The base, Sport and SLT price classes replace last years decor groups for Dodges midsize pickup. The Dakota is likely to be redesigned next year, along with the Durango sport utility vehicle. A new value-priced SXT model includes graphite bumpers, fascia, grille and fender flares, along with sporty, 16-inch aluminum wheels.
Though the Dakota is generally classified as a compact, it is larger than its foremost rivals: the Chevrolet S-10, Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma. Some observers in the auto industry consider the Dakota to be the only midsize pickup.
Four engines remain available: a four-cylinder, a V-6 and a pair of V-8s, with either a five-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmission. The top performer is the Dakota R/T (road and track), which is equipped with a 250-horsepower V-8, front and rear stabilizer bars, unique suspension tuning, P255/55R17 tires and a stance thats 1 inch lower than usual.
In 2000, Dakotas earned major changes to the exterior. It was at that time that a four-door Quad Cab (crew-cab) body style was introduced. A redesigned dashboard and other interior modifications followed. The Chevrolet S-10, GMC Sonoma, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma are also available with crew-cab styling, which offers four conventional, front-hinged doors.
Basic Dakota styling is patterned after the full-size Ram pickup. Regular-cab, Club Cab and Quad Cab body styles are available. The four-door Quad Cab rides the same 131-inch wheelbase and measures the same 215 inches in overall length as the Club Cab (extended cab). Because the Quad Cab devotes more space to passengers, it comes with a shorter, 5.25-foot cargo bed instead of the 6.5-foot bed available on regular-cab models. Nevertheless, Dodge claims it is the largest cargo bed among four-door compact pickups; this model is capable of handling a payload of up to 1,770 pounds. A Quad Cab Dakota can tow as much as 6,200 pounds.
Although regular-cab models use the 6.5-foot cargo bed, they have shorter dimensions for both the wheelbase and overall length than the Quad Cab. Regular cabs measure 196 inches long on a 112.1-inch wheelbase. Unlike other extended-cab compacts, no rear doors are offered on the Dakota Club Cab. Buyers who want more than two doors must turn to the Quad Cab.
All models can be equipped with either a front bench or a pair of bucket seats. A floor console for models with front bucket seats includes three cupholders, an armrest and a group of storage bins. Club Cab and Quad Cab models have split rear benches with cushions that fold for extra storage space. A pullout cupholder sits under the backseat.
Because the Quad Cabs interior is about a foot longer than the Club Cabs, its backseat is vastly roomier. Space is adequate for adults in the Quad Cabs rear seat, but they are likely to be cramped in the Club Cab. Tall rear doors that open 90 degrees on the Quad Cab make it easier to get in and out of the rear seat. The front passenger seat slides forward on Club Cabs, but its still awkward to squeeze into the backseat. Elastic straps on the undersides of the cushions are handy for securing ice scrapers, umbrellas and other small items.
Under the Hood
A 120-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder serves as the base engine for two-wheel-drive regular cabs and Club Cabs. Because its really too small for this truck, the four-cylinder power plant is seldomly used in the Dakota. Most other models have a 175-hp, 3.9-liter V-6 as standard equipment.
Dakotas are unique among compact pickups because they can be fitted with V-8 engines. A 235-hp, 4.7-liter V-8 is available for all three body styles. A 250-hp, 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 which is bigger than the V-8s in some full-size pickups is available for all body styles, and a special 250-hp version goes into the sporty Dakota R/T. Transfer-case operation on four-wheel-drive models relies on a convenient dashboard switch. Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard on the new value-priced SXT and come as optional equipment on all other models.