HOW the times change.

Not so long ago sedans like Commodores and Falcons led the sales charts and, with other locally made cars, held about 60 per cent of the market. Now there are no cars made in Australia at all.

Instead, today’s best sellers include a couple utes, with one of them topping the charts month after month, and others not far behind.

Yes, the ute, the double cab in particular, has become accepted as the family car du jour, and number three in national ute sales is Mitsubishi’s Triton, one of the more compact models, which is what we’re looking at today.

Tritons come in a bewildering 20-model line-up, comprising 4x2 and 4x4 models, one of them with petrol power, the rest all diesels, and in single, double or club cab, GLX, GLS, Exceed or the limited Backline spec.

Oh yes, there’s also a choice of manual or automatic transmission.

Prices range from $22,300 for the manual petrol-driven 4x2 cab-chassis to $48,000 for the 4x4 Exceed Double Cab auto – the latter being the one under review.

Its as good looking as can be in Uteworld with striking multi-diamond patterned  17-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, foglights, dusk-sensing HID headlights encased in its wide-smiling grille and aluminium side steps runny g the length of its wheelbase.

Inside, the Exceed is far more car than ute-like with leather trim,  dual-zone climate control, heated front seats – the driver’s one powered –  and a six-speaker audio  with 7.0-inch control screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Other refinements include keyless entry, a reversing camera, fold-away door mirrors with integrated turn indicators, a chrome sports bar, rear differential lock and auto-on wipers.

Cabin storage includes bottle holders and pockets in the front doors, a glovebox, overhead sunglasses holder and a central console with two cup holders, a lidded box and a quite deep well for your Mars Bars or peanuts.

Rear seat passengers  get bottle holders and a fold-down centre armrest with two cup holders – provided there’s no third occupant.

The Triton a tad smaller than its main rivals, the HiLux, Navara and the boofy Ranger and Colorado, but that’s one of its best features, because this is a ute that will fit inside most garages and city parking bays and its tight (11.8m) turning circle lets it easily weave through congested car parks.

Accommodation is good fore and aft and those sidesteps are great for getting in and out of the tallish vehicle.

It’s powered by the proven 133kW/430Nm 2.4litre Mivec diesel linked to an Aisin five-speed auto transmission for smooth, quiet and slick operation, giving impressive off-the-mark performance and good fuel economy at cruising speeds.

Drivers have the choice of full automatic operation or sequential shifting via the gear selector or sporty steering wheel paddle shifters. The paddles will probably never be used, but hey, this is a sport-rec kind of ute, so it needs such cred.

Another Exceed feature is Mitsubishi’s respected Super Select II 4x4 system, which has a centre diff and a locking rear diff if you really intend taking your Triton into territory where its lovely deep paint, alloy wheels and mirrors might take a hit.

A central rotary knob lets you decide what drive mode you need.

It has a kerb weight of 1955kg and 2900kg GVM, can carry a 945kg payload and is rated to tow  3100kg of braked trailer.

Like most utes in its class, some coil-sprung Navaras excepted, the Triton’s tail end is suspended by semi-elliptic springs.

In the 1520mm long and 1470mm wide load tub and just behind the cab, is the sports bar, which scared the bejesus out of me several times – because every time I checked the inside mirror before changing lanes to the left, I saw what seemed to be a tall van right alongside. But it was only the top of the bar.

Fuel consumption obviously depends on the load carried and whether you’re in 2WD, 4WD high or low, but the official combined figure is 7.6litres/100km.

We got around 9.5, but mainly on the blacktop.

It’s a relaxed runner on the road, very quiet for a diesel and with good steering, stability and brakes and our resident utemeister, Dr Rob Bobla, said he thought it a better vehicle than the one at the top of the pops.

The Tritons have a five star safety rating and the usual electronic guff bar AEB, and if you want to tow a trailer, well, it also has something called Trailer Stability Assist.

Another goodie is its 5 year/100,000km warranty and capped price servicing.

Verdict: At its price, the most refined premium 4x4 dual cab ute on the market.

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