The Dodge Dakota looks big. And it is big. The Dakota is the biggest pickup in the mid-size class, and the only mid-size truck available with a V8. Dodge claims its 7150-pound maximum towing capacity is by far the best in the class. Dakota looks nearly as big and tough as the full-size Dodge Ram. You might say Dakota is the mid-size pickup with a full-size attitude.
Getting in is easy, and the interior is comfortable and convenient, with controls that are easy to reach and operate. The rear doors on Club Cabs and Quad Cabs open wide, and the Quad Cab can accommodate six. The Club Cab has earned five-star safety ratings in both front and side impact testing by the federal government (NHTSA).
Underway, the Dakota is smooth and quiet. The optional 4.7-liter V8 burbles subtly in the background when cruising, but really scoots when the throttle is mashed. A high-output version with over 310 pound-feet of torque is available if that's not enough. Dakota's steering is light for easy maneuverability in crowded parking lots and the Dakota responds quickly on mountain roads and tracks nice and straight on the highway.
For 2007, the V8 is now flex-fuel capable, meaning it can run on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol. A dual-position tailgate is now standard on all models, maximizing versatility when hauling long building materials. One-touch lane-change signaling is available for those who like that feature. And a new power accessory delay allows the radio and other features to continue to operate for period of time after vehicle is keyed off.
New options include a remote starter, stain-resistant fabric; and 18-inch wheels.
If you want a pickup that's big and brawny, but not as big as a full-size, the Dodge Dakota is the biggest and the brawniest.
Dodge Dakota looks massive and menacing, with a long snout devoted to crush space. Last redesigned for 2005, the Dodge Dakota hasn't changed much in appearance since then.
The Dakota shares its design with the full-size Dodge Ram and Durango SUV. All three share the retro big-rig grille motif and bulging fenders that have become trademarks of the Dodge Truck brand. Still, Dakota boasts sharper, crisper lines and flatter planes than its relatives; and its grille is laid back, not vertical. Front fender lines deliberately extended halfway along the length of the door. The intersection of the front fenders with the multi-element, twin-lens headlamps and raked chrome grille makes the whole design work beautifully. The current Durango looks a bit stubby in comparison.
A coil-over-shock independent front suspension is used on both 2WD and 4WD models, with conventional leaf springs at the rear. All models come with front and rear tow hooks and tie-downs in the bed.
The driver's seat looks good and feels good with its upper and lower support wings and good padding where it counts. Interior room, even for tall drivers is excellent.
Black-on-white gauges are outlined with chrome rings, and the central speedometer is about twice as large as the other two gauges. The angular center stack houses the sound system, climate controls and vents. The thick four-spoke steering wheel features audio and cruise controls. Brushed metal accents brighten the cockpit, and the whole design works very well in terms of usability, convenience, and reach. The plastic materials look good but not great. Interior fits and finishes are good.
Club Cabs have auxiliary rear doors that swing open nearly 180 degrees.
Quad Cabs feature four huge doors; the rear doors open out to nearly 90 degrees, so ingress and egress are very good. Quad Cab interiors are roomy, with over 102 cubic feet of passenger space. The rear seats are deliberately stepped up on their bases so that rear-seat occupants can see out more easily, and they are split into 40/20/40 folding sections with two rear cupholders. Rear-seat room is generous for family use, with 37 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat. A center console and lots of cubbyholes provide space to stash stuff.
We found the Dodge Dakota surprisingly quiet, smooth and civil in its behavior, more like a car than a truck. Thick glass, big mufflers, and generous sound insulation throughout the body and firewall help reduce noise. Still, the Dakota drives bigger than it looks, with a hefty, Ram-like way about it, a nicely muscular street swagger.
The optional V8 is worth every penny. In standard tune, the 4.7-liter V8 generates 230 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. And with 15/20 mpg in 2WD manual models, and 14/19 with 4WD and an automatic, there's almost no penalty in fuel economy. And in most states it now runs on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol (E85).
Our Quad Cab with the standard 4.7-liter accelerated with uncommon vigor and a wonderful exhaust note. At highway speeds it settled down to a nice background burble in overdrive fifth gear. Its strong torque means plenty of low-down grunt for pulling payloads of up to 1,660 pounds or towing up to 7,150 pounds.
The 4.7-liter High Output V8 is rated 260 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, thanks to higher compression and more aggressive valve timing. Fuel economy drops to 14/18 mpg either 2WD or 4WD.
The base V6 feels a bit light on power for this big, heavy pickup, and it doesn't offer a big fuel economy advantage. The 3.7-liter V6 is rated 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. It's been upgraded for '07 with electronic throttle control and exhaust-gas recirculation. Fuel economy ratings range from 15/19 city/highway with automatic and 4WD to 16/22 with 2WD and the stick-shift.
The automatic transmission has perfectly spaced ratios for trucking, and worked without complaint, roughness or harshness, even in high-rpm full-throttle upshifts. With only two occupants and no load, it really scoots from the stoplight despite the nearly 4800-pound weight of the Quad Cab 4X4. For towing, there's a Tow/Haul setting that alters the shift pattern of the automatic transmission.
Dakota's rack-and-pinion power steering is a bit over-assisted for our taste, but the chunky steering wheel feels great in the hands. The truck tracks extremely well, responds quickly to inputs, and stays hunkered down during mountain road playtime. Its 265/70R16 B.F. Goodrich Wrangler tires gripped corners yet were quiet at highway speeds, adding a measure of plushness to the ride quality that we really appreciated. We liked the ride and handling, though like all pickup trucks it can get choppy over small, high-intensity bumps and ruts.
The Dakota comes with rear-wheel anti-lock brakes as standard safety equipment, but four-wheel ABS disc/drum brakes are optional. We deliberately tried the rear ABS on a straight, flat, dry road for several maximum-g stops with no load and no passengers, and it worked well, keeping the unladen, light-in-the-rear pickup straight and coming to crisp stops four times in a row without locking the rear wheels.
The Dodge Dakota is on the large end of the mid-size pickups. Dakota is unique in its class, with its brawny style, generous size, powerful V8 engines for towing, and plenty of room for a typical family.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Dearborn, Michigan.
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2011 Dodge Dakota$21,988 | 30,678 mi
2008 DODGE DAKOTA$9,995 | 129,536 mi
2008 Dodge Dakota$19,460 | 65,479 mi
2007 Dodge Dakota$17,206 | 21,070 mi
2006 Dodge Dakota$6,987 | 155,372 mi
2006 Dodge Dakota$9,995 | 114,687 mi
2006 Dodge Dakota$10,831 | 125,428 mi
2005 Dodge Dakota$7,990 | 110,995 mi
2005 Dodge Dakota$7,995 | 127,210 mi
2005 Dodge Dakota$8,995 | 89,029 mi
2005 Dodge Dakota$9,293 | 135,220 mi
2005 Dodge Dakota$11,437 | 112,238 mi
2005 Dodge Dakota$15,397 | 56,739 mi
2005 Dodge Dakota$18,480 | 26,837 mi
2004 Dodge Dakota$6,995 | 170,185 mi
2004 Dodge Dakota$7,989 | 100,490 mi
2004 Dodge Dakota$7,995 | 94,186 mi
2004 Dodge Dakota$9,900 | 86,193 mi
2004 Dodge Dakota$10,482 | 99,609 mi
2004 DODGE DAKOTA$12,986 | 107,026 mi
2002 Dodge Dakota$3,595 | 186,420 mi
2002 Dodge Dakota$7,495 | 114,509 mi
2002 Dodge Dakota$9,000 | 60,675 mi
2001 Dodge Dakota$3,995 | 184,370 mi
2001 Dodge Dakota$7,997 | 107,801 mi
2001 Dodge Dakota$8,995 | 111,540 mi
2000 Dodge Dakota$5,995 | 192,000 mi
1997 Dodge Dakota$8,275 | 46,620 mi