First Drive: 2005 Dodge Dakota
By: Mike Magda, Editor Posted: 08-01-04 00:00 ET
© 2004

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The new 2005 Dodge Dakota—which is considered a midsize pickup—is every bit as capable as the half-ton fullsize pickup of just 20 years ago. In the life cycle of a pickup, that’s not very long. Trucks can easily serve owners that many years on the road or ranch.

So just what is a half-ton pickup, anymore? The astonishing pace at which midsize trucks have developed completely blurs the line between our traditional classifications of pickups.

A 1985 Dodge D100 pickup had a GVWR of 4800 pounds. The D150 was rated between 4800 and 5850 pounds. The biggest engine available that year for the half-ton pickup was a 5.9-liter V8 rated at 185 horsepower.

For 2005, a 2-wheel-drive Dodge Dakota Club Cab carries a GRWR of 6010 pounds and can be ordered with a 250-horsepower 4.7-liter V8. The 6010-pound rating is the same base GVWR as the revolutionary 1994 Dodge Ram 1500 2WD pickup. The 5.9-liter V8 that year was rated at 230 horsepower.

In other words, the new Dakota is big and powerful. Maybe too big? Hardly. Most other so-called compact/midsize trucks—the Nissan Frontier, Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon and Toyota Tacoma—have grown considerably for 2005. Only the Ford Ranger, which is still the best-selling truck in this category, remains unchanged. The days of a truly inexpensive, lightweight, fuel-efficient regular cab pickup are fading fast. Small trucks are in competition with big trucks, mostly due to the massive incentives and desirable content available on fullsize pickups. A few years ago, cross-shoppers of small trucks would list a small car as their second choice. Now it’s a fullsize truck.

Dodge expects Dakota to improve on its traditional fourth-place standing in small-truck sales race not only by boasting it’s the biggest, but by boasting it can do the work of a big truck.

“Dakota delivers fullsize capability in a midsize package,” says Dodge Vice President Mike Donoughe, noting the Dakota can do the job of a fullsize pickup and still offer better fuel economy and maneuverability.

Of course, fullsize trucks have grown considerably in recent years, so the one-upsmanship between manufacturers won’t end soon. Dakota has always been the biggest of the small trucks but lacked a reputation for fit ‘n’ finish and reliability. The new Dakota has addressed those issues and more.

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