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Three trim levels include LS, DuroCross and XLS. Here’s a brief description of each and there may some minor differences between extended cab and Double Cab:

LS: Air conditioning, tachometer, tinted glass, AM/FM/CD audio with 4 speakers, front bench seat. Options include power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control and tilt steering column.

DuroCross: Adds 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, 6x9 heated foldaway mirrors, sliding rear window, leather trimmed steering wheel, floor mats, fender flairs, side steps, bedliner, heavy duty cooling and 750-amp battery. 4WD models add BFG All-Terrain tires, gas shocks, skid plates and limited slip differential. V8 adds power driver’s seat, standard towing package and satin interior finish accents. V8 options include premium sound system with 6-disc CD changer and subwoofer (bucket seats included in extended cab w/ this package).

XLS: Offered only in Double Cab. V8/automatic is standard along with tow package, premium audio, heated bucket seats, leather upholstery, center console, rear window defrost and heated mirrors. Options include fulltime 4WD transfer case, side-curtain air bags and 4-wheel ABS.

My first ride came behind the wheel of a 2WD extended cab DuroCross with the premium audio and accompanying cloth bucket seats. The interior is very no-nonsense and very dark. Seats were upright and firm yet accommodating. Certainly the most favorable impression has already been observed in previous Dakota test stories. The ride is quieter than expected, steering feel is improved with the new rack-and-pinion system, and the ride is more relaxing with the stiffer frame and improved suspension. There are no slight or noticeable differences in ride and handling between the Dakota and Raider. They are fraternal twins separated at birth.

Badge engineering is rarely looked upon favorably, mostly because styling between the vehicles is not distinctive enough to separate them. That’s not a problem with the Raider and Dakota. Whether or not appearance is a reason any mid-size truck shopper has rejected the Dakota is questionable. And even more debatable will be whether or not those consumers think the Raider has the right design. Mitsubishi is trying to promote itself as being the only import brand to offer a V8 in a mid-size pickup. The only problem is that the 230-horsepower V8 falls short of V6 engines offered by the import brands of Toyota (236 in the Tacoma) and Nissan (265 in Frontier). That’ll be a tough one for the dealers to explain.

The new Dodge Dakota is enjoying moderate success through the first eight months of 2005. Sales are up for 1 percent year-to-date while Tacoma is up 3 percent and Frontier is up 4 percent (GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado are up a combined 42% behind the employee pricing discount program). The Dakota/Raider platform is solid but there is so much competition within this segment and from steep discounts offered in the fullsize truck lines. The Raider will not disappoint open-minded shoppers if Mitsubishi can just get them into the dealership.

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