We didn't drive a Dakota to Dakota, but we did drive it around town and hadthe chance to employ four-wheel-drive and found the compact pickup a pleasantlittle cruiser.

Dodge has forced Chevrolet and Ford to sit up and take notice in full-sizetrucks now that consumers are buying just about every Dodge Ram that thefactory can build. Ford's F-Series pickups and Chevy's C/K pickups have someserious competition from Ram.

The Dakota hasn't gained similar popularity against the Ford Ranger andChevy S-10. Dodge hopes to gain some attention with its optional V-8 inDakota.

Ford offers a 4-liter, 160-h.p., V-6 in its compact Ranger, Chevy a4.3-liter, 200-h.p., V-6 in its compact S-10, but neither offers a V-8 in thatsize truck.

Dodge offers an optional 5.2-liter, Magnum V-8 that develops 220 h.p. toensure that you can fill the short bed to the brim, and Dakota will show up towork.

While boasting of a V-8, however, the Dakota 4x4 Sport we tested also comeswith a 13-m.p.g. city/18-m.p.g. highway rating when teamed with a 5-speedmanual transmission, about the mileage you'd expect from a full-sizepickup--with an automatic, not a 5-speed manual.

The 4.3-liter, V-6 in the Chevy, and its 17-m.p.g. city/21-m.p.g. highwayrating, looks very good when compared with Dakota's V-8 fuel economy. The S-10has only 20 h.p. less than the Dakota or the Dakota has 20 h.p. more than theChevy, but we'd probably settle for 20 less h.p. and a lot more mileage out ofthe Chevy.

The Dakota 4x4 Sport we tested starts at $16,895. Standard equipmentincludes shift-on-the-fly, four-wheel-drive, power steering, independent frontsuspension, front stabilizer bar, gas-charged shocks, power brakes (frontdisc, rear drum), stainless-steel exhaust, body-colored grille, tinted glass,dual mirrors, cast aluminum wheels, painted rear step bumper, tailgate thatpops right off, full-size spare, driver-side air bag, cloth seats, carpetedfloor, trip odometer, dual slide-out cupholders, intermittent wipers and AM/FMstereo with cassette.

The test vehicle came with the Magnum V-8 option at $587, speed control andtilt steering at $390, four-wheel ABS at $500, anti-spin differential (asystem like traction control) at $257, air conditioning at $797 and a premiumcloth-seat upgrade with a center console at $379. Freight is $495. The stickercame to $20,300.

Nice truck, but it would be nicer with ABS as standard and the 5.2 liter,V-8 in less need of thirst-quenching.