"Bigger, bolder and tougher." That's how Dodge describes its Dakota pickup truck, which has been redesigned for 2005.
Introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2004, the 2005 Dakota promises best-in-class horsepower, torque and towing capabilities. Dodge says it offers the only V-8 engine choices in its class. A V-6 is standard, but the Dakota can be fitted with either of two V-8s, which yield as much as 260 hp and 310 pounds-feet of torque.
Both Club Cab and Quad Cab models went on sale in the fall of 2004. No regular-cab model is offered. Dodge claims the Dakota is the first small pickup to offer heated cloth seats. Dakotas come with two- or four-wheel drive in three trim levels: ST, SLT and Laramie.
Measuring 3.7 inches longer than its predecessor, the Dakota has greater crush space. That's because most of the increase in length is ahead of the front axle. The bumpers have been extended slightly fore and aft for greater protection in low-speed impacts. The Dakota's overall width is nearly 7 inches greater than the Chevrolet Colorado.
Club Cab models have a 6.5-foot bed, while the Quad Cab gets a bed that measures 5 feet 4 inches long. New front and rear suspensions are intended to improve the Dakota’s ride. An all-new rack-and-pinion steering system is installed, and 16-inch wheels are standard.
A squared-off hood, grille and fender edges give a distinctive look. Laramie models display several chrome pieces that are absent from other models.
Both the Club Cab and Quad Cab body styles in the Dakota lineup provide greater interior space than any other small pickup. Quad Cab models can be fitted for six-passenger seating rather than the usual five-passenger capacity. With the reversible 60/40-split rear seats folded, Club Cab storage space totals 30.0 cubic feet, versus 37.1 cubic feet in the Quad Cab.
Club Cab models have forward-facing rear seats and new standard rear-hinged access doors. As opposed to the three-passenger rear bench seat used in previous models, the redesigned Dakota has space for only two adults, but Dodge claims these occupants now ride more comfortably.
A 3.7-liter V-6 rated at 210 hp and 235 pounds-feet of torque is the standard engine. Stepping up a notch, the available 4.7-liter V-8 produces 230 hp and 290 pounds-feet of torque. Topping the performance list is a new high-output 4.7-liter V-8 that delivers 260 hp and 310 pounds-feet of torque. Transmission choices include a four-speed automatic, five-speed automatic and six-speed manual.
Both V-8 engines are considered 3 to 4 percent more fuel-efficient than prior Dakota V-8s, while the company says the V-6 yields 6 percent greater fuel efficiency. When properly equipped, towing capacity can reach 7,150 pounds. Either a part-time or full-time four-wheel-drive transfer case is available.
Dual-stage front airbags and an occupant-sensing system for the passenger side are installed. Side curtain-type airbags that protect passengers in both rows of seats are optional.
A V-6-powered Dakota is overtaxed — short on power and sluggish for passing and merging. The V-8s are more suitable for people who drive on upgrades. After only a slight delay at start-up, the V-8-equipped Dakota delivers a steady, satisfying stream of power. Automatic transmission shifts in trucks with the V-8 are a bit more noticeable than on the V-6, but they're not annoying. However, a double downshift before passing may be somewhat disconcerting.
Performance with the high-output engine isn't appreciably quicker than with a regular V-8, despite the substantial horsepower and torque boost. When pushed, its automatic transmission slams hard into the next gear, too.
Dodge's manual gearbox is typical of pickup trucks with its slightly mushy feel and well-behaved, easy-engaging clutch. Though the transmission shifts simply enough, it's not totally apparent which gear you're in.
Four-wheel-drive versions ride with pleasant smoothness on good pavement. The suspension reacts quickly to bumps and recovers promptly. On narrow two-lane roads, the Dakota maneuvers quite handily and with a satisfying steering feel.
The seats lack side bolstering and don't have much back support. Rear occupants in the Quad Cab sit with their knees up and have minimal toe space but are otherwise reasonably comfortable, though the center spot is a high, hard perch.