Test: 2005 Dodge Dakota
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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 of CDs.
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.
With improvements 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 competition—especially 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.
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