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Bigger than a compact pickup, but not quite a full-size pickup, the Dodge Dakota established a new class, the mid-sized pickup, when it first appeared in 1987. Following in the footsteps of the full-sized Ram pickup, the ’97 Dakota was completely redesigned in the curvaceous “trucks with style” culture that was, and still is, rampant at Dodge.
Three Magnum series engines, a 2.5 litre four-cylinder, 3.9 litre six-cylinder (standard on 4×4 models) and a 5.2-litre eight-cylinder provide the power. Power that’s capable of pulling a 3084-Kg (6800-lb) trailer or handling a 1179-kg (2600-lb) payload, when properly equipped. And fuel consumption for a 4×4 with the V6 engine is an okay 15.9 l/100 km in the city and 11.9 l/100 km on the highway.
The ’97 Dakota came in Base, Sport and SLT trim levels and in two- or four-wheel-drive versions. There was also a choice of regular cab, with a long or short cargo box, and “Club” cab, an extended passenger cab.
Beneath the Dakota’s muscular truck exterior is a surprisingly comfortable and well appointed interior. A 40/20/40 split front seat is standard on the club cab version and it comes with a folding centre armrest that opens up to reveal a large storage bin. A good sized forward facing rear bench, in the extended cab version, allows seating for up to six.
1997 Dodge Daklota Club Cab 4X4
Safety features include energy absorbing steel beams in the doors, dual air bags (with a passenger side lock-out switch), adjustable front seat shoulder belts and a rear wheel anti-lock braking system is standard (a four-wheel system is optional).
Safety ratings appear to be contradictory, although Dakota survived the US government frontal impact tests with flying colours and gets good “real-world/on-the-road” IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) ratings for occupant protection, it was less than impressive in an off-set impact test performed by the IIHS.
A high-performance R/T version of Dakota came in the Spring of ’98. It has a 250-horsepower 5.9-litre Magnum V8 engine, a sport-tuned suspension and lots of additional sporty stuff. We have to move ahead to the year-2000 for the next big change when Dakota could also be ordered as a “Quad” cab, with four front-hinged doors. The long (8-ft) cargo box was also dropped and a new 4.7-litre V8 replaced the 5.2-litre engine.
Typical repair items include catalytic converters that rot internally and start to rattle (usually covered under 5-year emissions warranty) and front suspension ball joints. The upper ball joints on the 4×2 versions tend to wear-out much faster than most.
Overall the Dodge Dakota is a pretty good, and a good-looking, truck. Used prices are reasonable and it can do almost everything a full-sized truck can, in a trimmer and more manoeuvrable package.
Current Red Book Pricing (average retail) February 2002: Dodge Dakota
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.