This is the story of the Incredible Shrinking Truck. Not that the Mitsubishi Might Max has been downsized. It was a compact pickup to begin with, comparable in size to the similar trucks offered by Nissan and Toyota. But what keeps shrinking over the years is the number variations.
Once upon a time, the Mighty Max was available in extended-cab, 2-wheel-drive, 4-wheel-drive, 4-cylinder or V6 versions, following the same mix-and-match formula successfully used by the Mighty Max?s competitors. There were even Mighty Maxes that showed up at Dodge dealerships to be sold as Dodge Ram 50s.
There was also an extended cab version that will be missed if only for its alluring name: the Mighty Max Macrocab. It?s worth noting that extended cabs represent one of the hottest segments of pickup truck sales, compact and full-size alike.
But times have changed at Mitsubushi. There is but a single Mighty Max available for 1995, with one engine and one drive system, two transmission possibilities and an option list that contains only a handful of items.
The reason is simple. Mitsubishi is concentrating on its more profitable core product - passenger cars and sport/utilities - and is leaving most of the compact pickup market to its rivals.
Thanks to the Dakota, Dodge ceased to be a client, and pickup trucks weren?t pulling crowds into Mitsubishi showrooms. To compete against its powerhouse rivals, the company would have been forced to spend large amounts of money retooling its pickup line.
This dilemma was deepened by Mitsubishi?s Montero sport/utility vehicle. Unlike the sport/utilities from Toyota and Nissan, which share a common chassis with the Toyota and Nissan compact pickups, the Montero chassis is a separate entity.
With a Montero redesign not far away, updating the Mighty Max meant investing in two separate truck chassis at a time when development dollars - or yen - were scarce.
That didn?t make good business sense to Mitsubishi. So what remains is a basic-but-practical truck for people who have no need for fancy graphics, wheel-arch flares or Kustom Kabs. If you want simple, inexpensive and efficient, the Might Max is for you.
Mitsubishi?s minimalistic approach to the Might Max means there is no news on the visual front for 1995. We rated our test truck as boxy and plain but not unattractive. There are no styling gimmicks. This is pickup-truck sheet metal at its simplest, bolted to a sturdy and stiff ladder frame.
The same can be said of the pickup box, which is 6 ft. long and almost 5 ft. wide above the rear wheel wells. However, it measures less than 4 ft. between the wheel wells. You can?t put a 4 ft. x 8 ft. plywood sheet - a basic unit of capacity in the work trucks - flat on the cargo bed. But the same holds true for the Max?s rivals.
The Mighty Max is powered by a 116-hp, 2.4-liter SOHC 4-cylinder engine, equipped with balance shafts that spin in the opposite direction from the engine?s crankshaft.
This balance shaft technology helps to damp out the primary vibrations inherent in 4-cylinder engines, and is making a difference on more and more vehicles these days.
But that?s about as high-tech as the Mighty Max engine gets. It?s designed to be a basic workhorse, and its strength is in its amount of torque - the low rpm power you use to get rolling and to haul heavy loads - rather than horsepower.
As a result, the Mighty Max is a little above average in torque production, and it?s also a little better than average in fuel economy. Both of these are highly attractive traits in a truck that?s likely to work for a living.
A 5-speed manual transmission is standard and a 4-speed automatic transmission is optional. Both are sturdy and easy to live with. Our test truck was equipped with the manual, and that?s what we recommend because it makes the most of the Max?s power. The same can be said for virtually any compact pickup.
Regardless of your transmission choice, though, only rear-wheel drive is available. The 4WD system previously offered was a relatively primitive part-time unit. Its absence probably won?t be missed by the urban work-truck buyers who will most likely be attracted to the Mighty Max.
Those buyers will appreciate the Mighty Max?s suspension system, which plays a key part in this truck?s hefty payload - almost 1600 lb.
The downside of a high a payload rating is some ride harshness. Springs designed to accommodate lots of cargo get pretty bouncy when the cargo box is empty. This tends to improve when there?s some weight back there, but a smooth all-day ride wasn?t part of our Max?s act.
We?d say that two people can ride in reasonable comfort on the Mighty Max bench seat. Officially, there?s room for three, but both transmissions have a floor-mounted shift lever so the center occupant?s lot will not be a happy one. Driver and a single passenger will do fine, although the comfort level certainly won?t remind you of your living room sofa.
There aren?t any passive restraints in this truck. Mitsubishi didn?t make the investment because the company plans to discontinue this truck entirely before the government requires that there be airbags in pickups. There are, however, side-impact door beams.
The interior of our Mighty Max test truck was pretty plain fare. Fabrics and plastics appear to have been chosen for their durability, not flash quotient.
A rectangular box just in front of the driver holds the speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges, and secondary controls such as headlights, wipers and turn signals are operated by familiar control stalks.
The sole luxury touch - if you don?t add the optional CD player or air conditioning - is a tilt stering wheel.
For a practical truck, though, the Mighty Max is comfortable enough. Power steering is recommended, even though the little Mitsubishi is relatively light. However, as is the case with all pickups, most of the weight is riding on the front wheels, which can make parking lot maneuvers a bit heavy.
Although it?s a bit of a stretch to rate the Mighty Max as a fun truck to drive, it?s certainly easy to operate. Whether you?re delivering a few pizzas or 1000 lb. of Parmesan cheese, the Mighty Max is nimble in traffic, takes corners handily and is a breeze to park.
You should pay close attention, though, when driving an unladen Mighty Max in wet weather. There?s no anti-lock feature available for the Max?s brake system, which makes it a little too easy to lock the rear brakes on slick surfaces. And when that happens, it?s probably anybody?s guess as to which end of the truck will go first.
As we noted earlier, the Mighty Max won?t press you back against the seat with its acceleration, but it?s a stout little load-hauler. Our Mighty Max test truck reminded us of the little engine that could - it just kept chugging and snorting and got the job done.
About the only proviso is the Max?s 3500-lb. towing limit. Like a good many other compact trucks. This is an ambitius limit. If your trailer nudges much over 2000 lb., you?ll probably want more power than the Max can deliver.
Even though the Mighty Max is low on flash, it is high on value. It?s not likely to suffer from rough use, and it?s even less likely to fail when you need it most.
With its low price, the Max makes an ideal all-purpose, light-duty work truck - or perhaps for a family, a utilitarian third or fourth vehicle that will stand up to the abuse dished out by enthusiastic teens and the chores of everyday hauling.
If frills don?t matter to you, cheap and durable add up to a combination that will be tough to beat.
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