Hiroshi Masuoka. Photograph courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines
Drive Cars and Bikes

The new Mitsubishi Strada may just be a rally enthusiast's dream come true

There are little to no superficial changes to the 2019 update to the brand’s definitive tough truck model. Where it really shines is in the way it performs.
Vince Pornelos | Feb 08 2019

Every automobile manufacturer has a unique DNA, defining the feel and performance of their cars, as well as the manner in which they launch them to the public.

That is what Mitsubishi wanted to make clear when they launched the 2019 Strada pick-up at an up-and-coming development north of the metropolis. We joined them as they kicked up a lot of dirt and dust, showing off what Ralliart truly means, even with a regular, off-the-showroom pick-up truck.

All in a row: The New Strada belongs to the same generation launched in 2014.

2018 was challenging for the auto industry. Mitsubishi, like many, had a very tough year. It lost two high-volume, locally-manufactured models in the pre-Euro4 Adventure and L300, and excise taxes also put forth a new set of challenges for sales.

Mitsubishi needed a shot in the arm, to boost their morale and, hopefully, sales. The Strada, it seems, couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Strada name is a familiar one in our market, having been the nameplate that Mitsubishi used for the high grade versions of their L200 pick-up since the mid-1990s. Foreign markets know it to be the Triton, but they’re the same, and our examples come from Mitsubishi’s factory in truck-crazy Thailand.

Technically-speaking, the Strada that Mitsubishi is launching for 2019 is not what we call an all-new or new generation model. This 2019 version still belongs to the same generation (fifth) that was launched in late 2014, the latest in a line with a history that spans over 40 years.

The 2019 Strada possesses the latest interpretation of the Dynamic Shield look that they call Rock Solid.

If it ain’t broke…

The 2019 Strada may be considered a facelift, but I’d rather call it a face graft, as the front really has little (or none) in common with the previous version. This is the latest interpretation of the Dynamic Shield look that they call Rock Solid; a new interpretation of the same design elements found in newer models like the Mitsubishi Xpander and Montero Sport.

The concept is centered around that massive black grille with the chrome “buttresses;” it’s supposed to generate an aura of strength and protection, much like a shield. The rest of the body remains relatively unchanged, apart from the new wheels and details like the more conventional taillights.

Being an updated version means that the dimensions are largely unchanged. The 2019 high-rider models are 5300mm long, 1815mm wide, and 1795mm tall, and rides on a chassis with a wheelbase of 3 meters. Ground clearance for the high-rider models like the 4WD and the GLS variants is at 220mm, while the GLX models have 205mm of clearance. The high-rider models have a water wading depth of 600mm, plenty for tackling the occasional urban flood, even though competitor models are claiming they can go through water up to 800mm deep.

The body structure of The Strads was tested and designed to provide maximum strength in key areas for passenger safety, like on the pillars and roof supports.

The interior of the Strada is also largely unchanged, not that they needed to anyway; the cabin still looks relatively fresh, even when driven side by side with competitor pick-up trucks. Mitsubishi did put in a few updates here and there like USB charging ports, smartphone trays front and back, as well as a new rear air circulator on the ceiling on the top spec models.

Remember what we said about how the design is intended to convey strength and protection? Well, that philosophy continues with how safe the Strada was designed and engineered to be. For starters, there’s the body structure that was tested and designed to provide maximum strength in key areas for passenger safety like on the pillars and roof supports. And then there are the features you’d find on the high grade models like seven airbags, stability control, trailer sway control (if you’re pulling one), ISOFIX anchors for child seats, and other advanced safety equipment that prevents costly crashes up to and including automatic emergency braking.

But what Mitsubishi wanted to really show off at the launch was the performance of the Strada not just from the 181 horsepower, 430 Newton-meter 2.4-liter turbodiesel engine, the new and upgrade 4WD system (for some model), but in the way it drives. And for that, they brought in a specialist named Hiroshi Masuoka.

Hiroshi Masuoka.

A champion at the wheel

When Mitsubishi revealed the truck for the Philippine market, Masuoka was at the wheel, driving, drifting and jumping the Strada for us to see. Dust was everywhere, but if your eyes were sharp enough, you can see him smiling. He has superb control over a truck or SUV at the limit. I know; I’ve ridden with him before.

You see, Masuoka is no mere driver like you or I; he has one hard-earned and highly-coveted title to his name: Dakar Rally champion. For the unfamiliar, the Dakar Rally (previously known as the Paris-Dakar Rally) is the world’s toughest driving competition, one that involves driving over 14,000 kilometers on terrain that would make even the toughest SUVs and trucks turn around, tailpipe tucked between the wheel axles. It’s a grueling race for competitors and their machines. Masuoka won it twice, and he did it back-to-back with Mitsubishi.

I passed on the opportunity to ride with him again; no, I wasn’t scared, but that heavy lunch wasn't such a good idea. Instead, I opted to drive the new trucks on the course that Mitsubishi had laid out for us in this place called Pradera Verde. If you’re familiar with the place, there is actually a dirt track here designed for rallycross; a small, but challenging race against the clock and a competitor side-by-side.

It may seem like a handicap, but the Strada 2WD performed very well on the dirt. This truck may be big for the course that appears to be best left for something the size of a Mitsubishi Lancer, but it held its own. The steering was perfect, and allowed the driver to accurately position the truck around the track and corner with a good deal of confidence. One thing I did notice was the improved rear suspension; they made the rear shock absorbers bigger to hold more oil. More fluid means better damping, better comfort, and surprisingly in this case, better control as the rear wasn’t bouncing as much as the older model.

The 4WD version, however, was the most enjoyable. Traction is key when the surface (loose dirt) tries to rob as much of it from you, and a superb 4WD system will show its true worth. Mitsubishi had some upgrades for the 4WD system for this new Strada, as your options aren’t constrained to just 4WD low range or high range. You can activate Off Road Mode and select from either Gravel, Mud/Snow, Sand or Rock. In this case, I activated Sand, and boy, does it work well. A big, heavy vehicle on a course this slippery and narrow would normally feel like a bull in a china shop and it is. The Off-Road Mode just gave it a pair of good sneakers, and that made a big difference.

Few carmakers can do it like Mitsubishi does. This is a company that builds performance into many of their vehicles, and the Strada is one of them. More than the design, we love the performance and the confidence it gives the driver. Commercial customers will want to try out the capacities of the bed (it's the same as before), but drivers like us will always look for the fun behind the wheel. And that’s what Mitsubishi consistently delivers, and those are our expectations of the company with Ralliart in its DNA.

Much of their competition glory is in the past, but that didn’t stop them from upping the art with the 2019 Strada, nor did they forget about the rally. Not one bit.

 

Photographs courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines

For more information, visit mmpc.ph.