Vehicle Overview
"Bigger, bolder and tougher." That's how Dodge described its Dakota pickup truck, as redesigned for 2005, promising best-in-class horsepower, torque and towing capabilities. A V-6 is standard, but the Dakota can be fitted with either of two V-8s. Club Cab and Quad Cab models are offered. Dakotas are available with rear- or four-wheel drive in three trim levels: ST, SLT and Laramie.

Four new editions debut for 2006: TRX, TRX4 Off-Road, R/T and Night Runner. A sunroof is now optional for Quad Cab pickups, Club Cabs have full-swing rear doors, and automatic-transmission modification promises improved gas mileage with the V-6. A new Alpine SoundBox stereo system is optional.


Exterior
Club Cab models have a 6.5-foot bed, while the Quad Cab gets a bed that measures 5 feet 4 inches long. Squared-off styling on the hood, grille and fender edges gives a distinctive look. Laramie models display several chrome pieces that don't appear on other models.

The new TRX gets unique 16-inch aluminum wheels, painted monotube shocks and tow hooks. The TRX4 Off-Road adds an anti-spin differential, skid plates and an upgraded axle ratio. Dodge describes the Night Runner as "intimidating" with its blacked-out color scheme, which includes black 17-inch chrome wheels. A sport appearance package on the R/T includes a hood scoop, chrome exhaust tips and 17-inch chrome wheels.


Interior
Quad Cab models can be fitted for six-passenger seating rather than the usual five-passenger capacity. With the 60/40-split rear seats folded, Club Cab storage space totals 30 cubic feet, versus 37.1 cubic feet in the Quad Cab. Club Cab models have forward-facing rear seats and rear-hinged access doors.

Under the Hood
A 210-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 is standard. 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 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. Either a part-time or full-time four-wheel-drive transfer case is available.

Safety
Rear-wheel antilock braking is standard; four-wheel ABS is optional. Side curtain-type airbags that protect passengers in both rows of seats are optional.

Driving Impressions
A V-6 Dakota is overtaxed — short on power and sluggish for passing and merging. The V-8s are more suitable 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 are a bit more noticeable than in the V-6 model, but they're seldom annoying.

Performance with the high-output engine isn't appreciably quicker than with a regular V-8. When pushed, its automatic transmission slams hard into the next gear. Dodge's manual gearbox is pickup-truck typical with its slightly mushy feel, but it works with a well-behaved, easy-engaging clutch.

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. Rear occupants in the Quad Cab sit with their knees up and have minimal foot room.