It's a quiet, cloudy day here at the Sodegaura Forest Raceway just outside of Tokyo, a good time to get acquainted with a model that is going open up the year for Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation: the all-new Mitsubishi Strada.

Today we'll get a chance to put it through its paces both on and off the road and see what the next generation of Mitsubishi's top selling pick-up truck can do.


A brief history

We arrived in a chilly Tokyo the day before in anticipation of this very important nameplate for Mitsubishi. The L200 and its subsequent derivative, the Strada, represent Mitsubishi's challenger in the pick-up truck segment; a class of car that will be extremely competitive in 2015.

Mitsubishi's latest pick-up can trace its generational roots back to 1978 with the Mitsubishi Forte (L200), followed by the second generation L200 in 1987 and the third generation model in 1996.

The current Strada/L200 is actually the fourth generation of the name and has been on sale globally since 2005.

The Philippines received the Gen 4 Strada in late 2006. Needless to say, it was a model that defied the standards of the class as it was the first amongst its peers to take square aim at lifestyle buyers. That meant that Mitsubishi designed and engineered the truck to be used more everyday as a lifestyle vehicle instead of being just a commercial workhorse, and thus they emphasized a more modern look, a car-like cabin, more rear legroom, premium features and the coup de grace: a better ride.

What would the new Strada be like then?


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A truck for everyone

Mitsubishi Motors had closed out the Sodegaura Forest Raceway in Chiba to hold a press preview of the 2015 Mitsubishi Strada. Heading the presentation was Koichi Namiki, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) Corporate General Manager, in which he detailed the many changes they made to their pick up around the concept of an “Ultimate Sport Utility Truck”.

Make no mistake, this is no mere thorough facelift. The 2015 Strada has been completely redone and improvements have been made to many aspects of the truck, especially underneath.

Starting with the looks, the Strada's overall design stems from the Mitsubishi GR-HEV concept; a truck that they revealed at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show and subsequently brought to the 2014 Philippine International Motor Show. Of course that was just a design concept, but we can clearly see the many design elements that Mitsubishi adopted, such as the overall profile, the new front end, the larger and straighter bed, and the various design details.

Up front, Mitsubishi has implemented what we think is a more “market-friendly” fascia with that grill, the headlamp design and the bumper design. The side profile reveals a more straight-edged Strada than its more rounded predecessor; it also gets a straight character line that nearly wraps around the entire vehicle. The shape of the bed is also more boxy than the previous generation, and is finished off by wraparound taillights. Personally speaking, the jury is still out on the grill and the taillights, but that's for the market to decide.

The double-cab Strada is also larger overall. Length is now at 5280mm (+70mm), width is now at 1815mm (+15mm) though the height remains the same at 1780mm. The wheelbase has also remained at 3000mm, which means there is significantly more overhang. High-rider variants will have 205mm of clearance.

Inside, the 2015 Strada gets a fully revised interior. The cabin on the top spec variant available at Sodegaura does feel much more premium than before, making full use of soft-touch materials, piano-black panels, silver accent trim and perforated leather on the seats; this is clearly a lifestyle truck. The dashboard is definitely cleanly designed, functional in every way, easy to understand and with particular attention paid to quality and consistency.

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The seats are definite plus points in favor of the Strada, and rear legroom has definitely improved. Those familiar with the Mitsubishi Mirage will recognize the new “family” steering wheel from MMC and comes with steering wheel audio buttons, cruise control and even paddle shifters. Gone is the Pajero-style shifter for the automatic transmission, instead this new Strada gets a gate-type lever with a +/- slot and a knob for the shift-on-the-fly Super Select II 4WD system.

The rear leaf spring suspension has been reworked for improved ride without sacrificing too much on the load carrying capability. The mounting points between the chassis, body and bed have been revised for better NVH.

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Unusually the engines we will be getting in the Philippines remain the same: the third generation 4D56 2.5L diesel variable geometry turbo common rail diesel. There really was no need to reinvent that engine given that it already makes 178 PS at 4000 rpm and 350 Newton-meters of torque at 4000 rpm. Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual gearbox and a 5-speed automatic.

All the models here at Sodegaura have come from their plant in Thailand; the place all Philippine-market Stradas and L200s will come from.

Now let's see what this new truck can do.


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On the track

We've got a small, 1.8 kilometer racetrack all to ourselves for the 2015 Strada/L200/Triton test drive to sample what it can do. Now it seems odd that Mitsubishi would put a lifestyle truck on a racetrack, but that was done more to control the environment as much as possible and focus on the trucks more over a specific set of corners and short straights.

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First up on my list to drive is the basic L200 single cab truck rear wheel drive. Compared to the top-spec variants, this is as bare as they come. The bed is long given that it's really meant for fleet customers and to meet the incentives for the Thai market's regulations regarding single-cab trucks. This is also the standard height variant, not the high-rider.

Around the track, the L200 feels quite alright. The power from the more basic version of the 4D56 is more than enough for the weight and definitely feels like a slightly better handler than before. The manual gearbox isn't particularly great, but it does feel robust and positive whenever a gear is selected.

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Out of the basic variant, I stepped into a more premium version of the high-rider Strada/Triton with the nicer appointments inside. A twist of the key, however, yielded an unusual experience: there was no diesel judder. The reason for that is because this blue Strada is actually for a different market, and it comes with a 4G64 gasoline engine.

The Philippine market doesn't get this version so it feels quite unusual to drive around a track. The diesel is definitely better given the torque, but there's not doubt that the 4G64 is smoother thanks to petrol power. Be that as it may, the consumption of the 4G64 would be a problem compared to the 4D56 VGT diesel.

Afterwards I hopped aboard a fully accessorized version of the Strada, this time with the 4D56 that will be offered here. Power and torque are definitely much better than the previous two that I was able to sample, and it came with the 5-speed automatic and paddle shifters.

This new Strada isn't something that I would call a great handler, but neither is it leery or floaty around the bends. Also notable is how the NVH has really improved on the road, though only a full test on local streets can reveal just how good it is because this racetrack's surface is extremely smooth thanks to Japanese precision.


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A bit of 4x4 action

With the on-track driving done, we made our way to the Sodegaura 4x4 Park just beside the circuit. It's not a large space, but Mitsubishi carved out a challenging course to demonstrate the capabilities of the different 4x4 variants of the Strada.

The excellent 4x4 system and electronic aids in the Strada (the truck was badged as the L200 “Sportero”) provide consistent traction all throughout the course. We were still on showroom stock highway tires (by Toyo) but the Super Select 4WD system made good use of what it had to get around without getting stuck in the muck. The suspension is also excellent

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With the driving completed, two-time Dakar Rally winner Hiroshi Masuoka then took one of the Stradas out for a spin and showed us how it's really done on that course, jumping the ramps and keeping the heavy truck under control at all times.


Let the truck wars begin

This much is clear: Mitsubishi really worked out the priorities when they implemented the next evolution of the L200/Strada/Triton line. There was no need to revolutionize their excellent formula for an all-around truck, instead Mitsubishi made changes based on the Strada's new concept. which in turn is based on customer feedback from around the world.

The all-new 2015 Mitsubishi Strada is the result; a larger, better, more upscale and more stylish truck that delivers what its customers want and need.

Come mid-March, Mitsubishi Motors Philippines will introduce this new Strada to the market; but it won't be the only new kid on the pick-up truck block. Nissan has already introduced the Navara, while Toyota is preparing for the arrival of the next generation Hilux and Ford is preparing an updated Ranger.

The speccing and pricing of the 2015 Strada will be the key to the model's success, but MMPC seems ready and confident to take on the new challengers. 2015 will be a very interesting year for the pick-up truck segment.