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INTERIOR: Inside cab dimensions grew in almost every direction. For example, front headroom in the Quad Cab went from 39.6 inches to 39.9 inches, but leg room stayed the same at 41.9 inches. Front shoulder room of 57.7 inches is only one-half inch more but hip room decreased to 54.9 inches. If Dodge doesn’t watch the competition, it could lose its size advantage. The new Colorado Crew Cab offers front shoulder room 57.1 inches and hip room of 53.3 inches. Even the new Toyota Tacoma has front shoulder room of 57.7 inches in its Double Cab and hip room of 53.6 inches. Dodge still has more generous legroom in the rear of its Quad Cab than the competition. More attention was focused on style and comfort in the 2005 Dakota interior. The new instrument panel is simpler and well organized but lacking analog engine-function gauges that real truck guys like. Interior surfaces are more cosmopolitan in the SLT and Laramie trims (we didn’t get to drive the base trim). Sound system choices include an Infinity 288-watt, 6-speaker setup with a 6-CD in-dash changer. Dodge also offers SIRIUS satellite radio and UConnect hands-free communications. The seats take advantage of Dakota’s size and offer a firm but spacious foundation. Dakota will also be the first automaker to offer heated cloth seats. When the rear seats in the Quad Cab fold down, 37.1 cubic feet of storage space open up. That’s an increase of 7.2 cu. ft. over the previous model

TOWING: A base 2WD Dakota Club Cab has a tow rating of 3250 pounds. But add a V8, automatic transmission and 3.92:1 rear axle and you can tow up to 7150 pounds. We pulled a 7000-pound trailer around rolling hills outside Nashville with no problem starting or stopping. The engine had to work hard but the transmission maintained a steady gear on the mild slopes we covered. We wouldn’t want to tow that load over the Rockies, but most people with a Dakota are going to be towing personal watercraft, family boats or a dual-stall horse trailer. For those chores, the Dakota will definitely shine. Some other manufacturers of small trucks have lowered their trailer ratings to improve ride and handling. Their philosophy is that if someone has to tow over 5000 pounds, they’ll get a fullsize truck. Dodge wants to keep that potential customer.

In an attempt to get away from the ridiculous incentive wars, Dodge is lowering the price of a new Dakota by an average of $1,000 across the line. In fact, you can get a V8 Club Cab for less than $20,000. That’s impressive considering no other automaker offers a V8 in a small truck. A top-of-line 4WD Quad Cab Laramie starts at $29,324.

The new Dakota is a major step up in refinement over previous models. Drivers will appreciate the attention to detail, extra horsepower and distinctive looks. With a tow rating over 7000 pounds and payload capacity of between 1310 and 1740 pounds (depending on the engine, transmission and configuration), the truck is just as capable as a workhorse as a regular fullsize truck of just a few years ago.

PickupTruck.com will have closer looks at each Dakota model as they become available for full road tests.

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