Los Angeles Times's view

Despite what the folks at Dodge say, the 2000 Dakota Quad Cab is not really a pickup truck.

In true pickups, you can carry fence posts and 4-foot-by-8-foot plywood sheets without having to whittle them down to fit. It’s right there in the pickup truck owners’ bill of rights.

But the Dakota Quad Cab has a 5-foot-3-inch-long bed, compared with 6 1/2 feet for a standard compact pickup, so carrying that kind of material is going to be awkward, to say the least.

Strictly speaking, the Quad Cab, with its full-size rear doors and relatively spacious passenger cabin, is a four-door utility vehicle. (Marketing wonks can argue whether words like “sport” or “all-activity” should appear in the description.)

Performance, utility and good looks are still king in the automotive world, and the Quad Cab offers all three. But these days auto makers are also re-wrapping the packages and presenting them as limited-edition vehicles aimed at the myriad special interests that consumers pursue.

And that’s where the Quad Cab shines. It is a “lifestyle vehicle” and from the time it hits showrooms next month should be a hit for Dodge parent DaimlerChrysler, which is targeting three distinct buyer groups:

* People who have always wanted a truck, but never bought one because they’re not practical.

* Young families torn between the fun, coolness and usually lower purchase price of a compact truck and the practicality of a sedan.

* People who have had trucks all their lives and don’t want to get mixed in with the sedan crowd quite yet, but no longer need to carry fence posts and plywood and really would like something with a bit more room and a tamer ride than their old workhorse offered.

The Dakota Quad Cab will hold a score of grocery bags, camping gear for a family of four, a couple of mountain bikes, a full-size motorcycle (if packed in carefully) or nearly half a cord of firewood.

Dodge chief Jim Julow says part of the appeal will be to people who have wet-and-wild hobbies and are tired of messing up the interiors of their cars or sport-utility vehicles with soggy snowboards and muddy motocross gear and would rather toss the stuff into the bed of the Quad Cab, which can be rinsed out with a hose.

Nissan was first at bat in this hybrid lifestyle truck segment with its five-passenger Frontier Crew Cab–smaller than the Quad Cab by almost any measure (wheelbase, bed, horsepower and, to be fair, price).

Ford will follow early next year with the Explorer SportTrac, which mates the passenger compartment of its best-selling SUV with a 4-foot-2-inch cargo box. Archrival Chevrolet will roll onto the scene in mid-2000 with a four-door, five-passenger crew cab version of its S-10 compact pickup. And you can be sure that every other maker of compact pickups and most makers of SUVs will be following suit as quickly as they can gear up production.


But the Dakota Quad Cab will remain a winner in the category with its standout big-rig styling, overall size–smaller than full-size pickups but bigger than other compacts–and the only V-8 engines in the segment.

Base for a two-wheel-drive Quad Cab is $19,490, including a $520 destination charge; four-wheel-drive models start at $22,135 for the standard part-time system (add $395 for a full-time system that automatically sends up to 48% of the drive power to the front wheels as needed).

By comparison, Nissan’s Frontier Crew Cab starts at $17,290 in two-wheel drive and $19,890 in four.

Inside, the Quad Cab comes nicely appointed–it is a clone of the other Dakotas–with grippy seats that accommodate occupants of varying girth. There’s plenty of storage and lots of cup holders, lots of legroom up front and decent head and leg space for rear-seat occupants.

Dodge rates the Quad Cab as a six-passenger vehicle, but unless everyone is supermodel slim, it is better suited for four.

One especially nice touch: The rear seats flipup to turn the rear compartment into a 26-cubic-foot indoor cargo area. The back seats even have undersides outfitted with elastic straps to secure round and rolling things like flashlights and umbrellas.

The Quad Cab offers an impressive list of accessories available through DaimlerChrysler’s Mopar division, including a nifty three-door “gull-wing” hard tonneau cover, a color-coordinated camper shell by Leer, an aluminum extender that adds 19 inches to the cargo bed with the tailgate lowered and a variety of roof racks.


The base engine in the Quad Cab is the Dakota’s 3.9-liter, 175-horsepower V-6 hooked to a five-speed manual transmission. It delivers 225 foot-pounds of torque and will tow up to 4,900 pounds with the optional four-speed automatic.

But Dodge expects almost half of all Quad Cab buyers to step up to one of the V-8s. Most popular will be the 4.7-liter, 235-horsepower model borrowed from the Jeep Grand Cherokee. With 295 foot-pounds of torque, it will tow up to 6,100 pounds in two-wheel-drive trim (5,800 in the four-wheel-drive version) and will do most people just fine.

For the gotta-have-the-most crowd, there’s the torquier (335 foot-pounds) 5.9-liter, 245-horsepower version of the hot-rod power plant previously offered only in the Dakota R/T. Gas mileage in the little monster drops to 12 miles per gallon in the city and 16 on the highway. The thriftiest Quad Cab (two-wheel drive, automatic transmission) gets 16 and 21 mpg, by comparison.

As for ride, well, the four-wheel-drive version seemed a bit bouncier than its shorter-wheelbase competition from Nissan, although we spent a week with the Frontier Crew Cab recently and got a good deal more familiar with it than with the Dakota. Dodge gave reviewers just six hours behind the wheel of the Quad Cab, so it is hard to say how and whether its ride characteristics might have changed over time.

Steering, however, is easy-to-handle power rack and pinion, and the suspension systems on both 2×4 and 4×4 versions are quite sophisticated. Like most of its compact pickup brethren, the Quad Cab offers a fairly car-like ride, especially in the two-wheel-drive version. The four-wheel-drive models, by dint of their stiff, off-road-capable suspensions, can get pretty jouncy at speed on rough roads. But smart buyers don’t seek out four-wheel-drive trucks for Ferrari-like ride and handling anyway.

Final word: A good all-around vehicle well worth looking at if your tastes or needs run to anything more than a standard sedan.

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