2005 Dodge Dakota Review

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Marc K. Stengel Marc K. Stengel Editor
August 1, 2004




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For what started life years ago as a mid-size pickup meant to parry the emerging threat of compact trucks from Nissan and Toyota, the Dodge Dakota has matured well past its original charter. Although nominally the little brother of the humongous Dodge Ram, the 2005 Dakota has grown up to become huge in its own right.

Its job skills, in the form of hauling and towing capacities, now rival those of many full-size trucks dating to only a few years ago. Indeed, the Dakota is now the only mid-size pickup available with a V-8 — make that two different V-8s. There’s more besides: the Dakota is now the only V-8-powered vehicle of any kind available for under $20,000.

This fact changes everything in the competitive and often complicated category of pint-size pickups. The category is competitive because of all the worthy contenders: Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier. It’s complicated because of all the mix-and-match possibilities involving engines, transmissions, two- and four-wheel-drive powertrains, cabin layouts, and cargo box configurations. Making direct comparison amongst so many variables amounts to juggling apples and oranges. And now comes the completely redesigned and restyled Dakota — the pomegranate of the mix.

Relative size matters

The new Dakota has arrived at its rebirth in a most untraditional fashion. It’s the direct descendant of the latest Dodge Durango sport-utility vehicle, which was itself redesigned for the current 2004 model year. Typically, SUVs derive from pickups, as the Ford Ranger-to-Explorer transformation so readily attests (or used to).

In the new Dakota’s case, however, its larger, brawnier dimensions are a by-product of the current SUV obsession with squeezing as many persons as possible into a three-row seating layout. When, presto change-o, the Durango SUV deconstructed itself into a new Dakota pickup, the result was four-door cabin space atop a heavy-duty undercarriage that can now tolerate big-power engine choices.

It’s actually quite remarkable that a new Dakota’s standard 3.7-liter single overhead-cam V-6 — with its 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque — should go up against, say, a 148-hp V-6 in Ford’s Ranger or a 142-hp in-line four in Toyota’s Tacoma. True, the Dakota’s base price of $18,565 (excluding the $645 destination charge) is $600 more than the Ford, $3445 more than the Toyota; but it’s also $1305 less than the ’04 Dodge Dakota that it replaces.

The availability of two different V-8s simply places the Dakota in a league of its own. For $19,350, the Dakota Club Cab SLT comes with a 4.7-liter single-overhead-cam V-8 making 230 hp and 295 honkin’ lb-ft. Or, after Dodge has done a little tweaking with compression ratios, there’s the 4.7-liter “High Output” V-8 boasting 250 hp, more than 300 lb-ft and pricing that can burst through the $30,000 threshold, depending on equipment options.

All of this boils down to a fairly broad range of credentials for tackling a variety of work and play tasks. Powertrains include either rear-wheel-drive or two versions of four-wheel-drive (on-demand 4WD or AWD). There are Dakota configurations that can haul a minimum of just 1240 lb (4.7 V-8 H.O. Quad Cab 4WD with a five-speed auto) or a maximum of 1740 lb (3.7 V-6 Club Cab 2WD with a four-speed auto). On the other hand, the trailer champ is a 4.7 V-8 Club Cab 2WD (with a five-speed auto) towing up to 7150 lb, compared with 3150 lb at the low end for a 3.7 V-6 Quad Cab 2WD (with a six-speed manual).

Club or Quad?

2005 Dodge Dakota

2005 Dodge Dakota

As for those Club Cab and Quad Cab designations, they refer, respectively, to four-door layouts that incorporate smaller rear-panel doors opening onto temporary “jump” seats; or larger, traditional rear doors revealing a folding three-passenger bench seat. For 2005, Dodge is no longer offering any two-door-cab version of the Dakota.

In Club Cab models, some 30 cubic feet of storage space resides behind the front seats, which buyers can specify as either twin buckets or a three-person bench. For the Quad Cab, up to 37.1 cubes are available when the rear bench is folded. Otherwise, seating is for five or six passengers depending on the front-row layout.

These interior dimensions necessarily affect cargo bed size, so that the Quad Cab can haul 38.2 cu ft in the back, the Club Cab up to 46.6 cu ft. The point of all this, of course, is to provide truck buyers with a varied palette of specifications, capacities, and dimensions for tailoring a Dakota as ideally as possible to different personal requirements.

It goes without saying that trim and equipment options further complicate matters. In general terms, however, the two Dakota cab styles are comfortable and conveniently laid out. Clever features available include something called “UConnect” which enables hands-free communications using Bluetooth-compatible telephones. Satellite radio debuts, as well, within a selection of Sirius-enabled audio systems.

Nevertheless, this bold new Dakota, with its sparking, faceted exterior and jewel-like head- and taillamps seems to cut corners in several curious ways. Inside, for all the spaciousness of the cockpit, it’s swathed with layers of uninspiring vinyl that just don’t live up to the rest of Dodge’s accomplishment with the Dakota.

Then there’s the matter of the front-disc/rear-drum braking layout. This is understandable for smaller power, payload, and towing limits; but for a mid-size truck hauling or towing nearly full-size loads, logic would seem to dictate a full-size, four-wheel-disc braking system for combating brake fade. Even so, anti-lock braking is standard only for those rear drums. Four-wheel ABS is an option, as are side-curtain head airbags.

It’s unclear whether the new, larger, more powerful Dakota lineup has raised the bar higher for the mid-size truck category overall or has simply invented a new, proprietary category all its own. Ultimately, perhaps, the answer must lie within a Dakota owner’s individual state of mind.

2005 Dodge Dakota
Base prices:
Engines: 3.7-liter V-6, 210 hp/235 lb-ft; 4.7-liter V-8, 230 hp/295 lb-ft; 4.7-liter V-8, 250 hp/300 lb-ft
Transmissions: Six-speed manual, four- or five-speed automatic; rear- or four-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 218.8 x 71.7 x 68.6 (68.7) in
Wheelbase: 131.3 in
Curb weight: 4306-4772 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 17/22–14/18 mpg
Safety equipment: Front airbags, rear-wheel anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: AM/FM radio with CD player
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles; seven years/70,000 miles (powertrain)

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