By on March 27, 2020

Buy/Drive/Burn has focused solely on Japanese trucks lately, and thus far covered the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. Today we turn to the new century and take a look at three midsize Japanese pickups. They have something in common: All them are pretending to be a different brand than they actually are.

Badge games, activate!

Isuzu i-370

The Isuzu is a Chevrolet in disguise. Isuzu had a history of using Chevrolet’s smaller truck as its own, as through 2000 it sold the S-10 rebadge known as Hombre. For the Colorado, Isuzu assisted GM with development of its new pickup. Chevrolet debuted the new Colorado in 2004, and the new i-Series went on sale for the 2006 model year. Available were the i-290 with a 2.9-liter inline-four, or the upmarket i-370, which used a 3.7-liter inline-five. Four-cylinder models were available only as extended cab, while five cylinders were found in the extended cab and crew cab. Transmissions included a four-speed auto or five-speed manual. A very poor seller, Isuzu was done marketing vehicles in the U.S. as 2008 drew to a close, and the i-Series was cancelled.

Mitsubishi Raider

This Mitsubishi is a Dodge through and through. Since the first Raider was a Dodge sourced from Mitsubishi, someone thought it would be funny if the second Raider was a Mitsubishi sourced from Dodge. Mitsubishi was without a pickup truck in the U.S. since 1996, and regulation meant its international trucks were subject to the chicken tax.

A no-go.

When the new Dakota debuted for the 2005 model year, the Raider followed as an ’06 model. Raiders had a two-step production process: They were first built in Warren, Michigan alongside the Dakota, and then sent to the DSM factory in Normal, Illinois where Mitsubishi-specific parts were attached with care. Extended cab and crew cabs were on offer, as were two different engines from the Grand Cherokee: a 3.7-liter V6 and a 4.7-liter V8. Sales were very poor, and the V8 option went away after 2007. Raider continued on through the 2009 model year, and was not replaced.

Suzuki Equator

Today’s Suzuki is a Nissan that put on a mustache. Suzuki had never sold a pickup in North America before, so it looked to a new Frontier. Based on the D40 Frontier that went on sale in 2004, the Equator hit Suzuki lots in 2008 as a 2009 model. U.S. customers chose from extended cab or crew cab varieties, while Canadians chose only from a single trim of the crew cab. Extended cab versions carried an optional 2.5-liter inline-four from Nissan or the venerable and thirsty VQ40 4.0-liter V6. The V6 came standard on crew cab trucks. Transmissions had five speeds, whether they were manual or automatic. Another slow seller, the Equator lasted only through 2010 in Canada, and 2012 in the U.S. Suzuki did not replace the Equator, withdrew from the U.S. during 2012, and Canada in 2014.

Three dead trucks from two dead brands (and one hanging by a thread). Which one’s worth a Buy in 2008?

[Images: Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Isuzu]

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56 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Japanese Pickup Truck Impostors From 2008...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I’m confused… Oh well, I’ll give it a try

    From the bottom up

    Buy: Nissan/Suzuki Equator

    Drive: Dodge/Mitsubishi Raider

    Burn: Chevy/Isuzu i-370

    But since I don’t have a lot of experience with any of them I could be wrong

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I still have a 2008 Isuzu I-370 4×4 crew cab with heated leather seats and tow package. I bought it new as Isuzu announced it was leaving the US market. At 10k off it was a steal and almost 12 years later it has been a solid truck. Hate on it all you want but it has been very reliable. If I were burning any of these trucks it would be the Raider which has the poor quality of most Chrysler products. The Suzuki Raider was a good truck and could be had at a sizable discount much lower than the Frontier and was definitely a buy.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @Corey–I live in NKY and if you ever want to drive and try out my Isuzu I-370 just let me know. My Isuzu is black with a black interior and is loaded and has about every option that was available. I bought it from Steve Castrucci Isuzu/Suzuki which doesn’t exist anymore.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    You can pretty much just arrange it by cylinders.

    Buy: A V8 Raider. If they’d only come with a V6, they’d be in the burn category.
    Drive: The Suzuki.
    Burn: The Isuzu.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The straight 5 is a misunderstood engine in that it is a much better engine than most people would think. The I-5 has plenty of torque and is by no means slow and it does not lack in acceleration even though you will not burn any rubber. Not unusual to see Colorados and Canyons with 200k or more miles still running strong on their original I-5s. The only draw back that I have had with the I-5 is that it is not as efficient as an I-4 but then it is a truck engine and it is geared as a truck and not a car. The I-5 has a steel timing chain and gear and is fairly smooth. I bought my Isuzu new for about 21k and it had an MSRP for 31k. There are few midsize trucks and even full size half ton trucks you could buy new for 21k. If the price is low enough then a not so popular truck becomes a good buy so long as it is reliable and meets your needs. Much rather have bought the Isuzu than pay the same price or more for a much higher mileage truck and the 5 year warranty including towing and road side assistance was something that you don’t get on a used truck (yes the warranty has expired but I will have had the Isuzu for 12 years next June). It has plenty of life left in it and I will keep it as long as I live in my current house.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      Agreed. I recall test driving a 2007 GMC Canyon CC 4×4 with the locking rear diff and the 3.7. it was fairly strong but I think the acceleration and FE were hampered by the 4spd transmission. A 5 or 6 spd would’ve done wonders in that application

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      There was a period where the I-5 was plagued by bad valve seats. The 4×2 front wheel hubs are an odd design and the brake rotors are a massive PITA to change.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    This one is pretty easy:
    Buy: Nissan
    Drive: Chevy
    Burn: Dodge

    The Frontier is a fine truck and my god there is no shortage of parts for its 200 year model run.
    The only experience I’ve had with the Chevy is with the base model trucks we had at work. So Jeff, maybe yours is better, but I wouldn’t put a dollar down on one knowing how low quality and agricultural the ones I drove felt.
    Mitsubishi took a bad truck and gave the buying public another option to get into one. I had a 99 and 00 Dakota R/T which I loved dearly, but that’s not to say I thought they were that great. And the later Dakotas kept me from ever considering another one.

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t even realize until yesterday that there was a revised visage for the Dakota for the last couple years of production, when it was officially a RAM Dakota.

      Where’d all the Dakotas go?

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “Where’d all the Dakotas go?”

        Daimler turned them into throwaway vehicles, so most of them were thrown away.

        • 0 avatar

          Dakota sales number fell off a cliff with the 2005 redesign.

          • 0 avatar
            eng_alvarado90

            Agreed. They started strong in 05 and 06 but by last year on the market (2011) they only sold like 10K units. I liked how you were able to get a decently sized cabin, a V8/6spd manual, as well as a full sized bed (same as my Ram at 6′ 4″), but that’s pretty much it

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            on the downside, they were ugly as sin, had terrible (Daimler-cheapened) interiors, and like the contemporary Durango, rusted prematurely (again thanks to Daimler cost cutting.)

    • 0 avatar

      The colorados always reminded me of my late 80’s Toyota. It’s like GM Bench marked a first gen Tacoma, 10 years too late. It actually kind of really makes me like them, but I think it’s off putting to most.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      This. Nothing wrong with the Frontier, and the Suzuki badge gives it an extra…something. Honestly, I never knew any of these trucks existed, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one.

  • avatar
    Jon

    I dunno. The 4.7V8 was sort of a hot little engine in its day (reliable too). My father had the previous generation Dakota with the 4.7. It was a fun truck to drive as a teenager.
    The Suzuki and Isuzu are highly reliable little trucks so it doesn’t feel right burning them either.

    Buy – Isuzu because deals abounded
    Drive – Raider, because fun.
    Burn – Raider after 200k of 21st century Chrylser trim and electrical gremlins.
    Do nothing with the Suzuki.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @Land Ark–The I-290s were agricultural and had a terrible ride quality. I test drove those and for about 5k more I got a crew cab, I-5, tow package, heated leather seats, auto dim mirror, power drivers and passenger seat, cruise control, fog lights, and some other features. The 5k difference the truck that I bought is totally different than the bare bones base model. I would agree with you on the I-290 but not on the I-370 especially the one I bought which is the best riding truck I have ever owned and rides more like a luxury car than a truck. I have owned a 63 IH 1000 step side, 85 Mitsubishi Mighty Max regular cab, and an extended cab 99 S-10 (with a 5 speed manual for over 20 1/2 years). The Isuzu by far is the nicest riding truck I have owned.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    There was a couple of all of these running around in my area up to a few years ago, I think the Isuzu is probably the longest lasting one on the road around me.

    I wish GM could figure out how to make 4 cylinders with that displacement again.

  • avatar
    theonlydt

    This is the easiest one for aaaaages.

    Buy: Suzuki. Back then the Frontier was competitive, I have a soft spot for it, and this is pure Frontier through and through. I’d happily drive this for a decade.

    Drive: Isuzu. Soft spot for inline 5s, but having seen the rust issues on its GM twins here in Canada I’d rather not take the plunge with my own money. No-one would have bought it, but a crew cab with inline 5, 4×4 and a six speed manual would have had me salivating.

    Burn: Dodgesubishi. The Dakota is proof the US needs to make abortion more accessible. Someone should have dealt with this POS before it ever made it into production.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My 3.7 I-5 is a fairly large displacement and it is way under stressed which is one reason that you see many Colorados, Canyons, and H3s with the I-5 still on the road with well over 200k miles. Not a glamorous or popular engine but long lasting.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      The original 3.5L had head issues from lugging when it was originally put in the much heavier full time 4×4 H3, it was quickly replaced with the 3.7L which has been fairly bulletproof from what I have seen. Of course the real gem is finding the 5.3L trucks that were offered.

      Edit: With that said I know of a 3.5L H3 that did have to have head work and hasn’t had any issue since then and is now around 260k miles.

  • avatar
    jrhmobile

    Buy and Drive the Isuzu.

    Kill the Mitsu and Suzuki with fire.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The 5.3 V8s are rare and were offered starting with MY 2008 on the Colorado and Canyon. One of the car dealers near me has a one owner 5.3 V8 4×4 2012 Colorado crew cab near me for 20k with 25k miles.

  • avatar
    JMII

    For the record my 2002 4.7l V8 2WD Dakota Quad Cab is still going strong despite all the black dots from Consumer Reports and general hate of Chrysler products (as seen in this post). I don’t think much other then styling changed between the 2nd gen (mine) and 3rd gen mentioned here as some of the same engine and transmissions were offered. The 3rd gen model gets no love as the full size truck market took off leaving it to die on the vine.

    As crazy as this sound my Dak might be the most reliable vehicle I’ve owned on a repairs-per-miles ratio. Currently its #2 in mileage and #1 in ownership years of the 14 vehicles I’ve owned. Turns out all those hard rock hard interior plastics hold up really well. Same goes for the basic cloth seats.

    • 0 avatar

      Have a 2000 Dakota 4.7. 185,000 miles. Has been remarkably cheap to run over the 10 or so years we have had it. Most of the stuff other then the heater core have been cheap easy fixes.

      The third gens were the height of Daimler cost cutting. The drivelines were fine for the most part, but here in the NE the beds started rusting at 5 years old, same for a lot of the trim and interior bits. They have pretty bad resale so I have been tempted to pick one up I even found a V8 manual one near me but I really hate how they look.

      • 0 avatar
        StudeDude

        I was lucky when I factory ordered my 2004 Dakota. The 2005-11 bodies were supposed to look more butch because they were squared off but DC miscalculated. The 1997-04 were the high point of Dakota styling and were pretty reliable. A bad master power window switch and climate control panel (Lucas manufactured) are the only issues for my truck after 16 years

      • 0 avatar
        eng_alvarado90

        I can definitely stand the 2008 and newer Dakotas. The refresh made them easier to my eyes. If I didn’t have my Ram, I’d get one of those for dirt cheap

    • 0 avatar
      Jon

      My father had 230k miles on his 99 when he traded it in in 2014. He was pleased with its service and power until the end. In the end, everything electronic, body and powertrain, had started to fail. The heater core repair was what convinced him to trade it in.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I like the Mitsu appearance better than the Dodge upon which it is based.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    what about the Mazda B series? I believe it was still available for 2008MY

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Buy Isuzu G370 – misunderstood pickup, the I-5 was a good engine and the rear-end/locking differential was off the GMT800 trucks of the era – oh – and you still can get parts and service

    Drive Suzuki Equator – this truck was a case of too little, too late, and at the wrong time. Still beautiful today, 5-speed auto, and the great Nissan engine. You can still get parts but not for a lot of other bits that were Suzuki specific over Nissan – while the G370 was darn close to badge engineering

    Burn Mitsubishi Raider – this was the dark days of the three-headed dog at Chrysler and Mitsubishi quality was about as low as it could get.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Buy: A sedan.
    Drive: A fullsize truck.
    Burn: This comment. [Didn’t follow the rules, and some people love small trucks.]

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Suzuki Equator-I’ve know a few people who have owned the Nissan versioning have gotten well over 200k of reliable service out of them. If that delivery guy could get 1 million miles out of his base model

    Drive: Mitsubishi Raider-Granted the Daimler era cost cutting is a concern. The 1997-04 Dakota was a nice truck with better quality both are great particularly for those who didn’t need a full sizer but wanted a bit more room.

    Burn: Isuzu i-370-Ok the 5 banger makes it unique. I always thought GM had plans for the 4 and 5 cylinder Atlas motors in their RWD cars like the CTS and Camaro.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    In regards to the Equator being Suzuki’s first pickup in North America, I swear I remember seeing a Samurai pickup or two in Canada in the early 90’s, but I can’t find anything to back that up.

    Otherwise, the Suzuki is the easy choice to buy. It might be outdated, thirsty, and have a massive turning circle, but consensus seems to be it’s stout. I’d probably drive the Isuzu for the novelty of the five-cylinder, which leaves the Raider to burn.

    • 0 avatar

      You may have seen some Samurais with their tops off. Many had removable roofs.

      https://i.ytimg.com/vi/IN0Kzeg3zLY/maxresdefault.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        I mean, even as a kid, I would have known what a typical Samurai looked like (since virtually all were the SWB soft top), and when one was different. I can find a few vague references to them being sold in Canada, but it might have been grey market importing, and none of this is trustworthy.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    As always, more fantastic FREE education ! =8-) .

    “The I-290s were agricultural and had a terrible ride quality.” so then, it’s an actual work truck, that’s what makes it so bad ? .

    I love basic fleet trucks, they’re often designed with hard work and long life in mind & I’ll trade off the non sports car handling and Cadillac ride .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    Drive: the Suzuki. Get rid of it after 5 years
    Buy: the Isuzu. It will still be working after the Nissan breaks and parts will be 5x cheaper
    Burn: the craptacular and hideous Raider. Oh god.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Buy the Frontier. Deal with paying for a bit of extra gas for the VQ40.

    Drive the Colorado. Five-cylinder engine noise is cool.

    Burn the Dakota. Burn every 4.7 engine polluting the earth, anywhere.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Suzuki and Isuzu are actively manufacturing and selling passenger vehicles. Just not here in USA/Canada.

    Mitsubishi builds and sells the L200 / Triton pickup. Just not here in USA/Canada.

    All three brands are too small to survive on their own if you believe automotive experts. The only way to obtain scale for the vehicles they do make is to sell them under the umbrella of a larger brand partner. Mitsubishi shows no evidence of benefit from it’s alliance.

    Time for GM, FCA, and Ford to go shopping…..

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