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Review: 2005 Dodge Dakota

June 17, 2005 02:49 PM EST | Dodge , Trucks/Pickups | Email to Friend

View large imageRefinement appears to be the magic word at Dodge these days, and it shows in the all-new Dakota. Excellent powertrain options, nimble suspension and a well thought-out interior score major points, but the aggressive styling isn't for everyone.

Pros
Strong engine lineup, choice of part-time or full-time four-wheel drive, comfortable and refined interior, nimble handling.

Cons
No long bed or single cab models, club cab's backseat offers barely passable comfort for adults.

What's New for 2005
The midsize Dakota is all new for 2005. Improvements include a hydroformed boxed steel frame, a coil-over front suspension, three excellent engine options, a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission, revised styling and improved build quality.

Introduction:
When it comes to searching for the perfect combination of light-duty hauling capability and carlike ride and handling, Dodge has been in a unique position since the company introduced the first midsize Dakota pickup back in 1987. All new and totally redesigned for 2005, the Dakota benefits from three excellent engine options and revised styling that ensure all your neighbors will know you drive a Dodge. A hydroformed fully boxed frame provides eight times more torsional rigidity than the previous design, and an all-new coil-over front suspension and power rack and pinion steering lend the platform a nimble, carlike feel. The tired, old overhead valve six that provided standard power in the Dakota for years is finally gone, replaced by a 3.7-liter single-overhead cam V6 that pumps out a respectable 210 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque. The big news in the engine compartment, however, is the availability of not one, but two V8s. The ultrasmooth 4.7-liter, rated for 230 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque, provides more than enough grunt to make the Dakota a spirited performer. However, Dodge has also added an optional high-output version of the 4.7 to the lineup, which utilizes classic hot-rodding tricks to bump output over 250 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. In order to put all that power to the pavement, buyers can choose from either a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. Dodge also gives potential buyers two distinctly different four-wheel-drive options, either a traditional part-time 4x4 transfer case with high and low range, or optional first-in-class full-time four-wheel drive that ensures traction in just about any situation. With the decline in popularity of regular cab trucks, Dodge killed that option along with the previously available eight-foot bed. The standard club cab comes equipped with four doors, forward-facing rear seats and a 6-foot-6 bed, while the quad cab model utilizes four full-size doors and a 5-foot-4 bed. Speaking of the Dakota's body, a large crosshair grille is prominently affixed to the front of the truck, followed by the familiar dropped-fender look popularized by the previous-generation Ram and Dakota. The lines of the truck were kept sharp for a more aggressive look, and extensive wind-tunnel development makes this one of the most aerodynamically efficient pickups ever built. A revised A-pillar shape, new sideview mirrors, revised door seals and 20-percent thicker glass were all utilized to help cut wind and road racket. The refinement continues inside, where form is emphasized just as heavily as function. Both cab configurations offer the most interior space in their class, and the rear seats flip up to reveal built-in storage trays for added convenience. The new interior was designed for comfort, and options like plush heated leather seats, steering wheel audio controls and satellite radio make the Dakota more carlike than ever. If you're in the market for a new small pickup this year, the redesigned Dakota should definitely be on your test-drive list.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The Dakota is available in two body styles, both of which have four doors and a backseat. The club cab utilizes rear-opening access doors and has a 6-foot-6 bed, while the more spacious quad cab with four full-size doors has a smaller 5-foot-4 bed. There are three trim levels: ST, SLT and Laramie. The ST comes standard with the 3.7-liter V6 and four-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, a CD player and a cloth interior. The SLT adds alloy wheels, chrome bumpers, a split-fold feature for the rear bench seat and power windows, mirrors and door locks. The high-line Laramie adds a 4.7-liter V8 and five-speed automatic transmission, automatic headlights, leather seating surfaces and remote stereo controls on the steering wheel. Options include a six-speed manual transmission, front bucket seats, heated seats, satellite radio, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone compatibility, full-time four-wheel drive and the high-output 4.7-liter V8.

Powertrains and Performance:
Three engine options are available, a SOHC 3.7-liter V6 that makes 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque, a SOHC 4.7-liter V8 that produces 230 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque and a high-output 4.7 cranks out over 250 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Five-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions are available, and a first-in-class full-time four-wheel-drive system is also being offered for 2005 in addition to the usual 2WD and part-time 4WD configurations. Towing capacity with the V8 engine has been rated at 7,150 pounds.

Safety:
Rear-wheel ABS is standard on the Dakota; four-wheel ABS is optional. Passive safety features include standard multistage front airbags, optional side curtain airbags and an electronic accident response system. Crash tests have not yet been conducted by the NHTSA.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside, the driving position feels much more carlike than you'd expect. Interior panels are nicely textured two-tone plastic, and the fit and finish is outstanding. Window and door lock switches are comfortably within reach, climate controls are set in a nicely finished bezel and are easy to use and understand, and the shutter-type dash vents are attractive and functional. Cabins are spacious, but adults will still find the rear quarters of the Club Cab cramped.

Driving Impressions:
On the road, the word refinement springs to mind. The truck is very quiet inside at any speed, with plenty of insulation from wind and road noise. The exhaust emits just a hint of a grumble, which turns into a throaty roar when you stomp on the go-pedal in V8-equipped Dakotas. The chassis feels very stable, and while the ride is a bit taut, it soaks up ruts and bumps with ease. The Dakota is tight and responsive in the corners, which is one of the main reasons for buying a truck in this category over one of the full-size models.

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