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by Greg Wilson
To a certain extent, choosing a pickup truck is all about numbers – and generally, the bigger the numbers, the better. Sought-after numbers include horsepower, torque, payload capacity, towing capacity, box length, and interior volume. Fuel economy numbers aren’t quite as important.
In the mid-size pickup category (which has virtually replaced the compact class), the redesigned 2005 Dodge Dakota has big numbers: it’s the only mid-size pickup with an available eight cylinder engine; it has the most torque in its class (300-plus lb-ft in the high output 4.7 litre V8); it has the greatest towing capacity (max. 3350 kg/7,150 lb.) when equipped with the High Output V-8, five-speed automatic transmission, and 3.92 rear axle; and the Dakota has the largest payload capacity: 1720 lb. with the 3.7 litre V6 and 4 speed automatic, and 1640 lb. with the 4.7 litre V8 and 6-speed manual transmission.
And in terms of size, the new Dakota is the largest mid-size pickup on the market, and about four inches longer than the previous 2004 Dakota. The 2005 Dakota Club Cab and Quad Cab are the same length (5558 mm/218.8 in.), but the Club Cab has a longer box (6 ft. 6 in. vs 5 ft. 4 in.) and a smaller cab with two rearward opening door panels instead of two conventional rear doors.
There’s one number that the new Dakota couldn’t top: horsepower. While its high output 4.7 litre V8 develops 250 horsepower, the 2005 Nissan Frontier’s 4.0 litre V6 offers 265 horsepower, and the 2005 Toyota Tacoma’s 4.0 litre V6 is not far behind with 245 horsepower. And those feisty V6 trucks from Nissan and Toyota aren’t far behind in torque and payload capacity either.
Other worthy competitors in the mid-size market include the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, and the new Honda Ridgeline.
It’s difficult to compare pricing when the Dakota is the only mid-size pickup with a V8, and options can add thousands of dollars to the price. Base V6 2WD Club Cabs start under $25,000 (there is no regular cab anymore), and the base 2005 Dodge Dakota Club Cab ST V6 4X4 starts at about $28,175, but my fully loaded Dakota Laramie Club Cab 4X4 V8 had a base price of $36,745 and came to over $41,000 with options.
Redesigned for 2005
The redesigned 2005 Dakota is 69 mm (2.7 inches) wider and 94 mm (3.7 inches) longer than its predecessor. The Dakota’s longer nose was designed to provide increased crash protection, and in recent NHTSA crash tests, the Dakota Club Cab earned five stars for frontal and side impact protection. A Five-Star rating means the likelihood of injury in a frontal crash is 10 percent or less.
The wider, longer cab provides more interior room and the Dakota Club Cab is the most spacious extended cab model on the market. However, the two rear, forward-facing jump seats in the Club Cab are very uncomfortable – vertical seatbacks, shallow seat cushions, and minimal legroom would discourage most passengers from sitting there. One positive note: the rear seats now offer three-point seat belts and head restraints.
The real purpose of that extra room behind the front seats is to provide secure, dry storage space for tools and valuables – plus Club Cab models have a longer box than Quad Cab models. If you want a pickup for people, choose the Quad Cab; but if you want a pickup for utility, choose the Club Cab.
The Dakota Club Cab’s 6 foot 6 inch box has a protective plastic cover on the inside of the tailgate, box inserts for crossmember supports, but no stake holes in the top of the bed walls. A sliding glass rear window is optional.
Dakotas come in three trim levels, ST, SLT and Laramie, and all trims offer 2WD or 4WD. The top-of-the-line Laramie is the only mid-size pickup to offer a full-time 4WD system.
Base Dakotas have a standard 3.7-litre V-6 engine with 210 horsepower and 235 lb.-ft. of torque. The 4.7-litre V-8 is rated at 230 horsepower at 4,600 rpm and 290 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm, while the new-for-2005 4.7-litre High Output V-8 has 250 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 300-plus lb.-ft. of torque @ 3500 rpm. Dodge says both V-8 engines are rated between three and four percent more fuel efficient than the previous Dodge Dakota V-8 engines, but the High Output engine uses Premium 93 octane gasoline.
Official fuel consumption numbers are 16.3 L/100 km (17 m.p.g.) in the city and 11.1 L/100 km (25 m.p.g.) on the highway.
A standard six-speed manual transmission is new for 2005. V6 models get an optional 4-speed automatic while V8 models have an optional 5-speed automatic that features a Tow/Haul mode to compensate for the increased weight of a trailer. I found this transmission shifted crisply and smoothly.
The Dakota’s standard ‘part-time’ four-wheel-drive system features 2WD, 4WD High, Neutral and 4WD Low, but an optional electronic system replaces the 2WD with full-time 4WD that varies torque front to rear automatically. The advantage of full-time 4WD is that it operates on both dry and slippery surfaces without harming the driveline and provides instant 4WD traction should the road surface suddenly turn slippery.
In the Dakota Club Cab, the driver sits up high, but getting in doesn’t require a big step up. Visibility is good, and the Dakota is easy to manoeuvre even though it is fairly long and has a wide turning circle. You have to remember to take wide turns so as not to run the rear wheel over the curb. Of course, full-size pickups are even more of a challenge. The advantage of the Dakota is that it has the towing and payload capacity of a full-size truck with the improved manoeuvrability of a mid-sized pickup.
I found the new V8-powered Dakota to be quieter and more refined than the previous model. Its new hydroformed fully boxed frame, new coil-over-shock front suspension and rack and pinion steering have improved the driving experience by adding rigidity, reducing vibration and noise in the cabin, and improving steering and ride, although its turning diameter of 13.4 metres (44 feet) is fairly wide.
Though 0 to 100 km/h times are not particularly meaningful for pickups, I found it interesting that that both the V6-powered Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier were quicker to 100 km/h in independent tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (www.ajac.ca). The Dakota’s time was 9.2 seconds, the Frontier 8.5 seconds, and the Tacoma 7.7 seconds. The Dakota also had slightly longer braking distances than the other two.
Interior more contemporary
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As I mentioned, the Club Cab with two rear-hinged door panels is now the base body configuration for the Dakota line-up. It’s much easier to access the rear seating area through these two door panels, but the front doors must be opened first before the rear door panels can be opened – there are no outside door handles at the rear. And the door panels must be closed before the front doors.
There is now 30 cubic feet of storage behind the front seats, an increase of 4 cubic feet. The rear seat cushions fold up against the seatbacks to provide a flatter floor surface. With the rear seats folded, there is 37.1 cu. ft. of storage space.
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For taller drivers, the driver’s seat now has more 8.7 inches of travel while the passenger seat has 7.5 inches. Cloth and leather seats are offered, and the Dakota is the first pickup available with heated cloth seats.
The new dash has larger gauges and controls and trendy metallic trim. An AM/FM/CD stereo is standard and a six-disc CD changer capable of playing MP3s is optional as is a new 288 watt Infinity speaker system.
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Features I liked in the Laramie Club Cab were the leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control buttons, the easy-to-reach column shifter with tow/haul mode, an overhead console compass and outside temperature gauge, special storage space for a cell phone, and three cupholders in the centre console one of which looks large enough to hold a Super Gulp cup.
The 2005 Dakota includes standard dual-stage front air bags with an occupant-sensing system for the passenger-side front air bag. Optional are side-curtain air bags which protect both front and rear passengers.
A roomy, mid-size extended cab pickup truck with best-in-class hauling power, best-in-class safety, and surprisingly refined ride and road manners. But if you want habitable rear seats, choose the Quad Cab not the Club Cab.
Technical Data: 2005 Dodge Dakota Club Cab Laramie 4X4
|Options||$4,355 (leather trimmed heated front seats $735; skid plate $240; trailer towing package $625; ABS $520; side air bags $460; AWD transfer case $495; 3:92 axle ratio $40; anti-spin differential $405; rear sliding window $175; hands-free communication $275; bedliner $385)|
|Price as tested||$42,250|
|Type||4-door, 4 passenger extended cab pickup|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/4WD|
|Engine||4.7 litre V8, SOHC, 16 valves|
|Horsepower||230 @ 4600 rpm|
|Torque||295 ft-lb @ 3600 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic (std. 6 speed manual)|
|Curb weight||2008 kg (4426 lb.)|
|GVWR||2726 kg (6010 lb.)|
|Payload capacity||717 kg (1580 lb.)|
|Max. trailer weight||3221 kg (7100 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||3335 mm (131.3 in.)|
|Length||5558 mm (218.8 in.)|
|Width||1822 mm (71.7 in.)|
|Height||1743 mm (68.6 in.)|
|Box length||6 ft. 6 in.|
|Rear load height||809 mm (31.8 in.)|
|Ground clearance||202 mm (7.9 in.) (lowest point front suspension)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 16.3 L/100 km (17 m.p.g.)|
|Hwy: 11.1 L/100 km (25 m.p.g.)|
|Fuel type||Unleaded Regular 87 octane|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||7 yrs/115,000 km|
|Assembly location||Warren, Michigan|