The persona of Dodge trucks changed dramatically in 1993 when the new
Ram made a spectacular debut as a 1994 model. With bold big-rig styling
and an advanced Cummins engine as an option, the Ram was no longer a street
truck. It was a road truck. Since the apple doesn’t fall far from
the tree, the new Dakota should share some of those long-haul qualities.
I took a
2005 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab 4x4 Laramie on a free-wheeling weekend trip
from Los Angeles to the Colorado River. The 777-mile route took me over
freeways, open back roads—including the original Route 66 near Amboy—and
a quick off-road jaunt on the way to the gambling retreat of Laughlin,
Nevada. It was meant to be a no-stress trip: no towing, no personal toys
such as an ATV and no agenda. Just an overnight bag, munchies and an armful
The Laramie trim includes a 288-watt Infinity 6-speaker sound system,
power windows/locks and leather seating. Power came from a 230-horsepower
4.7-liter V8 backed by a 5-speed automatic transmission. Optional equipment
on our test vehicle included skid plates, tow package with transmission
cooler, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, 3.92:1 axle ratio, sliding rear window,
anti-spin differential, 17-inch alloy wheels with P265/65R17 tires, a
bedliner and SIRUS satellite radio.
in all areas of road manners, the new Dakota is surprisingly quiet, comfortable
and quite relaxing. A cross-country cruise would certainly be manageable,
even with a back seat full of youngsters and trailer full of dirt bikes
on the hitch. The cabin in our upscale Laramie offers a more cosmopolitan
atmosphere with just enough ruggedness and edgy design to remind us that
is a midsize pickup.
The improved ride comes from numerous upgrades in the construction and
design. The hydroformed, fully-boxed frame is eight times stiffer in torsion
and two times in bending than the previous Dakota. Under the frame are
redesigned or upgraded suspensions. Up front, torsion bars are out and
new short- and long-arm (SLA) independent with a coil-over shock absorber
module. The rear has the same live-axle configuration but was retuned
with selected spring rates and shock valving. Rounding out the chassis
features are front and rear sway bars and rack-and-pinion steering.
Other steps were taken to reduce noise and improve the ride. The front-door
glass is 20 percent thicker and there’s more sound insulation throughout
the firewall, tunnel and doors. Weather stripping is triple sealed in
critical areas. A larger, revised exhaust system isolates engine noise
better. Even the mirrors were given an aerodynamic treatment to reduce
outside wind noise.
the Nissan Frontier—has caught and sometimes passed Dakota with
regards to many of the interior dimensions in the 4-door models. Dodge
does take advantage of its real estate with wider-than-expected seats
that are supportive and adjustable enough to maintain posture over long
drives. Even the rear seat has a comfortable back angle. The overall interior
layout of the Laramie is functional and consistent. No trim decision seems
to be an afterthought or second choice. Surface textures are pleasant
but hardly inspired. The large, forward cupholder on the center console
has two smaller backups and nick-knack tray that are useful for cell phone,
on-road treats and other small items. The instrument panel layout follows
a 3-ring pattern that is becoming familiar in compact trucks. What makes
the Dakota’s stand out is the electroluminescent lighting behind
the white-faced gauges for glare-free nighttime driving. The audio system
is MP3 friendly offers a solid sound with a good selection of tonal ranges.
It’s not a real thumper but has enough depth to handle a cross section
of music tastes.