The Dodge Dakota launched the mid-size pickup truck market when introduced in early 1986, but the redesigned 2005 version has become nearly a full-size model that can do many full-size pickup jobs.
Dodge still calls the new-generation Dakota a mid-size pickup. It retains nearly the same wheelbase at 131.3 inches, but is about four inches longer, 2.7 inches wider and hundreds of pounds heavier than its predecessor.
The new Dakota thus has nearly full-size pickup truck proportions. It's one of few Dodge trucks without a Hemi V-8, which wouldn't fit without costly under-hood alterations, but has strong conventional V-8s.
As with its predecessors, the 2004 Dakota was larger than compact pickups but not quite a full-size one.
That made it pretty much a flop for years because most pickup buyers wanted either a small or large pickup. But the market always changes, and the Dakota has become more appealing to folks in recent years, when many different sizes and types of vehicles have been introduced.
New Dakota features include sleeker styling with sharper and more geometric lines, giving this truck the appearance of its bigger brothers, the Ram and Durango.
There's also a stronger frame and stiffer construction for better ride and handling, besides a new high-output V-8. Brakes are updated, and there's a new front/rear suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, besides improved refinement and sound deadening.
Also new: optional side curtain air bags for all seats, standard Laramie automatic headlights, six-speed manual transmission instead of a five-speed unit, handsome chrome-clad 17-inch wheels, optional Infinity speaker system and an extra-cost satellite digital audio radio system.
The new Dakota has quick steering and an almost carlike ride, although there is some choppiness over bad roads with four-wheel-drive versions. Handling is good, although traction and stability control systems aren't offered. Stopping distances are comfortable. Rear-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard, with a front-rear anti-lock system an extra $495. The all-disc brake option is gone.
Towing capacity is increased to 7,150 pounds from 6,500 pounds.
The redesigned, hushed interior has gauges that can be quickly read and nice, easily reached controls. However, the interior looks subpar, with drab colors and too much hard shiny plastic.
At least there's plenty of room in the Quad Cab version, which has four carlike doors. The Dakota also is offered as a Club Cab model, which had only two front doors last year but has added two rear-hinged back doors that don't open independently of front ones.
The Dakota comes in ST, SLT and top-line Laramie trim levels. The six Club Cab extended cab versions list for $19,510 to $27,325, while the six roomier Quad Cab crew cab models cost from $20,910 to $28,815 for the Laramie four-wheel-drive Quad Cab that I tested.
The Club Cab has a six-foot, six-inch cargo bed, while the Quad Cab has a five-foot, four-inch bed.
The Dakota comes with rear-drive, four-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive. Both four- and all-wheel drive systems have low-range gearing for tough off-road driving.
The four-wheel drive isn't for dry roads, but I tested the Dakota after a heavy snowfall and was happy to leave it engaged on slippery side streets, where it provided good traction. Low-range gearing let it pull out of snowbanks as if it were the Fourth of July.
Dodge calls the new Dakota a mid-size pickup. That way, it can state that the truck has advantages over, say, the redesigned Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. For one thing, it's got the only V-8 in its class; the new Tacoma and Frontier have four- and six-cylinder engines.
The Dakota is too big and heavy for its standard 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 to provide anything but middling performance outside town. But its available 4.7-liter V-8 does much better, producing 230 horsepower and more torque in standard form. The high-output 4.7-liter V-8 generates 260 horsepower with even more torque.
The V-6 comes with either a six-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic transmission, and the standard V-8 works with either the manual or a five-speed automatic. The high-output V-8 comes only with the five-speed automatic.
Fuel economy is mediocre with any engine: The V-6 delivers an estimated 15-16 mpg in the city and 19-22 on highways, depending on the transmission and drive setup, and the regular V-8 providing 14-15 city and 19-20 highway. The high-output V-8 provides 14 and 18.
The Dakota has a leg up on rivals, if only because it has the only V-8s in its class. And such things as its improved refinement, ride and handling also should help sales.
2005 DODGE DAKOTA
Nicely redesigned. Refined. Fast with available V-8s. Good ride and handling.
Lazy with standard V-6. Bland interior. Larger size hinders in-town use. Marginal fuel economy.