Curbside Capsule: 1987-89 Dodge Raider & 2006-09 Mitsubishi Raider – Raiders Of The Lost Market

(first posted 7/3/2017)       One of these is a Mitsubishi badged as a Dodge. The other is a Dodge badged as a Mitsubishi. Both are called Raider, but they were sold two decades apart. Neither were particularly popular, and yet by sheer coincidence I found these two a block apart from each other.

Let’s start with the Dodge… err, Mitsubishi. By the time of the Raider’s launch in 1987, the Chrysler Corporation had been selling captive Mitsubishi imports for over a decade. With SUV sales increasing, Chrysler decided the Dodge brand needed product as all it had to offer was the full-size Ramcharger. Chrysler negotiated with Mitsubishi to get a version of its Montero off-roader.

The Dodge Raider was sold for only an abbreviated run of three model years. The Montero gained a four-door variant in 1989 and an optional 3.0 V6 but Dodge received only the V6. The standard engine on both Montero and Raider was Mitsubishi’s venerable 2.6 Astron four-cylinder with 109 hp and 142 ft-lbs; the V6 was a relatively pricey option at $1727 but added a healthy 32 hp and 29 ft-lbs.

Mitsubishi was surprisingly slow at getting the four-door Montero to the North American market, considering it launched in Japan back in 1983. This poor planning reminds one of GM’s lengthy delay in developing a four-door S-10 Blazer. It’s also surprising Dodge didn’t receive the four-door version. Was Mitsubishi keeping it all to itself? Was Chrysler trying to protect the hot-selling Cherokee at its newly acquired Jeep division? Dodge dealers, after all, were trying to get their hands on the Wrangler and Cherokee but Chrysler management decided against rebadging the Jeeps.

The Raider proved to be a fairly slow seller for Dodge dealers. The short (92.5 inch) wheelbase made for a choppy ride, a tippy feel, and poor on-road refinement but the Raider was in its element off-road. Then again, so was a Cherokee and it managed to behave better on-road and achieve better fuel economy. The Raider mustered only 16/19 mpg with the four-cylinder/stick combo or 17/17 mpg with the V6/auto – similar figures to the contemporary Isuzu Trooper – while a Cherokee could achieve 3 mpg better in both the city and on the highway.

Bizarrely, when I was visiting our Brendan Saur in Boston, I spotted an identical Raider. I had to check the license plates to make sure the Raider hadn’t followed me up from NYC.

a mid-range 2006-07 Raider DuroCross

Although the Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup was discontinued from the North American market in 1996, Mitsubishi has continued to sell the popular L300/Triton pickup in a multitude of global markets since then. Maybe Mitsubishi North America wouldn’t be in such dire straits if they brought over the L300 and its SUV companion, the Pajero Sport. Nevertheless, Mitsubishi went without a rival to the Dodge Dakota until 2006 when it, well, rebadged a Dodge Dakota.

Even when Chrysler and Mitsubishi haven’t been building cars together, they’ve partnered on numerous projects like the Global Engine Alliance. The 2006 Raider was a little more of a one-sided collaboration. Although the truck wears the contemporary corporate look of the Mitsubishi range – and wears it quite well – the truck is little more than a Dakota with some new sheetmetal and a slightly different interior design.

Why choose a Raider over a Dakota? Besides the different styling, Mitsubishi offered a best-in-class 5-year/60,000-mile warranty while the Dakota had only a 3-year/36,000-mile one, although Mitsubishi’s dealer network was much smaller than Chrysler’s. Otherwise, the Raider was no different from a Dakota.

That meant the same engine line-up – a 210 hp 3.7 V6 and a 230 hp 4.7 V8 – although the high-output 260 hp 4.7 remained exclusive to Dodge. A regular cab option was also missing, with the Raider offered only in extended cab and crew cab styles. A six-speed manual was standard with both engines, with automatics of four speeds (with the V6) or five (with the V8) optional. 2WD was standard, with part-time or full-time 4WD available; niceties like Bluetooth, leather seats, and seat heaters were also available on the higher-end variants.

2006 Raider XLS Double Cab

With with just 235 ft-lbs of torque on tap, the 3.7 V6 struggled to haul around 4300 lbs of truck. Even the V8 was outpunched by rivals: the V6 in the Nissan Frontier, for example, had more horsepower and came close to matching the V8 in torque. Also unimpressive were the Raider’s brakes: rear drums and anti-lock brakes on only two wheels. However, critics otherwise found the Raider (and Dakota) to be a very pleasant truck to drive with a comfortable ride and capable handling.

Mitsubishi had been out of the market for so long that it was no longer on pickup buyer’s minds. First year sales failed to exceed 10,000 annual units while Dodge sold more than seven times as many Dakotas. Dealers quickly found themselves with a six-month supply of the slow-selling truck and so for 2008 Mitsubishi slashed the model range down to a single V6 trim in either regular cab or double cab styles. Mitsubishi’s first V8 pickup was short-lived.

By its final two years on sale, the Raider was selling only a few thousand units per year, languishing with the other “loser” pickups like the Mazda B-Series, Isuzu I-Series, and Suzuki Equator which all sold in the same numbers. Mitsubishi finally pulled the plug.

Both times the Raider name was used in North America, the truck was unsuccessful. There’s an expression that twice is coincidence, thrice is a pattern. There’s only one way to find out if that’s true: dust off the Raider name again, slap it on something, and see if it sells.

Raiders photographed in Washington Heights, NY in May/June 2017.

Related Reading:

COAL: 2003 Dodge Dakota – Perfection?

CC Capsule: 1989 Mitsubishi Montero V6 – Rare Raider

Obscure Rebadges From Around the World – Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4