This truck is just right.
by Dean Stevens
Base Price $13,555
As Tested $28,375
Goldilocks would have liked the Dodge Dakota. Some people find large, full-sized pickups too big, and smaller, compact trucks too small. Larger than the Ford Ranger, Chevy S-10 and other so-called compact pickups, the Dodge Dakota is the largest compact truck on the market today. It's really an intermediate-sized pickup.
Inside, the Dakota just got bigger with the introduction of the four-door Quad Cab. It features four forward-swinging doors and a back seat that's roomier than those found in extended-cab pickups. While the Quad Cab doesn't have as much room in the rear seating area as a full-size crew cab like the Ford F-150 SuperCrew, it does have more interior room than you'll find in other compact trucks.
Dodge Dakota is available in three cab configurations: Regular Cab, Club Cab, and Quad Cab. Club Cabs are only available with two doors.
Choose from three trim levels: base, Sport and SLT. Base Regular Cab 2WD retails for $13,555; Sport Regular Cab 2WD goes for $14,860; and SLT Regular Cab sells for $16,975. Sport trim adds better seats and interior trim and upgrades to the exterior. SLT offers more luxuries, bright bumpers and grille, and more options.
Dakota's stable offers an array of engines: 2.5-liter inline-4, 3.9-liter V6, 4.7-liter V8, and 5.7-liter V8. The 4.7-liter is new to the Dakota line this year. Manual and automatic transmissions are available; the 4.7-liter offers a sophisticated new automatic as an option. Two types of four-wheel drive are available: One is a part-time system with shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive that works well for off-road use. The other is a fulltime four-wheel-drive system designed to provide all-weather traction capability.
Gone is the optional 8-foot bed. New color choices: dark garnet, red pearl coat, sierra bronze pearl coat, amber fire pearl coat, and patriot blue pearl coat.
Limited-production R/T models come with a high-performance version of the 5.9-liter V8. Less restrictive exhaust increases horsepower and torque and offers a more aggressive exhaust note. Available on 2WD Regular or Club Cabs, the Dakota R/T Sport Group includes aggressive (255/55R17) tires mounted on 17-inch aluminum wheels, heavy-duty stabilizer bars, and a limited-slip rear differential. The R/T is lowered 1 inch. The package adds bucket seats, fog lights, special trim and a long list of convenience items. It adds $2,410 to a Club Cab and $2,370 to a Regular Cab.
Dakota features the Freightliner styling of the bigger Dodge Ram. Bold lines give it a big, burley look, like it's ready to take on anything that comes its way.
Regular and Club Cabs have a 6-ft. 6-in. bed - a good size for a compact truck. The Quad Cab, on the other hand, has a 5-ft. 3-in. bed. According to Dodge, people seldom need the full length of the longer bed. Those who need more cargo space can consider an optional bed extender -an aluminum cage that flips over the lowered tailgate to extend the bed by 18 inches. It adds utility, but it isn't like having a full-sized bed. Dodge also offers a special shell developed for the Dakota by Leer that provides a protected cargo area.
Visibility from inside the Dakota Quad Cab is outstanding. The driver sits high and there are no obvious blind spots. Optional 6x9-inch mirrors improve visibility rearward.
The Quad Cab is roomy and comfortable. The front seat is 40/20/40 split. The wide console Dodge has been using in Ram and Dakota pickups works well for storage area, but it gets in the way when fastening seat belts. A pullout cup holder at the foot of the center section is a nice touch. For $200 you can replace the 40/20/40 split bench with high-back buckets with a center console.
Though roomier than any other compact truck, the rear seating area offers limited legroom. Children and smaller adults should be happy back there, but taller folk will find the space confining. A better use for this space is to fold the rear 60/40 split bench seats entirely out of the way for a nice, secure storage area. Or you can leave part of the seat down for a passenger and still have room to tote stuff.
Controls are nicely placed and easy to operate. One exception: the $660 AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo offers superb sound through eight Infinity speakers spread around the cab, but the controls are small and confusing. Our test truck came with the overhead electronic console with an eight-point compass and ambient temperature that are useful when traveling. It also features a trip computer and odometer that reports fuel economy and fuel tank range. The console is part of the Overhead Convenience Group ($975) and includes compartments for sunglasses and garage door openers, auto-dimming rearview mirror and map lights.
Our Dodge Dakota Sport 4X4 Quad Cab offered impeccable road manners during the four-hour journey north from Los Angeles to the Owens River in northeastern California. The new 4.7-liter V8 quickly spoiled us, and the smooth ride made the journey a pleasure. There was a considerable amount of wind noise, which was overpowered by that wonderful sound system. Once in the Owens Valley we hooked up with a couple of fly fishers and headed for the river.
The driver and front seat passenger had tons of legroom. Fortunately, our backseater was on the short side, so he was relatively happy in his space. The rear doors are fairly wide - about 37 inches. That, coupled with the fact that there is no cutout in them for the rear wheel-well (like there is in many SUVs), makes getting in and out of the rear seat relatively easy. It also means the rear windows roll all the way down.
The floor-mounted transfer case lever (Dodge doesn't offer push-button 4WD on the Dakota) is easy to reach and operate. We hit one particularly sandy section and slipped easily into 4WD without dropping speed. Later, on a steep hill, we pulled the transfer case into 4WD-low and easily walked up a hill that had a good 15-degree grade.
On washboard sections of hard-packed dirt roads in 2WD, the backend had a tendency to fishtail - common in unloaded pickups. It exhibited similar tendencies in radical transient maneuvers on dry pavement. The brakes delivered straight and true stopping power. Our Quad Cab had the optional four-wheel anti-lock brakes ($495). We were impressed with the Quad Cab's turning radius. For a truck its length, it makes relatively tight turns.
Dodge claims its new 4.7-liter V8 ($590), designed from a clean sheet of paper, is the most refined V8 ever offered on a Dodge truck. It's a powerful little devil, rated at 235 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. It offers all the power and torque you expect from a V8.
The 4.7-liter engine can be paired with a five-speed manual or Dodge's new “multi-speed” automatic transmission. It's a fully electronic four-speed automatic with a dual-ratio second gear. This transmission was designed in tandem with the 4.7-liter engine and they are precisely calibrated to each other. Its onboard computer continuously adjusts the shift pattern to match the way the truck is driven. A tall first gear ratio gives the driver better initial acceleration. It selects one of two second-gear ratios based on load and driver input. Its reverse gear uses a ratio equal to the first gear, beneficial when backing up with a heavy trailer.
Dodge Dakota is a solid, well-built truck I found fun to drive. The new 4.7-liter V8 in our Quad Cab offers great performance and works seamlessly with a specially designed automatic transmission.
If you don't want a full-size truck and compacts seem too small, then the Dodge Dakota may be just right.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.