It's easy to dismiss the Mitsubishi Strada Athlete as just another variant that's been given a cosmetic upgrade and nothing more. Besides, what's a bunch of stickers gonna do for the pick-up? Add horsepower?
We've tried out the Strada before and, to be honest, we were expecting more of the same with the Athlete. That said, there's a reason why we test every variant possible because this Strada doesn't feel like the other models. Could it be Mitsubishi did some tweaks under the skin of the Athlete?
But before we get to that, let's talk about the visual upgrades first. This pick-up is devoid of any chrome with its exterior trims finished in gloss black. The grille is black, as well as the bumper garnishes, side mirror caps, and the rear bumper. Mitsubishi even made the roof black, and the wheels, you guessed it, are also black. The only bright bits of trim on the outside is the faux skid plate and the Mitsubishi diamond on its nose.
The overall effect makes the truck look more aggressive than its lesser variants. Stripped of chrome, the truck has a more menacing appearance, in a good way, of course. It's complemented by those squared-off corners and high ride height too. To some, it may not be the prettiest looking truck, but the Athlete gives off a vibe that means business.
Then there's the graphic plastered on the sides of the Athlete. It's not something you'd call subtle and it's bound to draw some mixed reactions. Mitsubishi even went as far as sticking on “STRADA” on its flanks, just so people know what you're driving. There will be those saying that it's a little too much, but there will be those who will argue that it's meant to be brash. Whatever your opinion is, it's there to stay whether you like it or not.
It's not just the outside that gets a makeover. Climb onboard the Strada Athlete and you're greeted by a whole lot of orange. The seats get orange bolsters and there's more of that color on the steering wheel and seat stitches, and even on the door panel. With so much orange inside, it's almost a crime to get the Strada Athlete in a different color.
As for the rest of the cabin, it's much like the lower variants when it comes to design. That means it also looks like the same one in the 2014 models too. It would've been nicer if Mitsubishi gave it the same interior design as the Montero Sport just to add some zing in there. Granted, it's not a bad design but a new look would be appreciated. Adding a padded dashboard would make it feel more upmarket too.
Space inside is good for four. Headroom and legroom are generous at the back although the front footwells are on the narrow side. While we're on the subject of narrow areas, the middle rear seats are best suited for slimmer passengers. On the flip side, the Strada has one of the best back seats in the business. That's thanks to the backrests that are more reclined than most pickups. This makes it great on long road trips because you don't have to sit upright all the time. Another bonus is the rear blower which helps cool rear passengers. There are USB ports at the back as an extra charging point, so there's no excuse not to have a charged phone while in the Strada Athlete.
Of course, this is a pick-up and the bed must be mentioned. Unfortunately, the Strada doesn't have the biggest one in its class. That honor goes to the Ford Ranger. It also doesn't have the heaviest payload capacity. However, that doesn't mean this pick-up can't do the business. The Strada Athlete can still carry 950 kg worth of load, which is no small feat. It comes with a bed liner as standard too, so this is one pick-up you can immediately put to good use if you're willing to turn this brash and flashy truck into a workhorse.
The engine in the Strada Athlete needs no introduction, but let's recap for the sake of this review. It's a 2.4-liter MIVEC turbodiesel with 181 PS and 430 Nm of torque. It then shifts with a six-speed automatic transmission. It's a bit sad it misses out on the Montero Sport's eight-speed automatic, but if it works for the Strada, then so be it.
But on the road, that six-speed automatic provided smooth shifts with no shift shock or hesitation. It responds quickly to accelerator inputs, downshifting at just the right time. The MIVEC turbodiesel may not be the most powerful in its class, but the transmission helps the engine make the most of its output. With a quick downshift, the Strada Athlete shoots forward with ease, and overtaking is as easy as squeezing the throttle that little bit more.
Despite that beefy engine, it's relatively easy on fuel. In extremely light traffic, the trip computer returned 13.5 kilometers per liter at an average pace of 40 km/h. In moderate traffic, that drops down to a still-impressive 11.2 kilometers per liter. However, we can't help but think it would have even better fuel economy if it had the Montero Sport's eight-speed transmission.
Now, here's the strange thing about the Strada Athlete: It feels different from the past Stradas we've driven. The ride is less wallowy and the pick-up itself feels more stable at higher speeds. Its steering felt lighter, and it can also take on the bends with a little bit more confidence. The last Strada we drove was a GLS 4x4 with a manual transmission, and it bobbed, lurched, and heaved all over the place. Those were all absent in the Strada Athlete.
The ride feels just about the same as the GLS 4x4 and, for a pick-up, it's comfortable. Along pock-marked roads, it behaves more like an SUV than a pick-up. It doesn't send jolts up your spine when you hit a bump, which is what you'd normally expect in a pick-up. There's still a hint of stiffness at the back, but the reclined rear seat design doesn't make it an ordeal sitting back there.
All in all, the Strada Athlete was a surprise. It's much better to drive than the last Strada we drove, yet the ride still feels pretty much the same. But there's another thing that surprised us in the Athlete: The price.
This particular model retails for Php 1,760,000 and that's a lot of money for a pick-up. Of course, you can get the Strada Athlete for less if you go for the 4x2 version. That one sells for Php 1,443,000, significantly less than the four-wheel-drive version. So why is the gap that huge? It all comes down to its other features.
The Strada Athlete packs a lot of tech under the skin. It has features like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and a knee airbag for the driver. It also has Mitsubishi's Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation System, which slams on the brakes in an event of pedal misapplication. Some of these features, once reserved for luxury cars, are standard in the Athlete 4x4. It looks like a brute on the outside, but it's safe for everyone inside.
Yes, it sounds pricey, but you get all that safety kit, a punchy engine, a smooth transmission, heaps of practicality, and a (relatively) comfortable ride for less than Php 1.8 million. Suddenly, that price tag doesn't look so bad at all.