If you're looking for a vehicle with a proper four-wheel drive system AND a manual transmission, there aren't a lot of options out there in the new car market. These days, if you want exactly that, you have to go for pickups.
Fortunately for us, all pickup manufacturers here still have that option, and Mitsubishi still offers it in the form of the significantly refreshed Strada GLS 4WD. As someone who lives in the city, lugging around a 4x4 pickup truck around the city sounds a bit like a novelty, but nonetheless, it still has a purpose aside from pleasing enthusiasts. With a manual transmission and four-wheel drive, it sounds like the ideal job site vehicle too, provided you don't mind the occasional dings and scrapes, that is.
But first things first, how can you tell the manual-equipped Strada from the range-topping GT with the slushbox? After taking a long hard look at both, you'd be hard pressed to tell one from the other. They have the same wheels, about the same amount of chrome, and no significant differences in trim. As far as my eyes could tell at the time, the GLS misses out on front and rear proximity sensors.
Because it practically looks like the GT, the GLS 4WD is a handsome-looking truck, in my opinion at least. I do acknowledge that it still divides opinion, but I say it looks heaps better than the pre-facelift look which had a rather awkward-looking (and toothy) front end and an oddly-shaped bed. While the redesign still won't win any awards for styling, it looks meaner and more purposeful than before thanks to a more chiseled nose. The steel sports bar on the bed looks pretty neat too, although it is an optional extra.
Speaking of the bed, changes made to the business end of the Strada aren't just for cosmetic reasons, there's purpose to it too. They added more height to it, meaning you can stack more items on the tray without worrying if your cargo will spill out the sides. However, do take note that payload capacity is the same as before at about 950 kilograms.
So, that's the outside covered and there aren't much differences between this and the GT. Perhaps there are more visible changes on the inside. Again, another look doesn't show much changes...aside from the gear stick, of course. Also, there are more blank switches in here than in the GT as the GLS does not come with forward collision mitigation and parking sensors. If the lack of the latter bothers you, at least it has a reverse camera as standard.
Given how dramatic the exterior redesign is, I was expecting more in the cabin. It's actually almost the same as the one we saw way back in 2014, right down to the door panels. Perhaps it would have been better if it got the same interior as the Montero Sport, just to add a bit more zing inside. Still, it's not that bad. Yes, hard plastics are everywhere but at least everything is ergonomically sound. Buttons, dials, and switches are exactly where you'd expect them. However, I do wish the climate control buttons and window switches would light up when you turn on your headlights. You might find yourself stumbling on unlit buttons at night.
On the subject of space and interior comfort, the Strada has one of the best back seats in the business. That's mainly thanks to the back rests which are more reclined than most pickups. This makes it great on long road trips as you don't have to sit upright all the time. Another bonus is the rear blower which helps cool rear passengers. I also appreciate the USB port at the back as an extra charging point. Space is good, although some will note the narrow footwells at the front, and it's also a bit of a squeeze if you put three abreast at the back.
Now, the engine, and its the familiar 2.4-liter MIVEC turbodiesel mill that also powers the Montero Sport. To recap, it's good for 181 PS and 430 Nm of torque. It's all connected to a six-speed manual transmission, which we praised in the (sadly) recently phased-out Montero Sport GLS 4WD.
Let's get the not so nice things out of the way first, starting with its transmission. If you've owned a Mitsubishi in the past, then you'll know that they aren't exactly renowned for having the slickest or smoothest manual transmissions out there. Unfortunately, that still applies here in the Strada. Throws are long and feel rubbery once you slot it in gear. Clutch pedal travel also feels long with the engagement point set high, and the vague feel didn't help either. Oddly enough, we didn't have the same complaint about the latter when we drove the six-speed Montero Sport.
Handling isn't exactly the main reason why people buy the Strada and that's a good thing since it's not exactly precise to steer. That's not to say it's dangerous but it does lean a lot compared to other pickups in its class. Having driven the Ranger Wildtrak prior to the Strada, I can say that the Ford still feels more surefooted. Channel your inner Tommi Makkinen (in a closed course) and it bobs, lurches, and heaves about. It will follow your inputs, but it will do so begrudgingly. Fortunately, there's stability control to keep things in check.
Now, on to the good stuff about the Strada. With you commanding the transmission, the Strada GLS 4WD pulls strongly on, and off, the road. First gear is short, giving you a good burst of acceleration off the line. Second and third then keep the momentum going. Fourth and fifth are long, which is good for cruising at moderate speeds while sixth feels more like an overdrive. You'll only be able to use sixth out on the highway and, even then, it only feels comfortable in that gear at 100 km/h.
Also, the gearing yielded fantastic fuel economy readings. It managed 9.1 kilometers per liter in atrocious traffic (average of 13 km/h) while the highway cruise showed 15.1 kilometers per liter at an average of 86 km/h.
The soft suspension which does no favors for handling means it actually rides well for a pickup truck. We've said it before and we'll say it again: The Strada has one of the best rides in its segment. That's thanks to its long-stroke suspension with bigger diameter dampers for 2019. Ride up front is better too as the pre-facelift version felt rather choppy before. Because of that, off-road driving was rather comfortable. Sure, my head was thrown about but it's not as bad as I'd expect.
And speaking of off-road driving, I took the Strada for a bit of mud-slinging and it performed admirably. Mechanical grip was more than enough to take me out of rim-deep soft mud. It was a neat experience having the Strada crawl out of tricky situations will little effort, and it was all done in high-range. I can only imagine what it would be like if I had put it on low range and locked its differentials. Plus, that manual transmission made it more fun and engaging off the beaten path, even if it does feel vague and notchy.
So, the Strada isn't perfect, but no pickup is. The performance, comfort, equipment levels, fuel economy, and off-road capability more than make up for its rough gear shift, vague clutch and soggy handling. Despite those shortcomings, I've grown to respect the Strada even more and I genuinely miss driving it. Perhaps it's the novelty of a manual transmission and four-wheel drive, but there's a lot to like about this particular Strada.
At Php 1,445,000, it's also more affordable than other top-spec four-wheel drive pickups with manual transmissions. If anything, it's actually great value too. So for those looking for an off-road vehicle with a lot of bells and whistles on board plus a stick shift, the Strada GLS 4WD is worth a look.