2019 Mitsubishi Triton.
2019 Mitsubishi Triton.

Should a ute be used as a family car?

Launched in February, the revised and decidedly tougher-looking Mitsubishi Triton skyrocketed to third best-selling vehicle in the country, behind only perennial best-sellers Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.

It has given ute rivals plenty to think about with an emphasis on active safety kit, class-leading warranty and bargain servicing, plus Mitsubishi's cheaper-than-most sticker prices.

Our family of testers explores the range-topping GLS Premium dual-cab 4WD to see how it copes with daily duties.

First impressions

Jules: Is that a chrome Darth Vader helmet on the driveway?

Iain: That, my dear, is the front end of the new Mitsubishi Triton ute.

Jules: I like it. If you're going to have a truck, it may as well be a rugged, tough-looking beastie.

Iain: The three best-selling vehicles in Australia are utes. True story. The marketing men have won. As a nation we're convinced the ute can be the work and family car.

Jules: You think otherwise?

The Triton looks tough and has a lot of presence on the road.
The Triton looks tough and has a lot of presence on the road.

Iain: They can serve dual purposes but there are many compromises. They're expensive, rubbish to drive with no load in the tub and just a handful of owners use them off-road. Anything you carry, from bikes to the shopping, gets flung around in the tub too.

Jules: It looks cool and the kids love it.

Iain: I know - that's why they sell so many. And among all utes, this Triton does the style, safety and value combo better than most.

Jules: Even so, it costs $50,000, and you can get a very good four-wheel drive SUV for that money.

The living space

The new Triton has all the modern conveniences found in an SUV.
The new Triton has all the modern conveniences found in an SUV.

Iain: These utes have got pretty flash in recent years.

Jules: Heated leather seats, seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, cruise control and rear camera. Does anyone actually use these as work trucks?

Iain: Somebody, somewhere, surely? The GLS Premium grade is certainly the choice of urban poseurs and weekend lifestyle seekers. In that regard, I can see the appeal.

Jules: Ha! You're coming round to it.

Iain: Maybe. The dashboard is well designed and there's loads of room in the back.

Jules: For a supposed work ute, there's not much storage. My phone gets lost in the skinny hole in front of the gear shifter. There are two central bottle holders but where does a tradie put his paperwork?

Iain: On the dash top. There's plenty of space for a bottle in the door pocket - and who needs storage when you've a phone in one hand, iced coffee carton in the other and you're steering with your knees?

The Triton is better to drive with a good amount of weight in the tub.
The Triton is better to drive with a good amount of weight in the tub.

The commute

Jules: It's a lumbering big thing in town and it leans a lot on roundabouts.

Iain: The ride's more pleasant with some weight in the tub. I reckon I got 300kg in there and that made a marked difference. Less bouncy, for sure.

Jules: You sit incredibly high above traffic and that diesel engine is completely unstressed at highway speed.

Iain: The 2.4-litre isn't the most powerful or refined ute engine and really makes a racket when you floor it. On long journeys, my right elbow started wearing away on the door rest. Please, Mitsubishi, just a little padding here.

The shopping

The Triton is big and hard to park.
The Triton is big and hard to park.

Jules: It's not easy to park at the supermarket but there's great outward vision. Front and rear parking sensors and a clever camera set-up giving a bird's-eye view are awesome.

Iain: That exposed tub can't replace a boot - same old ute problem.

Jules: You have to put the shopping in the rear. There's nothing elegant about clambering into a ute tub to rescue a tin of beans and I find the tailgate heavy.

Sunday run

Iain: Having driven Tritons up steep, rocky trails in Tasmania, I know they're hugely capable over most surfaces. The rear diff lock on this GLS Premium is extra back-up.

Jules: I'd stick to beach and camping trips. For a day at the beach, a ute's ideal for flinging wet boards, towels and togs into the tub.

Iain: With the smart off-road selection - snow/mud, gravel, sand or rock - more owners should get their Tritons dirty.

The Triton is more than capable off-road.
The Triton is more than capable off-road.

The family

Jules: I'd normally rule out utes as family cars on safety grounds but the Triton's got that covered.

Iain: Mitsubishi has gone big on safety. The tech brakes for you if you're about to crash, warns if you stray out of your lane or if there's something in your blind spot, and alerts if you're about to reverse into something moving behind you. That trumps every other ute you can buy.

Jules: Kids were happy with overhead air vents and two USB ports back there. No space for a grandparent between their child seats though.

The verdict

Iain: My mind isn't changed. A ute isn't a good all-rounder as a family vehicle. But if I had to pick one, this Triton's excellent warranty, safety kit, beefy looks and value could sway me.

Jules: The sheer size and having to park it fill me with fear. But I'd love a Triton, just about the manliest looking thing on the road and an ideal weekend toy.