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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 comes in two body styles: The Club Cab is an extended-cab configuration with small, reverse-opening rear doors to access the rear compartment. It comes with a 6 1/2-foot bed. The Quad Cab is a crew-cab style truck with four full-size doors and a 5-foot, 4-inch bed. Each can seat five to six passengers, but back-seat riders will be much more comfortable in the Quad Cab. Both bodies are built on the same 131.1-inch wheelbase.
Three trim levels are available: ST, SLT, and Laramie. Regardless of trim, however, Club Cabs come with a front bench seat split 40/20/40; while Quad Cabs come with front bucket seats, with the bench seat as an option. Bucket seats are optional on SLT and Laramie Club Cabs.
The standard engine is a 3.7-liter V6. It comes with a six-speed manual transmission. An optional four-speed automatic ($1135) is available for ST and SLT; the Laramie comes standard with the automatic. A 4.7-liter V8 engine is available for all models. It comes with a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic on ST and SLT, and again with the automatic only on Laramie. A high-output version of the 4.7-liter V8 is available for the SLT and Laramie, exclusively with the five-speed automatic.
ST Club Cab ($19,135) and Quad Cab ($21,835) come standard with air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo with audio auxiliary jack, tinted rear windows, front disc/rear drum brakes with rear-wheel anti-lock (ABS), and 16-inch steel wheels. Quad Cabs have fold-down rear seats.
SLT Club Cab ($22,850) and Quad Cab ($24,180) are upgraded with new YES Essentials seat fabric (claimed to be stain resistant, odor resistant, and anti-static); fold-down rear seats for Club Cabs as well as Quad Cabs; a full-floor console for Quad Cabs; power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry; cruise control; tilt steering; color-keyed carpet mats; chrome bumpers; fog lights; and 16-inch painted aluminum wheels.
Laramie Club Cab ($24,950) and Quad Cab ($26,250) add leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, premium 276-watt Alpine audio with MP3 capability and 6-CD changer, automatic headlamps, auto-dimming rearview mirror, body-color front bumper, bright bodyside moldings, and a security alarm with Sentry Key engine immobilizer.
Traditional part-time 4WD ($2,850-2,955, in most cases) is available for all models. Full-time 4WD with an electronically controlled locking center differential is available (for $395 more) on SLT and Laramie models with V8 and automatic transmission.
Options include Sirius Satellite Radio ($195, but only with the premium 276-watt or 508-watt sound systems), heated seats ($250, but only with leather), four-wheel ABS ($295), various towing packages ($455-$525), and chrome wheels in 17-inch and new 18-inch diameters. An optional hands-free communications system uses Bluetooth technology to integrate a compatible cellphone with the truck's audio system. A sunroof ($850) is available on SLT and Laramie Quad Cabs. A new option for SLT and Laramie is a remote starter ($185).
A new-for-'07 Sport Appearance Package adds body color trim and 18-inch painted wheels to SLT or Laramie, while a new Chrome Accent Package adds tubular side steps and other brightwork. These join the existing TRX Off-road, high-performance R/T, and Night Runner packages as yet another way to tailor Dakota to your personal image.
The TRX package includes unique five-spoke/five-lug 16-inch aluminum wheels and Goodyear Wrangler off-road tires; tow hooks; a limited-slip differential; and TRX decal on the cargo box. The TRX package is available on 2WD ST, SLT and Laramie. TRX4 Off-Road includes everything in the TRX package plus painted shocks; an increased ride height of one inch; heavy-duty service package; skid plates; TRX4 Off-Road cargo box decal; and slush mats.
R/T is an SLT with the high-output 4.7-liter engine and: 17-inch five-spoke/five-lug chrome-clad aluminum wheels; hood scoop; Sport Appearance Pa
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.