To the best of my knowledge, Raleigh still has some pretty good designers. I can say that about the '02 & '03 Raleigh "Heritage" series anyway, which were the Professional + Chorus and International + Centaur (Columbus Zona) and Team + Record (Airplane) that were built for just those 2 years. (The last Airplane Team's were '04, but they were no longer OEM'ed with Record, they were D/A) Based on my experience with the Pro for the past 2 years 4 months, I would say it is the equal of any other 'non-custom' Zona Megatube frame, because the geom and welding were very well done for that tubeset, at least on the 56 size I have. I would be willing to put this frame up against any other similar Zona frame designed/built in Europe.
If this exact frame had "Orbea" or "Cinelli" or "Merckx" printed on it, it would have been at least 50% more in price. But I will argue that the extra $400.+ would not have bought a better stock-size Zona frame.
I've read somewhere that Bob Roll said the '02/'03 Pro was a "near-perfect" bike even in its OEM form, and Bicycling
mag also gave it a rave in '02, (but they rave about too
many bikes really
). Also for those model year's they produced only 250 Team's - each was numbered, and the geom was adjusted from the Pro's & Int'nl's geom to account for the Airplane tubing and Carve seat stays. I think at that time, Raleigh's designers were as competent as any in the world.
The fact that I've kept my '03 Pro for so long now says a lot. I bought the frame/fork/HS and then built it the way I wanted, though I did not like the OEM Columbus Link fork (surely a cost-cutting measure on Raleigh's part), so I replaced it with a Muscle. If this frame had proved inferior, I would have sold it quickly thereafter.
The fact that the tubesets were sent to the Far East for welding & painting is really not an issue that concerns performance or aesthetics, as long as the workmanship was high quality, which it was.
As far as how well the current Raleigh CF frames are designed and built, I don't know yet. They have certainly gone through different ownerships over the years and perhaps different philosophies, but from what I've seen of Raleigh's top models since '02, they deserve to be counted as a serious road bike - even though they may not carry the Euro-panache that other marques may have.
...in my semi-humble opinion!