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Expert Reviews 1 of 3
By Tom Strongman
May 3, 2001
In many ways, pickup trucks are the sports cars of the 1990s, except they are more practical. Take Dodge's Dakota R/T, a 250-horse hot rod with fat tires and a lowered sports suspension. This nifty hauler is as much fun to drive as a V8-powered
muscle car, yet you can carry a couch home from the furniture store or take the kids' bikes to the park when the need arises. If you're an enthusiast who might like to make a run down the drag strip or partake in one of those Sunday afternoon
parking lot pylon events called an autocross, the R/T can do that too. In day-to-day driving, it's a kick. The Magnum V8 throbs to life at the twist of the key, and it leaps away from stoplights like it's in a frog-jumping contest. Stylish 17-inch
alloy wheels are shod with foot-wide performance tires that make sure the R/T clings to the road like magnets to the front of your refrigerator. The suspension has been reconfigured so the R/T handles more like a car than a truck. A large rear
stabilizer bar helps keep the body from leaning, and the vehicle sits closer to the pavement. A limited-slip differential improves traction. Tackle a twisty road or hustle it into a corner and it responds with razor-quick turn-in. The back wheels hop a
little when pushed hard, as trucks are known to do, but in general it retains its composure. The Dakota is an ideal platform on which to base a sport truck because it is the right size, looks tough and is available in both regular or extended cab
configurations. This means it can function as a second family vehicle with ease. The small back seat has its limitations, to be sure, but it certainly expands the truck's usefulness. The 5.9-liter Magnum V8 is essentially the same one found in
various Chrysler products, from the Durango to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. In the Dakota R/T, however, it seems quicker to flex its muscles, probably because it doesn't have to send its power through a four-wheel-drive system. In fact, the R/T is only
available in two-wheel drive, which could be a drawback for some in winter, considering how easily it spins its back wheels even on dry pavement. Four-wheel drive would add weight, the enemy of performance, and require it to sit too high; rear-wheel drive
has better balance. Inside there are bucket seats and a large console, complete with cupholders and a large storage bin. Gauges include a tachometer. The seats are shaped to provide good support, but I would have liked for the bottom cushion
to be adjustable. Windows and locks are manual to save money. Power locks are so commonplace these days that I missed not being able to lock both doors from the driver's side. For those who have small children, a key-operated switch turns
off the passenger-side airbag. Sport trucks are not new. In years past, GMC's turbocharged Syclone could outdrag a Ferrari, and Ford's SVT Lightning humbled most Mustangs. Both are gone now, although Ford has pled
ged to bring the Lightning back next year with more than 300 supercharged ponies prancing under its hood. In the meantime, the R/T is one of the hottest haulers you can buy. The fact that its available with an extended-cab makes it even more
attractive to young buyers with children. Price The base price of our test truck was $16,170. Equipment consisted of the sport appearance group, R/T sport group, 5.9-liter V8, automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, fog
lights, power mirrors and AM/FM stereo cassette with CD player. The sticker price was $23,455. Warranty The standard warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the
auto manufacturers. Point: The Dakota R/T is fun, plus it is available in the extended-cab model. The 250-horse V8 makes it scoot away from stop lights, and the sports suspension gives it the road manners of a sports car.
Counterpoint: The R/T would be a challenge in winter; I wish power locks were standard; and the bucket seats could use a wider range of adjustment. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 5.9-liter, V8 TRANSMISSION: automatic WHEELBASE: 131
inches CURB WEIGHT: n/a BASE PRICE: $22,060 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $23,455 MPG RATING: 13 city, 18 hwy.