Words and photos by Manny N. de los Reyes

SAN VICENTE, PALAWAN — Drive a nice car in heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic and you’d be hard-pressed to appreciate it.

Conversely, drive a crappy car or truck on a scenic or picturesque location and it’ll flatter to deceive.

Mitsubishi probably didn’t have the latter intention when it brought the local media to this beautiful and largely unoccupied city in Palawan for three days. But it certainly didn’t hurt.

But first things first: the Mitsubishi Strada is not a crappy truck. Now on its fourth generation, the Strada, whose prices range from P1,165,000 to P1,670,000, has established itself as one of the best and most refined among the half-dozen pickup trucks on the market.

Considered as one of the most important models of Mitsubishi, the Strada, which is produced in Mitsubishi’s Laem Chabang plant in Thailand, is sold around the globe in no less than 150 countries. Yet it sings to a different tune relative to most of pickup truckdom.

While most trucks exude muscle and brawn, the Strada expresses an altogether different character — one that’s not all about machismo, but of an almost futuristic sleekness. Under the brand’s design concept “Rock Solid,” which embodies a strengthened structure inside and out, the latest Strada flaunts Mitsubishi’s new-generation “Dynamic Shield” design language. The high hood, slim LED headlamps, and aggressive grille and bumper design present a compelling and upscale fascia. The sculpted body curves with contrasting sharp lines express a car-like sleekness. The sharp and distinctive character lines that start at the front fenders and terminate at the front doors then emerge again from the rear doors and end at the rear fenders express a sense of upscale futurism.

The trademark rising rear windowline and the J-shaped rear door opening serve to tie up the latest Strada’s cutting-edge styling with that of its forebears. Even the palette of seven available colors — White Diamond, Graphite Gray Metallic, Sterling Silver Metallic, Jet Black Mica, Red Solid Clear, Grayish Brown Metallic and Impulse Blue Metallic — was carefully chosen to serve as the finishing touch to the very detailed body design.

Inside the new Strada is a functional and contemporary dash and console trimmed with silver and piano black accents. All variants feature a 2-DIN touchscreen monitor with tuner/MP3/USB/iPod/Aux/Bluetooth connectivity and Mirror Link. All variants are also equipped with a GPS navigation system. There is even a front smartphone tray which includes USB terminals. A rear smartphone tray is also available and is located at the rear of the center console including two USB power sockets.

The new Strada boasts a spacious interior which can comfortably seat five adults, thanks to the cab’s unique J-Line design that offers class-leading legroom for greater comfort, especially on long drives. The door panels may be a tad too plasticky — fabric covering for some of the panels would’ve helped — but are nonetheless good-looking and functional, thanks to generous-sized bottle holders.

The cabin is truly big on comfort and space. The tilt-and-telescope steering wheel with audio and cruise control buttons is covered in smooth leather. The front seats are very comfortable and supportive and are covered in a plush yet seemingly durable fabric. The rear seats, often the bane of most pickups, are reasonably comfortable, thanks to a more inclined rear backrest and supportively sculpted cushioning. It’s certainly a long way from the hard, flat, and upright bench seats of pickups of yesteryear.

The Strada is powered by Mitsubishi’s super-smooth state-of-the-art 4N15 2.4-liter Clean Diesel engine with Variable Geometry Turbo and MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control System). The powerplant delivers 181ps and 430Nm of torque. It’s one of the smoothest and quietest diesel powerplants in existence.

This cutting-edge motor is mated to an equally advanced six-speed automatic with Sports Mode and paddle shifters. It was an absolute joy wringing the truck from corner to corner during our rushed drive back to Puerto Princesa airport to catch our return flight to Manila. The engine delivered on the power side while the paddle shifters made short work of gearshifts, especially on winding roads and during overtaking maneuvers.

The Strada’s already (relatively) comfortable ride is improved with the use of larger rear dampers, which contain more damping oil. There is still some jarring on choppy surfaces, but the overall riding comfort is still at the top of its class. Braking power was also improved with the use of larger front discs and caliper pistons for the GLS and GT variants.

A pickup truck will never handle as confidently as a car, but the Strada hung on impressively well, even during hard cornering maneuvers. The generously sized 265/60R-18 all-terrain rubber proved just as adept at high-g cornering on pavement as they were driving on sand on the beach — despite our truck being a 4×2 and not a 4×4 model. The suspension is just very well sorted out.

The new Strada hosts an array of advanced passive and active safety features, including Mitsubishi’s RISE (Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution) body, which absorbs the impact of collision. It retains the current model’s high-durability and high-reliability ladder-type chassis and high-impact safety cabin structure. Active Stability Traction Control (ASTC), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) are now standard on all variants. A nice touch is the push-button engine start/stop and keyless Smart Entry system.

All things considered, while most other pickups are playing the tough truck card, the Strada is confident in its sheetmetal skin just being an exceedingly capable truck — one that pushes the envelope in pickup refinement, comfort, and safety.