The larger-than-expected Dakota brings plenty of power and two different cab configurations to the table in the 2006 model year. Also in the mix this year are four 'specialty' performance models each appealing to a different target audience.
Dodge's entry pickup was totally redesigned in the 2005 model year. When it first appeared on the scene in the mid 1980s, the truck fit more into the compact segment, now some twenty years later, Dodge promotes the vehicle as a mid-size, and deservedly so. The larger dimensions allow for Dakota to boast the roomiest interior in the 'small' pickup segment. Dakota joins the full-size Ram pickup to round out pickup truck offerings from the Chrysler Group's Dodge division. Dodge assembles Dakota in Warren, Michigan.
Cab configurations include the larger Quad Cab (four full-size door) and a Club Cab (sometimes known as a Crew Cab by competitors) with two smaller rear access doors and no exterior facing handles. A couple of new tweaks for 2006 include rear access doors in the Club Cab that open nearly 180 degrees, a first-in-segment application. Also, the larger Quad Cab now offers a sun roof. Club Cab models come standard with a six-foot, four-inch cargo bed while Quad Cabs have a five-foot-three-inch bed. Dakota offers no regular cab configuration found in the rival Ford Ranger or Chevrolet Colorado compact pickups.
Dodge, as with domestic rivals Chevrolet and Ford, has historically dominated sales in the pickup truck segment on their home turf. The United States is the number one market in the world for pickups. That said, a new generation of refreshioned pickups have sprung up from Asian rivals Toyota and Nissan. In addition, Toyota will soon open a new assembly plant in San Antonio Texas that will help build the full-size Tundra pickup, which is currently built exclusively in southern Indiana. Nissan currently builds its full-size Titan in Canton, Mississippi. Two smaller pickups, the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier have made strong progress over the past five years adapting to the U.S. market and giving the domestics a run for their money.
Three different powertrains are available in Dakota. Both cab configurations come standard with a 3.7-liter, V-6 generating 210 horsepower. Two V-8s are optional including a 4.7-liter V-8 with 230 horses and a 4.7-liter high output V-8 delivering 260 horsepower for extra punch. Only the high output engine recommends premium unleaded. The other two work best with 87-octane regular unleaded. Dakota is the only pickup in its class available with V-8 power. The fuel tank holds 22 gallons of fuel.
As with the 2005 redesign, both the Club Cab and Quad Cab come in three trim levels: ST, SLT and up-level Laramie. All three trims are available either in 4 x 2 (rear-wheel drive) or 4 x4 configurations. Six-speed manual transmission comes standard in ST and SLT.
Dodge supplied the Daily Herald with a 4 x 2 Quad Cab SLT with a starting price of $23,165. The bottom line, including a $645 destination charge ended up at $28,850 after factoring in five-speed automatic transmission ($1,170), high output V-8 engine ($1,615) and power sunroof ($850) among others.
The lowest-priced Dakota, a two-wheel-drive ST club cab, starts around $20,090. By contrast, Chevrolet's lowest-priced compact 2006 Colorado pickup starts at $15,530 for a 2.8-liter four-cylinder three-passenger regular cab with five-speed manual. Ford's compact 2006 Ranger pickup starts at $14,450 for a XL regular cab with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual. A striped down 2006 Toyota Tacoma regular cab lists at $13,708 for a four-cylinder, five-speed manual.
Dakota's interior is smartly designed with an easy-to-navigate layout. The parking brake is foot operated with the hood release and brake release pull latches in the same region under the left-side dash region. Our test model featured bucket seats with a large, optional center console with an arm rest/storage bin (hinged on the right side and opening up from the left) with plenty of storage regions along the front end. Three cup holders are found towards the bottom. Dakota is also available with 40/20/40 front bench seating accommodating three front riders.
Front wipers operate from the turn signal stalk. Cruise control functions are placed on the steering wheel face at 3 and 9 o'clock positions. A dial controlling headlights is on the far left side of the dashboard. The automatic transmission shifter is mounted on the steering column. Three easy-to-grab ventilation dials are found on the center dash below the stereo system with a large rectangular digital display. Three circular analog gauges make up the instrument panel. A ceiling area digital message center is found near the rear-view mirror.
In back, the Dakota Quad Cab accommodates three adult riders with ample head space. The middle of the rear seat molds in slightly to accommodate two floor-area dual beverage holders. Back seat cushions fold up (in a 60/40 split) next to the back rest when not in use to increase cargo availability inside.
Exteriorwise, Dodge incorporates its aggressive-looking quad, crosshair grille flanked by rectangular headlight housing in front. Rear tail lights featured two circular, vertically arranged housings on each side of the fold-down tailgate. Black, strap-like door handles adorned all four doors. A whip radio antenna protrudes up from the right front fender. The raised hood starts angling to a point as it approaches the front grille and both rear fenders are slightly flared.
Also new for the 2006 model year, Dodge adds more choice with four specialty models:
- TRX equipment package - Available in all three trim levels and both cab configurations (but only the 4x2 rear drive edition) this visual equipment package offers unique five-spoke wheels and off-road tires, hooks and TRX decal on the cargo box.
- TRX4 off-road equipment package - Available in the mid-2006 model year on 4 x 4 SLT and Laramie models and both cab configurations, this adds painted shock absorbers, increased ride height of one inch, skid plats tow hooks, special decal and slush mats.
- R/T - This limited edition model is available on the SLT trim in either cab configuration and includes the high output V-8, chrome exhaust tips, exterior decal, special instrument cluster and specific option packages.
Night Runner - Like the R/T, this limited edition package is available in the SLT in either cab configuration appealing to the 'dark side.' Expect a black chrome grille surround, black chrome wheels, exterior cargo box decal and headrest stitching.
Despite it's mid-size ranking, this remains a long vehicle. Measuring in at a tad over 18 feet, it just fit into the garage with little room at the ends to spare. Both the quad cab and club cab measure about the same length thanks to the two bed sizes.
Also, this two-wheel rear drive vehicle handled surprisingly well during December snowfalls. Slippage was at a minimum when pressing the vehicle on semi-snow covered road surfaces. The vehicle and I were always in command together. Steering was effortless yet precise.