2005 Dodge Dakota 4x4 Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2005 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab 4x4 Laramie

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Dodge

Size can have advantages, particularly for a pickup. And the Dodge Dakota has always been unique from a size standpoint. Larger than the compacts, but smaller than any full-size truck, the Dakota was the first mid-sized pickup. As most compact pickups have grown, some to the size of the original Dakota, the Dakota has likewise increased in size, strength, and capacity. But it's still smaller than a full-size truck, for ease in maneuverability and parking.

Truck product cycles are longer than those of cars, and the 2005 Dakota is only the third generation of a vehicle that made its debut in 1986 as an early-release 1987 model. That boxy, bigger-than-small, smaller-than-big truck got a V8 engine in 1990, and lasted in production until 1997. During that time period, the full-size Dodge Ram introduced the concept of style to pickups, and so it was no surprise when Dakota Generation Two looked very much like the Ram's smaller sibling when it was introduced in 1997. Big-truck features were staples of the Dakota's specification since the available V8, and the crew-cab ``Quad Cab'' model upped the ante against the competition when it was made available in 2000. Since then, there have been constant upgrades, but Dodge is keeping ahead with the new, third-generation Dakota for 2005.

The most obvious change to the 2005 Dakota is outside, for all the world to see. Bold and angular, it bears the same relationship to the current Ram as its predecessor did to the Ram of its day. Underneath, the ``Magnum''-series 3.7-liter V6 and 4.7-liter V8 engines are familiar, although the V8 now comes in two states of tune, with either 230 or 250 horsepower, but the frame is new, and fully-boxed for strength and rigidity. Transmissions are a six-speed manual, made by Getrag, a four-speed automatic for the V6, and a five-speed automatic for the V8s.

Fitting the Dakota's growing size and customer preferences in the pickup market, regular-cab models are no longer made. Cab choices are extended ``Club Cab'' now with rear access doors, and full four-door crew-cab ``Quad Cab'' models. Both share a common wheelbase; Club Cab models have a six-and-a-half foot cargo bed, while Quad Cabs have a five-foot four-inch box length. Naturally, two- or four-wheel drive versions are offered. Trim levels are ST, SLT, and Laramie.

I've recently spent a week with a top-of-the line Dakota Quad Cab 4x4 Laramie. While inching toward luxury in accommodation, with leather seating standard in the Laramie grade, it's still a truck at heart, and a tough and capable one, with up to 1700 lbs of cargo carrying or 6800 lbs of towing ability, depending on model. My neighbor across the street was very interested in it, as he has a 2003 Quad Cab Dakota. A quick comparison between the two was in order. Yes, the styling is different, inside and out, but the basic character is the same, but even stronger in the new model, and the powertrain is smoother. If you need something larger and stronger than even the biggest compact truck, but not quite full size, there really is no other choice than the Dakota.

APPEARANCE: There will be no question as to the maker of this truck. Following the lead of Dodge's latest full-size Ram, the new Dakota is all angles and chrome, and has serious presence. Its styling is defined by the massive chromed crossbar grille that gives shape to the angular hood. (I know Dodge calls it ``crosshair,'' but those are bars, not hairs!) The fenders are separate from the body, as in a vintage pickup, but their shape is closer to the fender blisters of a 1980s race car than the rounded fenders of an old pickup. Headlights are car-like multiple-element units under protruding rectangular covers, while the taillights place twin vertically-stacked elements under red covers, inside of a sculpted section that extends across the tailgate. Only the passenger cabin bears a resemblance to anything on the previous-generation Dakota.

COMFORT: There is as much style inside the Dakota as on the outside, and only the floor-mounted console carries over from the old model. The rest is a fine example of Chrysler Group's latest styling trends, with influence from the Chrysler 300 and Crossfire notable in the large ``aluminum''-bezeled black-on-white gauges and expanse of aluminum trim on the center stack. The design theme is, no surprise, angles, with the rounded tops to the instrument cluster and center stack echoing the shape of the hood. Style alone does not bode well for a useful vehicle, and pickups are supposed to be useful. The Dakota scores well in the function and comfort categories, with supportive front buckets and a full-size rear bench made easily-accessible by full-size rear doors. There is more rear-seat legroom this year, and six-footers fit comfortably, even with tall people in the front seats. A low, wide transmission tunnel means a nearly-flat rear floor for better passenger comfort. The rear seat cushion is split 60/40 and lifts to fold against the seatback for interior storage space. With the Quad Cab body style, interior space is given precedence over bed length, but at almost five and a half feet, the bed does have a greater capacity and more usefulness than those of SUV-based ``sport-utility trucks.'' And given the Dakota's towing ability, if it can't fit in the bed it will fit in a trailer and be no problem.

SAFETY: Most of the new Dakota's increase in length has been ahead of the front wheels. Hydroformed front frame rail tips, replaceable after minor, low-speed impacts, were introduced last year and work with new extended bumpers and extra crush space to add protection. The rear section of the frame was designed to meet anticipated 50 mph offset rear-impact standards for fuel system safety. Advanced frontal airbags can be supplemented by available side-impact bags. Rear-wheel antilock brakes are standard, important as the lightly-loaded rear wheels of a pickup are prone to lockup under braking, and a four-wheel antilock system is available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Pickup suspension engineers have a difficult job. A modern pickup has to have a comfortable ride and good handling whether it is unloaded or fully-loaded, and the difference between the two states in both weight and weight distribution can be large - 1240 to 1700 lbs for a Dakota, depending on model and equipment. Dodge's designers have done well. The combination of a rigid frame and soft suspension works as well for trucks as it does for cars. The ride is a little bouncy unloaded - it is a pickup, not a sedan - but comfortable enough over the poorly-paved surfaces that pass for roads in my home town.

PERFORMANCE: Power, for a pickup, is not just about acceleration. Towing and hauling abilities are even more important, and here the Dakota shines. The base engine is a 3.7-liter single overhead cam V6 with 210 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque that can be matched to either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Above that are two 4.7-liter V8s, with a choice of 230 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque on regular unleaded gasoline for the normal engine or 250 horses and 300 lb-ft on premium for the High Output engine. The V8s are available with the manual or a five-speed automatic. My test truck had the 230-hp V8, and I never noticed any power shortage. Because the five-speed automatic has more closely spaced gear ratios than a four-speed, acceleration is smoother and quicker, and fuel economy is improved. A ``tow/haul'' mode holds gears on grades or when accelerating, further improving performance, especially when towing. And with a 6800-lb tow rating with the optional 3.92 axle ratio, my test Dakota 4x4 Quad Cab Laramie V8 was born to tow.

CONCLUSIONS:The Dodge Dakota combines style with room, comfort, and power in a convenient size.

SPECIFICATIONS
2005 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab 4x4 Laramie

Base Price			$ 28,679
Price As Tested			$ 33,459
Engine Type			single overhead cam 16-valve V8,
				        iron block and aluminum heads
Engine Size			4.7 liters / 287 cu. in.
Horsepower			230 @ 4600 rpm
Torque(lb-ft)			295 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission		        5-speed automatic (opt)
Wheelbase / Length	        131.3 in. / 218.8 in.
Curb Weight			4758 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		20.7
Fuel Capacity			22 gal.
Fuel Requirement		        87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P265/65 SR17 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A

Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum, rear ABS standard,
				        4-wheel ABS available
Suspension, front/rear		independent short and long
				        arm w/coil springs /
				        live axle with leaf springs
Ground clearance		        7.9 inches
Drivetrain			Front engine, on-demand
				        dual-range four-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		15 / 20 / 16
0 to 60 mph				9  sec
Towing capacity 		        5600 lbs stock, 6800 w/ 3.92 axle
Payload 			        1250 lbs

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Customer Preferred Package 26J - includes:
  trailer tow group, heavy-duty service group,
  heavy-duty engine cooling, auxiliary transmission
  oil cooler, power heated foldaway mirrors, Class IV
  hitch receiver, 750-amp maintenance-free battery	$ 525
4-wheel antilock brakes 				$ 495
Side curtain airbags					$ 495
5-speed automatic transmission				$  75
3.92 axle ratio 					$  40
Anti-spin differential axle				$ 295
4.7-liter Magnum(r) V8 engine				$ 785
Sliding rear window					$ 140
Heated front seats					$ 250
Sirius digital satellite radio				$ 195
17"x8" aluminum chrome-clad wheels			$ 595
Under-rail box bedliner 				$ 245
Destination and delivery				$ 645

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