- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

Dodge has taken the Dakota up level, both in size and features. This midsized pickup truck gains more interior room. Correspondingly this extra room is jam-packed with the features buyers have asked for.

One of those important features is a value package that includes a V-8 engine. Dodge has not only provided V-8 power, but given it to us as the only V-8-powered pickup truck priced under $20,000. OK, so it is barely under twenty grand, but if you are in need of V-8 power on a budget, this Dakota may be the truck for you.

Dodge designers have given the Dakota a new look while retaining that bold Dodge profile. The pronounced cross-hair grille is surrounded by a border that has a more chiseled appearance. The doors have a larger area of sheet metal that, in turn, reduces the glass area and makes the glass less dominant. This helps give the Dakota a sporty and sleek look.

The regular cab design in pickup trucks has lost its popularity among buyers, so Dodge has decided to drop this body style from the Dakota lineup. Having access to stored cargo has made way for the increased popularity of extended body styles such as the Dodge Club Cab. A Crew Cab version is also available, providing four full-sized doors. Both trucks ride and drive equally well, so the choice is determined by which body style would serve you better. The four-door model offers a large rear seat able to handle three passengers with ease. The Club Cab, on the other hand, offers a smallish jump seat that is best left to the little people in your life, or cargo alone. I don’t understand the logic of making the jump seat an option, but with the Dakota it is just that, a $200 option.

The interior is an inviting area with a center stack containing HVAC and sound-system controls that are attractive and functional. I particularly like the black on white instruments that are not only attractive, but easy to read. I miss the fact that there is no telescoping adjustment on the steering column.

There are plenty of storage compartments provided throughout the passenger compartment. Door pockets on each door offer each passenger a place for miscellaneous articles. The center console cargo hold is quite large, providing a covered space for items you wish to keep out of sight.

With three power choices, the Dakota offers plenty of capability to match or excite your expectations. The V-6 engine begins with 210 horsepower and 255 foot-pounds of torque. An entry-level V-8 engine offers 230 horsepower and 290 foot-pounds of torque. The 4.7-liter High-Output V-8 is also available, which bestows on the Dakota an unmatched combined gross weight rating of 11,700 pounds and class-leading towing capacity of 7,150 pounds.

Many truck manufacturers are discontinuing the manual transmission. Dodge, on the other hand, sees the benefit of providing this choice, as many drivers continue to prefer shifting on their own. Not only for the control a manual transmission offers, but in some cases when hauling cargo the ability to select the gear you want can be advantageous. This new Getrag six-speed manual gear box is smooth in shifting and offers a wider range of gears to make your job easier.

The combination of cab configurations and the plentiful engine selections give the Dodge Dakota a leg up in the market. It is a capable truck that provides a comfortable ride as well as the ability to handle nearly any job you toss its way.

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