First Drive: Mitsubishi Sport Truck Concept
By: Mike Magda, Editor, PickupTruck.comPosted: 05-06-04 17:14 PT
© 2004 PickupTruck.com

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Following a 10-year absence, Mitsubishi will return to the pickup market next year with a 2006 model based on the new Dodge Dakota platform. The announcement was made at the 2004 Detroit auto show when Mitsubishi unveiled its Sport Truck Concept, a bold urban-assault vehicle that obviously had few intentions of hauling bricks (check out our Detroit coverage).

Mitsubishi concedes that the Big 3 truck makers dominate the industrial and work truck market. The company’s partner, Dodge, has the fullsize Ram and midsize Dakota, each with impressive credentials in horsepower, torque, towing capacity and payload within their respective categories. In fact, the Dakota pretty much sealed the coffin on the previous Mitsubishi pickup.

Remember the Mighty Max? Remember the Macrocab? Mitsubishi had a thriving, value-driven lineup of compact pickups for the US market, starting in the late ‘70s. The company also made versions for Dodge and Plymouth called the Ram 50 and Arrow, respectively. Choices included two- or four-wheel-drive, regular or extended cab, 4- or 6-cylinder engines. But when the Dakota was introduced as a 1987 model, there was less emphasis on the Mitsubishi compact truck platform.

The Arrow was last seen in 1982 as Plymouth tried to rebadge the front-wheel-drive Dodge Rampage as the Scamp the following year. The Ram 50 was discontinued in 1994, the same year Dodge came out with its all-new T300 fullsize truck platform. Then Mitsubishi stopped offering the Mighty Max for sale in the US following the 1995 model year, although the truck is still produced for other countries, even as a crew-cab model.

Although the next Mitsubishi will be based on 2005 Dakota chassis, Mitsubishi designers took a clean-sheet approach when sketching the Sport Truck Concept.

“What would be right for our brand?” Rich Plavetich, one of the design leaders asked of his team. “Try and forecast where we’re going with truck.”

The Sport Truck Concept received mostly positive reviews following its debut in Detroit over the winter. There were enough innovations to draw interest and a solid vision of what is possible on a production line. There was a body that inspired passion and a restrained engineering team that kept the truck focused on the intended market.

“We were trying to do a truck that’s more of a lifestyle truck,” says Plavetich. “It still had to have durability. On the other hand, it had to have more of a sense of style and fashion, and it needed to be more athletic.”

In early May, the press was invited the crawl around its concept truck and cruise around a closed course within a regional park in the Los Angeles area. The concept was built on a 2004 Dakota platform, so there were hardly any surprises. The rear suspension on the concept is an independent setup pulled from a new Mitsubishi Endeavor SUV, but at 15mph there was no noticeable increase in handling prowess or ride comfort.

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