The Baby Bear would love this one.
by Dean Stevens
Base Price (MSRP) $13,910
As Tested (MSRP) $29,090
Dodge Dakota takes the middle ground in terms of size. Some people find full-size pickups too big, and smaller, compact trucks too small. For them, the Dakota seems just right. The Dakota is larger than the Ford Ranger, Chevy S-10, GMC Sonoma, Toyota Tacoma and other so-called compact pickups, but it's not quite as big as a Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado.
For 2001, the biggest news is a redesigned interior with a more car-like feel.
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 $13,910; Sport Regular Cab 2WD goes for $14,695; and SLT Regular Cab sells for $16,810. Sport trim adds better seats and interior trim and upgrades to the exterior. SLT offers more luxuries, bright bumpers and grille, and more options.
Four engines are available: a 120-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4, a 175-horsepower 3.9-liter V6, a 230-horsepower 4.7-liter V8, and a 250-horsepower 5.9-liter V8. The 4.7-liter was new to the Dakota line last year. Manual and automatic transmissions are available, with the 4.7-liter offering a sophisticated five-ratio four-speed 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.
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 $2,420 to a Club Cab and $2,380 to a Regular Cab.
Dakota shares its Freightliner styling with the full-size 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-foot 6-inch bed - a good size for a compact truck. The Quad Cab, on the other hand, has a 5-foot 3-inch bed. According to Dodge, people seldom need the full length of the longer bed. Our experience, however, is that when you need it, you need it. 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. Sometimes the bed extender works great, but a lowered tailgate with a mesh opening won't hold dirt back like longer bed with a solid tailgate. Dodge also offers a special shell developed for the Dakota by Leer that provides a protected cargo area.
The Dakota gets an all-new interior for 2001. The instrument panel is easier to reach and easier to use, and almost all of the switchgear has changed. One example is the new rotary dial for the electronic transfer case, replacing the lever used previously. Door trim and carpeting are updated, as are the center and overhead consoles. Leather is now optional on Quad Cab. Dodge hopes the changes will ease the transition into a truck for first-time buyers who are used to the convenience and creature comforts of a car.
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 a 40/20/40 split. The wide console works well as a storage area for miscellaneous junk, 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.
The driver and front seat passenger had tons of legroom.
The rear doors open wide - about 37 inches. Getting in and out of the rear seat is aided by the fact that there is no cutout for the rear wheels (like there is in many sport-utilities). Head clearance and foot clearance, however, make getting out a bit more difficult.
Though roomier than any other compact truck, the rear seating area in the Quad Cab offers limited legroom. There's good knee room, but not a lot of foot space for stretching legs. Like most of the smaller crew cab pickups, the rear seat back is bolt upright, and not very comfortable. There's plenty of headroom in the rear seats, however. Children and smaller adults should be happy back there, but taller folk will find the space confining. Unlike some SUVs, the rear windows on the Quad Cab roll all the way down.
A better use for the rear of the Quad Cab is to fold the rear 60/40 split bench seats entirely out of the way for a nice, secure storage area. Not all compact trucks allow the seats to be folded out of the way like these on the Dodge. You can set up half of the rear seat for a passenger and still have room to tote stuff.
Controls are nicely placed and easy to operate. The $660 AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo offers superb sound through eight Infinity speakers spread around the cab. 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 ($1160) and includes compartments for sunglasses and garage door openers, auto-dimming rearview mirror and map lights.
The Dodge Dakota Sport 4X4 Quad Cab is smooth and comfortable. Wind noise is a companion at higher speeds.
The rotary dial for transfer case is easy to reach and operate. We hit one particularly sandy section and switched easily into 4WD without dropping speed. Later, on a steep hill, we switched 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 back end has a tendency to lose grip at speed - common in unloaded pickups. We were impressed with the Quad Cab's turning radius. For a truck its length, it makes relatively tight turns.
The brakes deliver straight and true stopping power. Our Quad Cab had the optional four-wheel anti-lock brakes ($495).
Dodge claims its 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'd 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 that can be fun to drive. The 4.7-liter V8 in our Quad Cab offers great performance and works seamlessly with the specially designed automatic transmission.
The added interior room of the Quad Cab makes it extremely convenient on a day-to-day basis. Along with the hauling capability of the bed, it's almost like having two vehicles in one.
If you don't want a full-size truck, but compact pickups seem too small, then the Dodge Dakota may be just right.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.