mixer. The automatics are 5-speeds with Sport Automatic Mode for both the 4WD and 2WD models. On the four-wheeler auto, you get Tiptronic Paddle Shifters and the Super Select 4WD system whereas the manual 4WD uses Easy Select 4WD.
The hunk of metal powering the new Strada is the proven and familiar 4D56, a 2.5-liter inline four cylinder DOHC DI-Diesel with 16-valves and that is both turbocharged and intercooled. On the workhorse manuals GL 4WD and GL and GLX 2WD these engines produce 136hp at 4000 rpm and 324 n-m at a good low 2000 rpm. All the automatics and the GLS 4WD Manual get the added goodness of VGT that ups the figures to 178hp and 400n-m at the same respective 4,000 and 2,000 rpm respectively. This engine is a Mitsubishi stalwart, and pretty much everyone is familiar with it and the continued improvements such as Variable Geometry Turbos. If and when the Philippines finally gets its fuel act together though it will be great to get our hands on the motors that can take full advantage of all that modern technology has to offer.
Visually, the new truck takes inspiration from the GR-HEV concept pickup initially seen at the Geneva Motor Show and at the 2014 PIMS in Manila. Flowing lines move from front to rear in what Mitsubishi calls a strong muscular manner that also helps with improved aerodynamic flow. The front and rear are redesigned as well to complement the vehicle that Mitsubishi says is their attempt to create a new vehicle suitable for most people in the world, and in a subtle way, it looks like they have succeeded.
One glance would tell you that its look isn’t a radical departure from its predecessor’s, but there’s a pleasantly apparent difference in its total takeout. Closer inspection would reveal that subtle changes have been made on many details that usher in a more sophisticated and streamlined bearing. First sightings of the previous Strada when it was introduced, elicited much excitement in a way that a concept car sort of provides, as it was edgy in a high-tech kind of way compared to the other pickups of its time. But, the thing with breakthrough designs is that they can get a bit time-stamped- giving its aesthetics a somewhat shorter shelf life. The all-new look of this Strada however, points to it being more calculated and designed to be current, and for it to look that way for longer. It retains its athletic stance, yet in a less gung-ho manner. Its profile has cleaner lines, from the cab’s signature “J-line” that’s a tad more angular, to the cargo bed’s smooth edges that lead to a curved drop off on the tailgate. It’s akin to a thoroughbred’s projection of elegant strength.
The time we had on tarmac showed us how well sorted out the Strada was in terms of highway drives and corners, but that was all on the asphalt. A truck is a truck, so we went out into the mud and dirt. We were in wonderfully good hands, as rally driver extraordinaire Hiroshi Masuoka took a few brave and lucky souls out onto (into?) a tight dirt track full of hills, pits and not much traction. Masuoka-san has and won the Dakar Rally and took honors at the Pike’s Peak International Hillclimb. He first went out in the mud with a rally-prepared Outlander PHEV Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle and was blindingly fast, smooth, and scary. He then took production-spec new Strada 4WDs out to do the exact same thing. He was amazing to watch, whipping the steering wheel around with both finesse and speed as he took extremely tight curves that showed off the Strada’s 5.9 meter tight turning circle and quicker steering gear ratio. Then, and this was what was surprising, he let us do it and we actually came through. We have done many off-road drives and “experiences” that showed how modern luxury vehicles have all the high-technology systems to practically walk you in and out, up and down and through any trouble, and we have enjoyed them and appreciated them. But this was a Mitsu Strada. None of the electronically intervening hide and wallet saving programs that sensed everything and acted accordingly. Other than the standard Super Select 4WD automatic and a hybrid-type Limited Slip Differential (also standard) we had nothing. And we walked it through. We made the same tight turns, chugged through even deeper mud and ruts as they had already been carved up quite a few times. We made the runs a couple times, first keeping the momentum and later deliberately halting and restarting to see what would happen. We still pulled through the worst of it, although towards the end the deep ruts were admittedly causing us to make contact with the mud in between them. Made it through, though. What impressed most was that this wasn’t any nose-bleed priced luxury SUV, just a basic truck the likes of which have been around for a couple dozen years. This reminded me of what an off-road enthusiast once said when I asked what I needed to go out into the woods. I was thinking modern SUV, snorkel, big wheels, and all the creature comforts. He pulled me aside (he was running an off-road event at the time) and said, to be honest, an L200 four-wheeler, a winch and some height adjustment. He was right.
I have been going on lately about how many car companies are moving away from the important stuff and dazzling us with all the things that seem to match oh-so-well with their marketing and branding. We see how different they are from everyone, how much better they are, and what little changes make the big differences. They often now forget that we all still do need the basics. I think what the Strada has the potential to do is make the pickup truck a viable, enticing option to a consuming public that is increasingly knowledgeable and demanding but also willing to put their money where their mouth is. The problem we see is that we would get the top of the line 4WD GT-V model so we can finally have a pickup truck to haul stuff. But then we wouldn’t let our driver haul anything.
Location: Front, Longitudinal
Displacement: 2,477 cc
Cylinder block: Aluminum Alloy
Cylinder head: Aluminum, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder, Variable Valve
Timing, Variable Geometry Turbocharger and Intercooled DI-Diesel
Fuel Injection: Electrical Fuel Injection (Common Rail)
Max power: 176 bhp @ 4,000 rpm
Max torque: 295 lb ft @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 5-Speed with Sports Mode Automatic Transmission
Drag Coefficient: 0.42 cd
Suspension: (Front) Independent Double Wishbone with Coil Spring and Stabilizers, (Rear) Rigid Elliptic Leaf Springs with Telescopic Shock Absorbers
Fuel Capacity: 75 liters (19.8 gallons)
L x W x H: 5,280 mm x 1,815 mm x 1,780 mm
Wheelbase: 3,000 mm
Brakes: (Front) 11.01” (280 mm) Ventilated Discs with Single Piston Calipers, (Rear) 11.6” (295 mm) Leading and Trailing Drums
Wheels: 17” x 7.5 J Alloy
Tires: Toyo Open Country H/T v245 / 65 R17
Weight [Kerb]: 1,850 kg (4079 lbs.)
0-100 km/h [0-62 mph]: 13.5 sec.
Top Speed: 180 km/h (112 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 10.41 km/L Overall
+ A very marked improvement in terms of handling refinement and comfort levels, yet no compromise on off-road capability
-: Overall Noise/Vibration/Harshness (NVH) levels not as exceptional at lower trim levels
Editor’s rating: 9.5 / 10