2005 Dodge Dakota pickup

April 1, 2005
The last morning I had the Dodge Dakota test-drive vehicle, the area had been hit with snowfall and some extremely cold weather.

As I began to back out of my driveway, the tires spun, the truck went nowhere, and I got that sinking feeling I'd have to wake up my husband to help push me out of the driveway. Then I remembered the four-wheel-drive switch and promptly clicked it over. That's all it took. The struggling was over and the truck easily backed out the driveway and I was on my way. The Dakota is the only pickup in the midsize class to offer full-time four-wheel drive.

The Dakota Quad Cab 4 4 Laramie pickup was full of perks. It drove like a dream with carlike handling, gliding smoothly over our pot-hole-covered roads, and made winter driving not so much of a chore. This may be attributed to its new chassis, which is eight times as stiff in torsion and twice as stiff in bending as the previous Dakota frame. A new independent coil-over-shock-absorber front suspension works with a retuned multileaf-spring solid axle at the rear.

The 3.7 Liter Magnum V6 engine, with 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque, handled rush hour traffic well. At one point, while trying to merge into a tight spot, I hit the gas and heard a reassuring sporty growl from the engine. I was off and into my coveted lane. The Dakota also comes with a 4.7-liter V8, rated at 230 hp at 4,600 rpm and 290 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. And new this year, a 4.7-liter High Output Magnum V8 with 250+ hp and 300+ lb-ft of torque is also available. Both V8s are rated between 3 and 4% more fuel efficient than previous versions.

The redesigned truck is a miniature version of the full-size Dodge Ram pickup, with the large retro-looking grill up front and taillights resembling those found on the truck's sibling, the Dodge Durango SUV. On the inside, the dash is also a twin of the Durango's, with an easy-to-read sleek-looking instrument panel, brushed-aluminum accents, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and bucket seats. There's also a large storage compartment between the seats.

The cab is easy to get into, no struggling, even for this eight-months-pregnant driver. And the driver seat has six-way power controls, so you can adjust it to the exact position that you find comfortable. Unlike many extended-cab trucks, the backseat was not cramped in the least.

The Dakota has a 5-ft, 4-in. bed, which was big enough to haul a crib and some other odds and ends. This would make the perfect truck for the family who enjoys rugged vacations. Our test-drive truck had the trailer tow option, which provides 7,000 lb of towing capability.

Our test-drive version also came with the optional Sirius satellite radio. It would be nice if they copied GM in putting the radio control buttons on the steering wheel. Constantly bending over to switch the station is uncomfortable and hazardous. An AM/FM stereo radio with an in-dash six-disc CD/MP3 player is standard.

As much as I found this truck quite pleasurable to drive, one complaint was the sticky gearshift. I found myself struggling a few times trying to put it into drive or reverse. The shifter seemed loose and hard to maneuver.

My husband and I took the truck on a short trip to a friend's house and by the trip's end he was convinced he wanted a pickup truck. The Dakota would be the perfect choice for someone going from a midsize sedan to a pickup. It handles much like a car and offers many of the benefits of a pickup.

Base price is $28,679, but with all the options the total comes to $32,599.

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