RACE DRIVER Hiroshi Masuoka, who counts 21 Dakar Rally starts to his name (plus a back-to-back title in 2002 and 2003), in his present capacity as a “senior expert” in Mitsubishi Motors Corporation’s (MMC) public relations department was again wheeled out by the car maker so he could demonstrate the enhanced off-road capabilities of the revised Mitsubishi Strada pickup. Besides receiving refreshed bodywork, the Strada — also known as the L200 or Triton — now has an improved four-wheel drive system.
The latest version of the truck made its global premiere on Nov. 9 in Bangkok, Thailand (the Strada is built at Mitsubishi’s Laem Chabang plant in Thailand).
It went on sale in Thailand on Nov. 17, marking the start of its roll out in 150 markets. The new Strada is set to be released in the Philippines in January 2019.
MASUOKA’S OFF-ROAD METTLE
Making up a part of the Strada’s global reveal program was a series of test-drives. One was held on a simulated off-road track on the grounds of the Impact Arena, just outside Bangkok; the next involved a 200-kilometer drive from Impact Arena to Spirit 4×4, an off-road driving park south of the capital; still another called for tackling a tight, twisty trail in the woods near the Spirit 4×4. Though Mr. Masuoka’s role in the activities was confined to a driving exercise around the Impact Arena course, it pitched the Strada’s off-road skills — and Mitsubishi’s expertise on such matters — succinctly.
As can be expected, Mr. Masuoka was assigned to take journalists aboard the four-wheel drive Strada on full-throttle, high-speed runs across a dirt track. The course used for these runs mixed in a few tight turns and fast, sweeping bends with dips, plus one big crest, over which the Strada easily caught air. Yes, it was no Dakar Rally stage, but the mastery of Mr. Masuoka showed the Strada could be driven quite hard without it rolling over, and jumped without any of its chassis components breaking. That it could switch directions quickly enough — not easy considering its long wheel base — proved impressive as well.
The trip to Spirit 4×4, reached via expressways and national highways that occasionally passed through town centers, only confirmed what had long been one of the Strada’s (and its Montero Sport platform-mate’s) strengths — its comfortable and refined ride over pavement. Even with an empty bed, the Strada did not bounce over uneven road surfaces, and could be jarring only when the truck went over large crests and dips. But minor ruts and highway expansion joints were easily soaked by the suspension. Also, the truck’s structure, as well as insulation materials, filtered much of the noise, vibration and harshness created by the vehicle and its contact with the air and the road that conversation in the cabin was never strained even at speeds over 100kph.
At Spirit 4×4, nearly a dozen technical off-road driving exercises were arrayed, each one of which designed to highlight an aspect of the Strada’s chassis and four-wheel drive system. These included mud-fording (to test wading-depth capability), boulder- and mound-crawling (traction, suspension articulation), and hill-climbing (power) and hill-descending (advanced electronic and mechanical traction systems). The drive through the wooded trail, about a couple of kilometers’ long, was meant to add a real-world dimension to the off-road driving tests. Driven correctly, the Strada managed to traverse both courses without any glitch.
MMC has embarked on creating a uniform visual identity for all its models — especially the vehicles’ fascia. So the Strada’s front end is now defined by the corporate “Dynamic Shield” styling marked by a high hood, equally high placements for the squinty headlamps and narrow grille, a large aperture on the bumper for the fog lights, a second, bigger air inlet, and plenty of complex, angular lines. Oddly, the redesigned elements in front are contrasted in the rear by simpler tail lights and a bumper and tailgate that received noticeably less contouring when compared to those on the previous truck.
In any case, the new nose job thankfully matches the unchanged elements on the truck’s flanks. The edgier, more fiddly lines in front complement the sculpted wheel arches, sharply angled greenhouse and pronounced creases on the expanses of bodywork on the side. There would be no confusing the updated Strada with the model it is replacing.
Beneath the sheet metal, new to the Strada are larger discs and pistons for the brakes in front (marginally improving both stopping power and pedal “feel”), rear dampers containing more fluid (better control of up and down motions), and a six-speed automatic transmission (adding another cog means engine output can be spread across the rev range so that acceleration gets quicker while cruising speeds turn more frugal on fuel).
Also upgraded is the Strada’s four-wheel drive system, which now comes with Mitsubishi’s new Off-road Mode. The feature offers four selectable modes: Gravel, Mud/Snow, Sand and Rock. When any is engaged, the system governs engine power output, transmission speed (or resistance) and braking to eliminate wheel slip, guaranteeing traction over bad surfaces, as well as lending the truck the ability to slog through mud (or snow). The enhanced hill-descent control of the four-wheel drive system also makes sure that — operated properly — the Strada won’t come tumbling down hills.
Surely, it’s a handy feature whether one is a Dakar Rally driver or not. — Brian M. Afuang