If you don't mind, I'd like to partake of the corporate two-step where we all pretend this is a new model and dance around references to the donor vehicle.
The Mitsubishi Raider might be a Dodge Dakota beneath the sheetmetal but I'm certainly not going to make mention of it. After all, this is probably the last occasion when the two companies will share a vehicle like this. DaimlerChrysler distanced itself from Mitsubishi rather rapidly as soon as the Japanese company's recall scandal mess hit the media fan, though to its credit it agreed to maintain its involvement in any co-operative efforts already in the works. Good job, too, because cash-strapped Mitsubishi needs to start shifting some metal and soon.
I can't imagine the Raider is going to yield much in the way of profit for the Japanese brand but it does generate column inches and it gets people into the showroom, which is never a bad thing.
It's also a lucky thing for Mitsubishi that the nameless mid-size pickup on which the Raider is based is a decent machine to begin with. The Raider shares its box-frame chassis; its suspension and drivetrains; most of its engine range; its transmissions, its basic interior architecture; the structural bodywork and the glazing with this vehicle. The only real differences are to the external sheetmetal, some of the interior surfacing and the way the range is structured. These are small changes but they're remarkably effective because they rectify the two main problems I have with that other unnamed domestic pickup: namely, the way it looks inside and out.
Compared to the awkward styling of what's-its-name, the Raider is a well-proportioned and reasonably handsome truck with its gaping mouth grille and chunky fenders. It doesn't set any styling benchmarks but given the constraints Mitsubishi had to work within I think they did well. It's the same story with the interior where they seemed to use higher-grade plastics for the main dashboard shroud and replaced the original cheap vents with much more appealing circular ones. The changes are minimal but again they have a huge impact on the interior, making it feel just a little fancier and more appealing than before. The rest of the interior, including the door trims, steering wheel, center console and dials, is identical to the other mystery machine.
The Raider's engine range comprises an oddly familiar 210-hp, 230 lb-ft 3.7-liter V-6 available with a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic and a 230-hp, 280 lb-ft 4.7-liter V-8 that can only be had with a five-speed automatic. While having the availability of a V-8 gives the Raider bragging rights over its V-6-powered Japanese rivals, both Toyota and Nissan offer considerably more powerful V-6s than the Raider's low-tech eight-cylinder. There really isn't much point investing in the V-8 at all, in fact, unless you do a lot of towing or can't resist the pleasant rumble of what just might be an old-fashioned American V-8. Mitsubishi doesn't get the High Output Magnum V-8, which offers around 250 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque because, unsurprisingly, another unnamed vehicle doesn't want to relinquish its best-in-class 7150-lb towing capacity. Mind you, the V-8 Raider can still manage a respectable 6500 lb.
The sad numbers
It may not be a very sexy topic but with gas prices being what they are I have to make mention of fuel economy, sadly. The Raider's V-6 runs on cheap-o regular unleaded and with a manual 2WD transmission can manage 16 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway, according to Mitsubishi. The 4WD version is no less economical around town but economy drops to 20 mpg on the open road. Automatic models return 17 city and 22 highway mpg in 2WD models and 15 city and 19 highway mpg for trucks with 4WD. The V-8 swallows gas at a rate of one gallon every 15 miles in the city and 20 on the highway with 2WD, which drops to 14 and 19 highway mpg in 4WD versions. Neither are exactly miserly when it comes to gas usage but the V-8 doesn't represent as much of a fuel penalty as you might expect, if Mitsubishi's figures are reliable. A longer-term test is needed to determine the accuracy of these numbers, however.
Three trim levels are available kicking off with the V-6-powered LS. You know it's a stripped out commercial version when the company mentions "power rack-and-pinion steering" amongst the list of features, though the addition of ABS, a CD player, air conditioning, and front and rear stabilizer bars mean it's not completely bare-bones. A tilt steering column is amongst the options and it's highly recommended because otherwise the steering is set so low you'll be pulled over all the time on suspicion of committing lewd and lascivious acts in public. Also be aware that the manual model uses a foot-operated parking brake so San Franciscan buyers had better start cultivating an extra limb if they fancy a manual transmission.
The DuroCross V-6 adds 16-inch alloys, fog lamps, power windows and mirrors, rear security glass, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, fender flares with mudguards, side steps and a box bedliner, while the 4x4 model adds BFGoodrich All Terrain tires, high-pressure gas shocks, increased ride height, a skid plate package, and a limited slip differential. A DuroCross V-8 Extended Cab is also available and can be recognised by its unique alloy wheels and yummy satin-finish interior accents.
Finally the range-topping XLS model is available as a V-8, double cab only and comes complete with a Bluetooth phone kit, self-dimming rear view mirror, a towing package, bucket seats, a six-CD changer, center console, sliding rear window, and heated leather seats. A full-time AWD package also is available, as are side and head curtain airbags.
On the move the Raider feels no different to the, erm, you know the one? and this is no bad thing. The steering is sharp and there's genuine feedback through the steering wheel, while the sway bars do their bit to keep the Raider from keeling over like a newborn giraffe. The V-6 manual we drove first had very respectable acceleration and cruised with refinement though we didn't care for the long-throw gearshift and we craved the security of a hand-operated parking brake. The V-8, with its five-speed automatic, has a bit more grunt than the V-6 but isn't as fluid through the corners, most likely because of the extra weight over the front wheels. The mid-line DuroCross V-6 2WD is probably the most entertaining model to drive because it offers the best balance of comfort, value, and driver involvement, and when mated to the six-speed manual it doesn't give much away to the V-8 in terms of performance, either. Mated to the four-speed automatic, however, the V-6 has to work a lot harder which makes it a little tougher to recommend.
Ultimately, the Mitsubishi Raider definitely deserves a spot on your shopping list, whether you're new to pickups or if you're downsizing from something bigger and can't bear the thought of anything other than a V-8. It's as rugged, spacious and nice to drive as the domestically produced donor vehicle from whence it came, but it's much better looking and has a moderately more appealing interior, too. Indeed, it's the way the you-know-what should have been from day one, really.
2006 Mitsubishi Raider
Base price: under $20,000
Engines: 3.7-liter V-6, 210 hp/235 lb-ft; 4.7-liter V-8, 230 hp/290 lb-ft
Transmissions: Six-speed manual or four-speed auto (V-6); five-speed auto (V-8)
Length x width x height: 219.9 x 71.9 x 68.6 in
Wheelbase: 131.3 in
Curb weight: 4300-4760 lb (est.)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 14-17 city/19-22 highway
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags; vented front discs, rear anti-lock drum brakes
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning; 16-inch wheels; CD audio system
Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles