1997 Dodge Dakota

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1997 Dodge Dakota
Available in 15 styles:  Dakota Extended Cab shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

15–20 city / 19–25 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 1 of 5
1997 Dodge Dakota 4.2 9
$ 960-6,836
November 23, 1996
Was there ever a time that pickup trucks were just simple workhorses, modern-day buckboards, as stylish as old work boots?

There was, but it's long gone. Successful pickup trucks today are handsome and desirable as well as utilitarian. They must appeal as campus cruisers with comfort to operate as daily commuters.

They must drive as well as cars, without losing their strength to haul, tow or tackle rough terrain. They have to look good, too.

Dodge's baby Ram, the newly redesigned Dakota, is a perfect case in point. Once a squared-off critter, neither big nor small, the Dakota now sports the rugged good looks of a Marlboro cowboy and the sophistication of a New York stockbroker.

And it had better succeed, for Chrysler's sake, considering the zillions of dollars the automaker has spent to advertise the thing -- back-to-back TV ads, magazine foldouts, the whole shtick.

"It's full of surprises," the ads hawk.

I found the Dakota not so much surprising as impressive for its civilized remake. Still a midsize pickup, pretty much defining the segment and serving as its sole occupant, the Dakota offers many of the attributes of a full-size truck without taking up as much space in the driveway.

The styling is clearly inspired by the "big-rig" looks of the full-size Dodge Ram, whose macho appeal has helped it make inroads into the massive sales of Ford F-150, the best-selling vehicle in America, and challenger Chevy CK.

On the smaller Dakota, the front end looks less like a tractor-trailer and more like a sculpted custom pickup. The color-keyed grill looks well-integrated, the entire effect carrying over the Chrysler family resemblance, except in truck terms.

Our bright-red stretch-cab Dakota, a four-wheel-drive model with "Sport" written on its sides, fender flares, and custom wheels and tires, was cool enough to turn heads everywhere, from job site to fast-food joint.

The interior of the Dakota continues the Chrysler theme, looking every bit like an automobile interior from a Cirrus or a Sebring. This is an interior that works well, comfortable and roomy. It has a triple-size set of cup holders in the console (now, that's surprising), for small, medium and Big Gulp.

The flip-up compartment in the console is cavernous, with sections within for all kinds of stowage. Gauges and controls are clear and easy to deal with.

The rear bench seat faces forward, which limits legroom. It's obviously meant for very small people, and my tall boys were pretty squished back there. I favor the sideways-facing jobs on smaller pickups, leaving the back-seat benches to the full-size trucks.

Speaking of size, the Dakota has about the same length and wheelbase as a full-sizer, with an 8-foot bed. It's not as tall nor as wide, though, and considerably lighter, for better handling and gas mileage.

The power and control of the Dakota is right up there, among trucks, anyway, despite the extra weight and stiffer suspension of four-wheel drive. Steering is direct, braking is decent and the power from the 3.9-liter V-6 is good, though nothing special.

If you want some serious power, the Dakota comes with a 5.2-liter V-8 boasting 230 maximum horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. There's also a decent four-cylinder for the economy-minded.

The automatic transmission in our test truck was pretty much off the mark, shifting sluggishly and seeming generally confused. The suspension, while providing a solid, trucklike ride, stillabsorbs most lumps and bumps. But the tires squealed excessively, especially taking off from a stop, no matter how easy. The back end seems very light, and I took corners carefully.

Fit and finish of the Dakota were very good, making for a tight, rattle-free package. However, the factory-applied fender flares were a haphazard fit and didn't look quite up to factory standard.

Great looks and a unique size make the Dakota feel like a probable winner. It just seems a shame t o put such a sharp-looking vehicle to work as, say, a pickup truck.

1997 Dodge Dakota

Vehicle type: Four-passenger, club-cab pickup truck, four-wheel-drive. Base price: $19,690. Price as tested: $25,308. Engine: 3.9-liter V6, 175 horsepower at 4,800 rpm, 225 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm. Transmission: Four-speed automatic. Curb weight: 4,031 pounds. Length: 214.8 inches. Wheelbase: 131 inches. Safety features: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city, 18 mpg highway. Highs: Sharp new styling. High-quality feel. Well-designed interior. Lows: Rear seat lacks legroom. Poor fit of fender flairs. Spotty cornering.

    Expert Reviews 1 of 5

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