The Raider is available as either an Extended Cab with small access doors, or as a Double Cab four-door, with either a V6 or V8 engine. The Raider uses a welded ladder frame chassis, with hydroformed components, and follows Daimler-Chrysler's recent direction of producing trucks that are notably smooth and silent running. The rack-and-pinion steering makes the Raider quite nimble in tight situations, and the V8 offers the most torque in the class, with no significant loss in fuel mileage when compared to the V6. The gentle suspension sweetens the road ride, but limits off-road use.
The Raider was rushed to market, although because the powertrain is proven, reliability won't suffer. It mostly means that the Raider's individuality will grow as Mitsubishi begins to introduce options to distinguish it under the skin from the Dakota. If you need off-road capability, Mitsubishi makes it available with the DuroCross 4WD model, which is as macho as a Dakota, with better looks to boot.
With the exception of the aging Ford Ranger, the entire field of mid-size pickups is new. The Dodge Dakota was redesigned for 2005. The Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier were redesigned for 2005 and the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon were launched as 2004 models. The Ranger is the last of the small compact pickups that used to make up the class.
Mitsubishi Raider LS Extended Cab; LS Double Cab; XLS Extended Cab; XLS Double Cab; DuroCross
The longer you look at the Raider, the more you appreciate its grace, and grace isn't a word you can often use with a pickup truck. Definitely not the Dodge. The key, said O'Connell, is the forward line of the A-pillar. Imagine a drop of water rolling from the roof down to the front bumper; it would have a smooth, gentle ride. The fender flares are from the Endeavor, but they've lost their blatant boxiness, in the way they're molded into the Raider's rounded hood.
The subtle and classy shape of the Raider's hood and grille completely contradict the Dakota's in-your-face statement. O'Connell certainly gave Mitsubishi the distinction they asked for. The sweet curve over the truck's nose makes you want to run your hand over it, as if the Raider were a sexy sports car. The grille is nicely understated, a horizontal mesh opening with rounded top corners, split by a triangle bearing the Mitsubishi Motors logo. The colors of the pieces vary with the models, but we think the grille looks best in black mesh and the centerpiece with the triangle far better when it's body-colored, rather than the shiny platinum of the XLS.
The headlamp units are inlayed into the fender flares, resisting the temptation to put their two cents into the styling statement. The front bumper/fascia is separated from the nose by a line as clean as a horizon on the sea. The fascia is either body-colored or flat black, as are the lips of the fender flares. There's a silver or body-colored pseudo skid-plate dominating the center of the fascia, which will add appeal for some buyers.
You look down from your driver's position, and there's a big square in the center of the panel (with nicely rounded corners), with clearly labeled knobs and buttons to control the radio/CD and heater/AC. Whether it's polished aluminum in the XLS, or simple black in the LS, it's tidy and fail-safe. It was a hot day when we tested the Raider, and we found the AC to be pretty good, with a strong fan, although unable to match the fantastic cold blast of the Honda Ridgeline.
The gauges themselves are lovely to look at, an off-white background with sharp black numbers and lines: speedo in center, tach on right, gas and temp together on left. Three circles, perfectly balanced. The gauges appear to be the same as in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and other Daimler-Chrysler family vehicles, and we've got nothing but praise for component sharing in this case. The driver peers down through a nice four-spoke steering wheel, leather-wrapped in the XLS, which is the right thickness and diameter, and feels nice in his or her hands.
There are storage bins small and large within easy reach of the driver, including the doors. Twin cupholders tucked under the radio, and a third giant one that can be used for big drinks or other stuff. Under the driver's elbow, the center hatch is one big compartment.
We drove Raiders with both cloth and leather, and both materials were of high quality. A buyer who doesn't want to spring for leather could be quite happy with the basic cloth. Options in the Extended Cab include nothing but a storage space behind a front bench seat, or a small bench seat.
The rear bench seat in the XLS Double Cab was relatively spacious, with a decent 36.4 inches of legroom, although the headroom was pinched by the roofline at the top of the windows. There are two cupholders and door pockets back there, too, as well as a third seatbelt for a small person to squeeze in the center.
The V8 makes 230 horsepower and a class-leading 290 pound-feet of torque. We had the opportunity to tow around a trailer carrying a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and the Raider had plenty of power for the job, with good acceleration.
In normal driving without the trailer, the V8 feels surprisingly fast, for a relatively modest 230 horsepower, a benefit of its strong torque. The engine has a nice exhaust note, and Raider is quite happy to run with a driver having a heavy foot.
The five-speed overdrive automatic is the only transmission available with the V8, but it's all you need. It has some specific electronic workings too complicated to explain here, but their object is to quicken the shifts and make them smoother, and apparently they work because all the shifts, up and down, felt seamless to us.
With the DuroCross you can get regular 4WD, but our XLS came with full-time all-wheel-drive, with two transfer cases that allow the front and rear axles to spin at different speeds, thus offering more versatile traction. Mitsubishi says the cases are put through rigorous tests equivalent to 150,000 miles of driving.
We would have liked to take that trailer carrying the Evo off into the mountains, and come blasting down a long hill; that's what separates the excellent truck brakes from the just-OK. The Raider uses vented 12-inch rotors with dual-piston calipers in front, and drums in the rear.
We took our AWD XLS through an off-road obstacle course, challenging the traction on a couple of steep dusty slopes, and it never blinked. We noticed how nimbly the Raider turned in the tight areas, using its power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. We were spinning the steering wheel from full lock left to full lock right, and it never resisted. Such ease will be appreciated in parking lots.
A lot of work went into the suspension, front (coil-over shock) and rear (multi-leaf), and a nice compromise came out. However, the suspension was clearly not ready to be brutalized on the obstacle course; we could have easily hit bottom if we had half tried. But we had earlier driven about 100 smooth miles on a twisty and undulating two-lane highway, where the suspension was at home. The moral to the story is you can't have it both ways, at least not at this time with the XLS Raider. Try the DuroCross with heavier gas shocks, if you have a need for the boonies.
The Mitsubishi Raider is Dodge Dakota but better looking and with a longer warranty.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Oregon.