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by Tom/Bob Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 15,121
     Price As Tested                                    $ 18,255
     Engine Type                             3.9 Liter V6 w/SMPI*
     Engine Size                                 239 cid/3906 cc
     Horsepower                                   175 @ 4800 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               225 @ 3200 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  130.9"/69.4"/214.3"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3902 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  22.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/75R15
     Brakes (F/R)                                  Disc/drum-ABS
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/Rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                         Six-passenger/Two-door
     Domestic Content                                 89 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.48


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            16/20/18
     0-60 MPH                                       10.9 seconds
     Payload                                         1450 pounds
     Towing Capacity                                 4500 pounds
     * Sequential multiport fuel injection

(Dodge has been in the truck business for many years and traces its ancestry back to World War I when the firm was officially called "Dodge Bros." Bob Hagin worked on "Dodge Bros." trucks in his early career and son Tom wonders if the current design of its Dakota truck will be around for the company's 80th birthday, too.)

TOM - The '96 Dakota has really soldiered on virtually unchanged since hitting the streets as a new vehicle in 1987. Since then, only tacked-on things have changed its appearance. It's got a billboard-sized grille, but it looks good in body-color, which is what the Sport model wears. The only outside chrome is a small strip that runs the length of the bumpers, but everything else is trimmed in black. But after nine or 10 years, however, it's ready for a design change.

BOB - That's where you and I differ, Tom. A truck is designed for just one thing and that's hauling "stuff." It's not supposed to be a fashion statement or a "Cafe Racer." Take the aluminum wheels that are standard equipment on Dakota Sport. They carry raised white letter all-season tires and to me they're a waste of money. Its exterior may be aging, but remember, it's still just a truck.

TOM - But nothing lasts forever and I suspect a remake is coming. Almost all of the other truck makers have redesigned their haulers, and since Dodge has had lots of success with the full-sized Ram pickup, a new Dakota that looks like a Ram would be a smash hit.

BOB - As far as pickups go, Dakota offers a lot for the money. It's offered in Base, Sport, and SLT trim, with either a standard or Club Cab body. Dakota isn't a compact pickup either, it's more mid-sized, and it's almost a foot longer than all the other compact pickups on the market today. Inside, Dakota Sport models have fancy cloth trim covering a three-across bench seat. Neat, but it's a bit "chummy" for three.

TOM - It comes standard with an AM/FM cassette stereo, but not air conditioning - that's a $797 option. Other optional stuff our test car had included cruise control and a tilt steering column for $390, a $115 sliding rear window and a limited slip rear differential at $257.

BOB - I'd go for the air conditioning but I'd have to try out the limited slip under adverse conditions to see if it was worth the money. The choice of engines is interesting, though. Dakota power comes three ways. First is a reworked 2.5 liter inline four, with 120 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque, but that engine sees duty in few models. Our test machine had the 3.9 liter "Magnum" V6, with 175 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque, which is more popular, and very capable of handling most duty. A 318 V8 is also available.

TOM - The five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a four-speed automatic is a $927 option. A 2WD V8 Dakota with all the hot towing options can pull up to 7100 pounds and it has a maximum payload of 2600 pounds. The Club Cab models all have a short bed, just over 6.5 feet, while the short cab models come with either the short bed or the long (eight feet) bed. Only the long bed can hold sheets of plywood with the tailgate closed, but both bed lengths have two-tier loading detents so you can stack the wood above the fender wells.

BOB - Behind the seats of the Club Cab there's a folding bench which can be flipped against the back of the cab to open more cargo space - handy when you want to lock something inside. And the jack is stored underneath, along with a set of plastic trays to store tools and jumper cables. I like all those no-nonsense niceties. For the heavier jobs, however, the 5.2 liter V8 is the engine of choice, with 220 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. It's the venerable old 318 Chrysler engine but now it uses a roller cam and lifters, a feature that used to be strictly hot-rod stuff. I've been told that it's really a dynamite unit in the Dakota and the combination is really quick off the line.

TOM - And you're the guy who just told me that a truck is just to haul "stuff."

BOB - True, Tom, but sometimes the "stuff" I like to haul is just my own derriere away from a stop light as quickly as possible.