Maybe you’re a city slicker who never wanted to own a truck.

If so, let the 1998 Dodge Dakota R/T show you what you’re missing.

The mid-size Dakota R/T has the big-rig looks of the full-size Dodge Ram pickup plus the big power of a 5.9-liter Magnum V8. Yet the Dakota R/T has a low, step-in height, precise handling that’s definitely untrucklike and all the functionality for those weekend chores and outdoor activities.

Dodge calls it an enthusiast’s truck; I call it “fun.”

The test Dakota rumbled through my neighborhood with authority. The looks it got were a mix of surprise — this truck isn’t as big as that throaty V8 would have you anticipate — and admiration.

It also gave me a couple scares, because it’s easy to get up into that 50-mph range before you know it.

The R/T engine is capable of 250 horsepower and 355-pounds feet of torque. It’s the same 5.9-liter V8 that Dodge puts into its new Durango sport-utility vehicle and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which costs thousands more than this Dakota.

The Dakota R/T, with lowered sporty suspension and special stabilizer bars, hugs the ground compared with other trucks; handling is more nimble than expected. In parking lots, the Dakota R/T slipped right into tight spots. On curves, it hung on to the line.

In rain, the R/T’s oversized 17-inch P255/55 tires and limited slip differential helped maintain traction. And the optional four-wheel anti-lock brakes kept the truck straight in quick stops.

Notice that I’ve not mentioned anything here about this truck being a 4X4. It’s not. Just like a true street truck, the R/T comes only in rear-wheel drive.

And the only transmission is a four-speed automatic.

There is some bounce to the ride, but it seems a bit muted in the Dakota R/T, even with the pickup bed empty.

Inside, the instrument panel is carlike, even if the rather flat appearance to the dashboard overall is more reminiscent of a pickup rather than a car.

The test truck was a regular cab, with good headroom and legroom. The R/T also comes in a club cab model that costs about $2,000 more.

Because the R/T has two front airbags, Dodge includes a key-operated shutoff for the passenger-side airbag, in case you have to seat a child there. The AM/FM radio controls are the old Chrysler variety, complete with sensitive joystick mechanism that I find difficult to adjust with precision while driving.

My biggest problem in the Dakota R/T came from the two bucket seats. They were firm but did not have adjustable headrests. The best I could do to position the headrest area appropriately was to put the seatbacks upright, which made for an uncomfortable riding position.

Still, the R/T is a lot of fun. Even a city slicker can enjoy it.


What we drove: 1998 Dodge Dakota R/T regular cab, a two-door, two-passenger, mid-sized pickup with a 5.9-liter, Magnum V8 and four-speed automatic transmission.

Base price: $16,700

Price as tested (includes options and delivery charge): $19,000

Curb weight: 3,689 pounds

Length: 195.8 inches

Turning circle (curb to curb): 36 feet

Standard features: Two front air bags; intermittent wipers; AM/FM radio with cassette player; halogen headlamps; 6.5-foot pickup box; tinted glass; variable assist power steering; rear anti lock brakes.

Options on test vehicle: R/T package $2,300.

EPA figures: 13 mpg (city), 18 mpg (highway)

Fuel: Unleaded regular

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