When Mitsubishi finally revealed the updated Strada (AKA Triton) in the latter part of 2018 followed by the domestic launch earlier this year, many thought that it's just a facelift. We're not surprised: the striking new look did take center stage, and the upgrades didn't look to be that major, at least on paper.
We spent some time driving the Strada on some new roads that wound around the mountains of Palawan. We brought it over a variety of surfaces from rough concrete, bumpy tarmac, and even a long 14-kilometer beach. We're going to go out on a limb and say that the enhancements with Mitsubishi's new pick-up are just what it needed.
We had a fleet of Strada GT units waiting right there at the dealership in Puerto Princesa, and we were all eager to go. It's easy to see why: despite being a truck, Mitsubishi's design DNA is appealing and strong. That was something we can't really say about the pre-facelift model we first drove in 2014, the design of which left us wanting for more. So much more.
The new Strada is much more like it. Despite being technically a facelift, the look is so far forward that if you weren't familiar with the 2014-2018 model, we wouldn't judge if you thought this was a new generation. Mitsubishi's design direction for this Strada is known as Rock Solid, a further development of the Dynamic Shield look that they implemented on a lot of their vehicles like the Montero Sport (Pajero Sport), the Xpander, Eclipse Cross, and ASX. The chief element of it is the front end which is meant to show strength and generate a feeling of protection for the occupants.
We do like the treatment of the lighting; the primary driving lights are still up top on those slim clusters known as headlights, while the foglamps are down below in the middle of the bumper, more or less. Except for the front end, the body is still the same with the double cab form factor and the J-line separation between the body and the bed. The taillights and a few other minor details round out the 2019 Strada.
After a bit of a break, we hustled up into our respective Stradas and headed out onto the open road. Our drive would take us north to San Vicente which is a fairly long drive, plenty of time to get a bit more acquainted with the new Mitsubishi Strada's cabin.
The changes here, unlike the exterior, are fairly minor. New bits here and there, but nothing major. I actually wished Mitsubishi used the same center console as the Montero Sport with that wide center console, but they opted not to. The only reason I can think of that they didn't is because it would have occupied more space between the driver and front passenger. What they did do was add a few enhancements; minor in the grand scheme of things, but they actually work well to improve the experience and functionality for the GT.
For starters, they added some leather upholstered pads for those who like to rest their knee against the center stack; something useful on a long drive. They also added a deeper pocket just ahead of the shifter for this automatic variant, and that's perfect for smartphones while charging. They also have another one behind the center console box for the rear passengers with USB charging ports. Mitsubishi also fitted this model with grab handles on the B pillars so rear passengers can more easily get in and out of the the high-riding GT. But perhaps what rear passengers will appreciate the most is the addition of a ceiling mounted blower that takes some of the cooler air from the front, and sends it their way with a bit more power.
The more we drove, the more we realized that the Strada drives smoother than before. The 2.4-liter MIVEC turbodiesel hasn't changed, but they did upgrade the gearbox for the automatic versions. Instead of the 5-speed automatic, the new Strada comes with a 6-speed automatic. The acceleration is improved, and the RPMs at 100 km/h are lower than before. Unfortunately, we were having a bit too much fun driving we weren't able to check the fuel economy meter just to give us an idea what we were doing. We'll have to wait until we can fully test it later on.
Most of Palawan's roads going from Puerto Princesa to San Vicente are long, generally straight with a few fairly gentle curves and great scenery. But they're also bumpy in most parts and punishing at speed with their ribbed/grooved concrete construction. That didn't really bother us much in the Strada, particularly with Oshikiri-san, the Mitsubishi Motors Philippines President, opting to ride with us as I drove.
The big reason for that is because the other major mechanical change, apart from the upgraded 6-speed auto, is the rear suspension. Mitsubishi upgraded the rear shocks on the Strada with ones of a slightly larger diameter. Now while it may seem minimal, the effect is rather profound: less bouncing and softer ride for the rear passengers despite the leaf springs. Shocks with wider tubes hold more fluid, and that generally means better damping and a better ride.
Once we hit the twisty bits, the Strada really came into its own. Now I won't kid you around and say that the Strada cornered on rails or had a sporty driving experience because it doesn't. What the Strada GT offers is a measured sense of confidence when cornering. This is a fairly large truck to hustle around bends that are tricky even for motorcycles, but this Mitsubishi was holding its own very very well.
The braking is fairly good and positive, though I do have to match it with engine braking to prevent them from getting too tired on the downhill sections. There's some initial understeer because the Strada has a bit of weight to it, but the truck never feels like its going to plow through or get away from you. Stability control is present, but if you drive it right, you won't need it. What did surprise me about the Strada was how it managed tight hairpins as the fairly tight turning radius (for a truck) makes it easy to drive around tight bends, and then you can enjoy the feeling of the mid-range torque to push you out of the corner.
Once past the tricky and twisty bits, we entered San Vicente. It's a sleepy town with what seems to be only one beachside resort. This is low density at its finest and most natural, as all I can see on the horizon are trees and a few houses here and there. But San Vicente offers something we can't do in many beaches in the country: we can drive on it. Fast.
The stretch of sand at San Vicente faces the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea) and is 14 kilometers long. With 4WD high range engaged, we make our way with the Strada. I've driven on sand before in Ilocos Norte and in Morocco, and let me tell you that its great fun in a 4x4, but this is the first time I've driven on a nearly deserted beach at about 100 km/h with the sun in the distance and the sea to my right.
You do have to be careful though; one wrong move and you could end up getting stuck, something that's very possible considering we were on showroom stock highway tires, not all-terrain rubber that can give you the best of both worlds. Still, its not a problem for the Mitsubishi Strada with its great 4WD system, one that's shift-on-the-fly. Once we parked up on the sand, engaging 4WD low was recommended, but even in high range it was okay. And no one got stuck.
Mitsubishi did address what customers really wanted with the Strada for the new model year. It looks a lot better, drives a lot better and rides a lot better. We'll need to do more testing with a loaded bed later on, but that can wait for a time when we actually have to load something in the back.
The new model has been enhanced as a direct response to customer requests, and that's always a good thing. What we did like was how well they priced it. At Php 1,670,000, doesn't undercut its stepbrother from Nissan, the Navara VL, but the Strada GT actually is prices lower than similar models like the Hilux Conquest and the Ranger Wildtrak. And they didn't have to resort to fancy names to append to the Strada name.
Now, let's drive some more on the sand, and a little bit faster this time.