The first generation Dodge Dakota was commercialized between 1986-1996 and was a total success for the American company as the rugged nature of the truck conquered a lot of hearts. The second generation continued the success of its predecessor and came with a totally new style based on the bigger Ram model, but technical upgrades were pretty limited.
The new Dodge Dakota was available in three different wheelbases combined with single, extended or double cabs.
The 1997 model kept the same powertrains as its predecessor and was offered with a choice of 2.5 liter, 3.9 liter and a 5.2 liter V8. The truck has a maximum payload capacity of 1179 and can tow up to 3084 kg.
As most trucks of its ilk, the Dodge Dakota came with a pretty rugged style. The exterior design was based on the bigger Ram model and the front end was dominated by a massive crosshair radiator grille which has now became a unique trait which helps the company’s vehicles to be instantly recognize as Dodge models. On top of the grille, there was the Dodge badge mounted directly on the hood and up front there were also two huge headlights with integrated turning signals.
The hood was traversed by a few shy creases, while the bumper had a pretty dynamic design and was fitted with a set of circular fog lamps and a wide air intake.
Regular cab Dakotas with short bed were fitted with a 111.9-inch wheelbase, the regular cab Dakota with the long bed had 123.9 inches wheelbase, while the Club Cab had an impressive 130.9-inch between wheels.
Access to the rear bed was made pretty easy, by means of a practical tailgate and an ergonomic foot step integrated seamlessly into the rear bumper.
Despite the rugged nature of this baby Ram, the Dakota had a pretty civilized cab. The interior design was better than most of the vehicles in the segment and the ergonomy was also top notch with every button and switch being placed within easy reach.
We also like the clear instrument panel and the solid build quality. Materials and plastics were selected for their durability so don’t expect to any soft touch surfaces.
The seats were big and supportive, but lateral support wasn’t exactly stellar. Needless to say that Dodge also offered enough adjustments to help you find a proper driving position and leg- or head-room were far from being a problem.
On the other hand, the rear leg and knee room found in the double cab models was a bit cramped, but this was a common issue for double cab pickups at that time, so we won’t complain too much about it. The rear bench can be also folded thus offering some useful extra cargo space.
Pickup trucks rarely come with inadequate road visibility and it’s surely not the case for the Dakota, as you are surrounded by a generous glass area that rewards you with a wide angle of visibility.
There are also more storage places than expected, including a few convenient cubbies fitted into the center stack, two cup holders next to the gear knob, a big glove box and generous door pockets.
Dodge’s options list for the Dakota includes power windows, power seats, leather upholstery, double front airbags, air conditioning, tilt steering, cruise control, sliding rear window and many others.
Engines and performance
The base engine was a 2.5 liter unit which developed a maximum power of 120 hp. This engine offered a proper amount of punch and was quite a gem, being one of the best engines in its class.
The second engine option was a 3.9 liter V6 which churned out 175 hp combined with a pretty decent fuel consumption offering a good mix between power and efficiency.
The strongest engine in Dakota’s lineup was a 5.2-liter V8 which came with 230 hp on tap and a huge 300 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm. Needless to say, that the V8 unit was a true metallic beast and delivered astonishing towing performances.
There were offered two transmission choices including a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic.
The 4x4 model, was equipped with a floor-mounted shift lever which allows the driver to go from 2WD to high-range 4WD while in motion, but the vehicle must be stopped to get into low-range for serious uphill scrambling.
Ride and handling
The second generation Dodge Dakota received a full frame construction, which translates into minimal body flexing during daring maneuvers.
The ride quality was also impressive, as the Dakota managed to keep most of the road bumps far from your spine. Steering is also part of the high class and delivers a proper road feedback while the brakes were among the best you’d find in this segment, being better than the ones from Ford or GM trucks.
During off road driving the 1997 Dodge Dodge Dakota negotiated pretty well with difficult terrain conditions and you can also rely with confidence on the capable all wheel drive system.
The Dodge Dakota represented a pretty attractive offer. It had a wide range of capable engines, generous payload and towing capacities and one of the most comfortable cabs in its segment.
Enthusiast drivers will also appreciate the ride and handling abilities which are slightly better than the average level.
The build quality and reliability were also pretty good. The only fault was price, as a full packed Dodge Dakota could’ve go easily up to $ 28.000 and for the same amount of money you could’ve get a full sized Dodge Ram.