Dodge Dakota gains a new look and a boost in size for 2005. It also loses something that no one is likely to miss.

Following the trend in pickup trucks, Dakota no longer comes with a traditional, single-seat cab. Now, there is just a variety of Club Cab and four-door Quad Cab models. Both have rear seats, though only the Quad has full-size seating in the back.

Dropping the short cab makes sense because most pickup drivers have learned to appreciate the extra space behind the front seats. That and the ability to use the pickup as a family-size vehicle, especially in the Quad mode.

The revamped Dakota is about 4 inches longer and a smidgen wider than its former self, moving up from midsize and closer to full-size pickups. Only the full-size Toyota Tundra comes close in comparison.

Pickups in general are getting bigger, with the compact of today moving closer to midsize and the big trucks getting even bigger.

In the midrange size, Dakota has the advantage of a V-8, a 4.7-liter engine with 230 horsepower or, in "high-output" trim, 250-horsepower. Similar trucks are powered by V-6 engines.

The Club Cab Laramie model tested here shows a higher level of refinement than the old model, with a quiet ride and nicely finished interior. Outside, a bold new grille gives Laramie the macho big-rig look of the full-size Dodge Ram.

Although the larger cab makes Dakota more hospitable, especially for this tall driver, the rear seat is still a tiny affair that should be reserved for small kids or someone flexible enough to roll up into a ball.

- - -

The lowdown

PERFORMANCE: Equipped with the 230-horsepower V-8, Dakota moves out briskly. The gas gauge also drops briskly, which makes the 3.7-liter, 210-horsepower V-6 worth a look.

However, towing capability with the V-8 moves up to 4,550 pounds. In this trim, Dakota could steal some sales from the heavier, bulkier Ram.

The test truck came with the optional five-speed automatic instead of a four-speed, which is certainly worth the $75 extra. advertisement

DRIVABILITY: The steering and brakes are responsive, but Dakota suffers from the stiff, buckboard ride of many work trucks. The back end hops and steps to the side over rough pavement.

The strong engine torque also makes the back wheels too easy to spin. Dodge engineers might look into electronic stability control and traction control, which are used to tame the behavior of many of today's pickups and SUVs. Anti-lock brakes are optional.

At highway speeds, Dakota feels stable and relaxed.

STYLING: The new bad-boy look is effective and distinctive, giving Dakota a strong presence. An optional set of 17-inch alloy wheels gave the test truck a custom style.

The bed of the Club Cab is a decent 6 feet 6 inches long, while the Quad cab gets a 5-foot-4-inch box.

INTERIOR: The seats and dash have been noticeably upgraded, with the high-end Laramie test truck getting nicer trim and optional leather seats. The cab is roomy and comfortable.

Side-curtain air bags are optional and worth getting. Actually, some of the options, which added more than $6,000 to the price of the test truck, should be included in the already meaty $24,339 base price.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a good size for a pickup, unless you actually need the greater space and power of a full-size truck.

- - -

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door pickup truck, rear-wheel drive.

Engine: 4.7-liter V-8, 230 horsepower at 4,600 rpm, 295 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm.

Transmission: 5-speed automatic.

Wheelbase: 131.3 inches.

Overall length: 218.8 inches.

Curb weight: 4,413 pounds.

Towing capacity: 4,550 pounds.

EPA rating: 15 city, 20 highway.

Highs: Sharp new styling, upgraded interior, engine power.

Lows: Dicey handling, modest fuel mileage, some options should be standard.

- - -

PRICING

Base price: $24,339.

Price as tested: $29,424.

OPTIONS

* Alloy wheels, $820.

* V-8 engine, $785.

* Leather bucket seats, $525.

* Towing package, $525.

* Anti-lock brakes, $495.

* Side air bags, $495.

* Anti-spin differential, $295.

* Bed liner, $245.

* Sliding rear window, $140.

* 5-speed automatic, $75.

* 3.92 axle ratio, $40.

* Shipping, $645.

- - -

Read more

For more on Dodge Dakota, go to autos.azcentral.com.