For 2006, the Dodge Dakota receives five new packages. On top of the basic Dakota ST and ST Plus, and SLT and SLT Plus, the new available packages are the TRX, TRX4 Off-Road, R/T, Night Runner and Sport. The Laramie package of 2005 is carried over.

Other changes include an optional Soundbox from Alpine available on the Club Cab, with a 508-watt sound system and 10-inch subwoofer within a translucent “box” between the rear seats; an optional 276-watt Alpine speaker system; an audio auxiliary jack standard equipment on the regular audio system; a standard AM/FM/CD stereo with optional six-CD/MP3 player; both cloth- and leather-faced bucket seats are available with heating; the centre stack trim on SLT and SLT Plus changes from wood finish to metal; and satellite radio and UConnect hands-free communication are optional.

Variable line pressure is added to the four-speed transmission; a 16-inch drop centre steel wheel replaces the 16-inch full-face wheel on ST Plus; 4×2 models get new tires; Club Cabs can be ordered with full-swing doors, which open 168 degrees; and Quad Cabs can be ordered with a sunroof. New exterior colours are Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat and Light Khaki Metallic.

Features on the new packages include aggressive off-road tires, tow hooks, anti-spin differential and unique wheels on the TRX; painted shocks, increased ride height, heavy-duty service package, slush mats and skid plates on the TRX Off-Road; a 4.7-litre High-Output engine, 17-inch wheels, hood scoop and sport appearance package on the R/T; black chrome grille surround, fascia insert and 17-inch wheels, appearance package and unique cluster graphic on the Night Runner; and body-colour grille, front fascia and bumper, 16-inch aluminum wheels and fog lamps on the Sport.

The Dakota’s base engine is a 3.7-litre V6; there are also two eight-cylinder engines, a 230 hp 4.7-litre V8 and 260 hp High-Output 4.7-litre V8. Body styles are Club Cab, with a 2-metre (6-foot-6) box, and Quad Cab, with a 1.6-metre (5-foot-4) box; drivetrain configuration is rear-wheel or four-wheel-drive.

The ST and ST Plus come standard with the V6 and six-speed manual transmission that can be optioned up to a four-speed automatic, and include tinted rear windows, air conditioning, rear dome light, CD player, disc/drum brakes with rear-wheel ABS, 16-inch steel wheels and, on 4×4 models, an electric-shift part-time 4WD transfer case. Available options include the 4.7-litre V8 with five-speed automatic, full-swing rear doors (on the Club Cab), sliding rear window, heated cloth seats, four-wheel ABS, trailer tow group and curtain airbags.

The SLT and SLT Plus add body-colour front fascia and bright rear bumper, fog lamps, power mirrors, power windows, power locks with keyless entry and 16-inch aluminum wheels. Options include the V8 or High-Output V8, 17-inch aluminum wheels, leather-faced seats with power driver’s seat, premium stereo, leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, and on 4×4 models, a full-time electric-shift transfer case.

Large even for a midsize truck, the Dakota offers a roomy interior, beefy towing capacity and full-time four-wheel-drive. Fit-and-finish is excellent and noise levels are low, making for a pleasant ride. On the down side, the Dakota tends to be thirsty, and while its lengthy list of features is popular, a stripped-down, all-vinyl model would be appreciated by those who want the Dakota’s heavy-duty ability on the job site but who don’t want to be steam-cleaning mud out of the carpet.

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