The 2006 Mitsubishi Raider is an all-new midsize pickup truck, although "all new" in this case must be qualified because it uses the chassis and engine of the Dodge Dakota and comes off the Dakota assembly line in Detroit. However, its sheet metal is totally unlike the Dakota's, and its interior is a unique design as well.
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.
Our Mitsubishi Raider Double Cab XLS had the 4.7-liter V8 engine, and we wouldn't even consider owning the 3.7-liter V6. There's a big difference in performance, a small difference in price, and an insignificant difference in fuel mileage: 15/19 mpg for a 4WD V6, and 14/19 mpg for the V8. The single-overhead-cam V8 and the V6 are the same basic engine, but somehow the extra two cylinders add good power with zero downside. And the V8 runs on regular fuel, unlike some of the competition, for example the Toyota Tacoma, whose 240-horsepower V6 engine requires 91 octane.
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.