DaimlerChrysler virtually defined the midsize truck segment with its Dakota pickup. Compact, yet large enough for full-size drivers, the Dakota filled a need that the smaller imports couldn’t meet. Enter the all-new 2005 Dodge Dakota pickup, a truck that’s bound to further refine and seriously challenge the midsize pickup market.
In truth, the midsize aspect of the Dakota is somewhat open to interpretation. Yes, the truck is marginally smaller overall than the half-ton and 1500-series trucks offered by Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge. In real-world day-to-day function, such as passenger comfort and capacity, ease of driving and parking and so on, the Dakota is more like a slightly downsized full-size truck than a midsize. Vehicles in the midsize category could include the new Toyota Tacoma and the GM Colorado types, but even those rigs seem to grow with each new model.
Regardless of what you call its size, the Dakota — which can be rated to tow up to 7,150 pounds — does a very good job as a tow rig when properly matched to a suitably sized trailer.
All-new sheetmetal and exterior details are the most obvious visible changes made to the 2005 model. Squared-off details such as the fender flares, hood and overall body lines replace the softer, rounded features of the last Dakota iteration.
Three trim levels are available, starting with the base ST, the next-step SLT and higher-end Laramie models. Each step up represents an increase in content and trim, as you may expect, but even the base-model ST comes well-equipped.
A Club Cab truck is the standard model — there is no Dakota standard cab, as it’s known today. A step up in people capacity and access is the Quad Cab, with four full-size doors and a sizable back seat that handles adults in relative comfort.
Dakotas get short beds only; the Club Cab has a 6-foot, 6-inch bed, and the Quad Cab’s bed is 5 feet, 4 inches. Buyers with fifth-wheel trailers in mind will need to do some measuring and checking to ensure space and turning compatibility between the truck and trailer — or opt for a moving hitch.
All of this is based on a new fully boxed frame that’s stronger and stiffer, with greater bending, torsional and lateral flex resistance. Welded-frame-segment assembly combined with hydroformed-frame-section technology is borrowed from the company’s larger Ram trucks.
Both front and rear suspensions have been modified. Out back, a new set of springs designed for optimum ride quality works with a standard solid axle. Up front, dual-A-arm coil-sprung independent suspension is the same for 2WD and 4WD trucks for a common ride height between models. A taller steering knuckle reduces alignment changes during suspension movement, which saves tire wear and is designed to improve handling feel. A rack-and-pinion steering gear is standard. All Dakotas come with four-wheel disc brakes. Rear-wheel ABS is standard, and four-wheel ABS is optional.
Three engines are available, starting with the base 3.7-liter V-6 rated at 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque. The standard-output 4.7-liter V-8 — the base model of the V-8 engines — is rated at 230 hp and 290 lb-ft.
For those who require optimum performance, there’s the new high-output Magnum 4.7-liter V-8 — available only on SLT and Laramie models with automatic transmissions — that’s rated to produce 250-plus hp and 300-plus lb-ft of torque. This engine places the Dakota at the top of its class for power, torque and towing capacity. New valve springs, new combustion-chamber design, a more aggressive camshaft profile and higher-compression pistons are among the improvements made to the Magnum V-8.
A Getrag six-speed manual is the base transmission, and two automatics round out the line. A 42RLE four-speed automatic is available for the V-6, and the V-8s use 545RFE five-speed automatics with a tow/haul mode switch for increased control and modified shift points when towing.
Safety is high on the Chrysler engineering priority list, and starts with a new crush-zone frame design for improved impact management. Next-generation air bags help protect the front-seat occupants, and use the new occupant classification system (OCS) to deploy, only as needed, the front passenger bag. Optionally available side-curtain air bags, which protect front- and rear-seat occupants, are also across the board on the trucks. Seatbelt pretensioners are likewise standard.
Inside, the truck has an all-new dash and freshened interior that help make the trip comfortable and relaxing. The dash includes new white-face gauges, a new central control pod and smoother visual lines. The new seat upholstery and optional heated cloth seats are among the rig’s comfort features, and extra-thickdoor glass plus a wind-cheating pillar and seal design help quiet the interior.
On the Road
We had a chance to briefly drive several different Dakota models solo during a recent Dodge media preview of the 2005 model. They all rode well, were quiet, and handled with the kind of tight steering and solid braking buyers expect from new trucks. Comfortable seats and low wind noise are additional highlights of these rigs.
For those who find a small trailer adequate, the V-6 is a viable and potentially more economical option that powers the truck with surprising spirit and pep.
During the towing portion of the drive we used a 2WD Club Cab with the 4.7-liter Magnum engine and automatic transmission. It was hitched to a Coachmen Spirit of America model 300TBS trailer that weighed approximately 6,500 pounds, so it represented a healthy load for the Dakota.
Ride and handling with the trailer aboard are terrific. Use of a well-adjusted equalizing hitch helps to avoid the fore-and-aft buckboard that results from a bad hitch setup. Steering and cornering feel predictable and secure, as does braking.
Hill climbs require extra throttle and the engine audibly works hard, which is standard for a tow rig with a small-block V-8. However, the truck only slowed to match the curves and traffic, and could have managed the 6-percent grade in the 45-mph range with no problem. That’s not bad for hauling a trailer of this size.
Engine and road noise are average during a hard climb, and are very quiet on the open road. The older-model Dakotas were always whisper-quiet — well, almost — and this new one is no exception.
Pricing for the 2005 Dakota Club Cab starts at $19,210 for the ST 2WD, $19,995 for the same truck equipped with a V-8 and $22,869 for the 4WD model. At the top end are the Laramie Club Cab 2WD at $24,984, and $27,834 buys the 4WD model. Quad Cab trucks start at $21,419 for the ST 2WD and $24,269 in 4WD trim, and range up to $26,474 for the Laramie 2WD and the 4WD is $29,324.