In late 1980s, Dodge decided to try its luck in a completely new segment and thrown itself in the compact pickup race. Dodge’s first compact pickup model was named the Dakota and competed against strong opponents like the Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier.
The Dakota’s size was one of its main advantages as placed it into the big gap between the small and big full-size trucks.
Thanks to its relatively compact exterior dimensions and a smart chassis design, the Dodge Dakota had good road manners with a forgivable ride and a proper handling.
The vehicle was offered in both 4x2 and 4x4 configurations with a choice of V6 and V8 engines which develop 210 hp and 230 hp, respectively. Dodge ended production of the Dakota in 2011, but has promise to come up with a replacement.
When designing the Dakota, Dodge drew inspiration from its heavy duty Ram models. As a result the Dakota adapted the famous crosshair radiator grille which has now become Dodge’s signature. The front end was also fitted with a set of conventional headlights and a pretty shy bumper equipped with two circular fog lamps.
The hood came with a set of longitudinal creases to give the vehicle a touch of dynamism. Other creases can be found running along the sides and at the bottom of the doors.
The rest of the body had a pretty simple design, the Dakota looking like an average pickup with a long nose and a generous load bed.
The Dodge Dakota was available in two body styles. The standards Club Cab had an extended passenger compartment with rear-hinged rear-access doors and a six-foot, six-inch bed. The optional Quad Cab body had four full-size, front-hinged doors and a five-foot, four-inch bed.
The Dakota’s cabin was pretty dull, with various shades of grey plastics and a robust dashboard. Plastics were part of the third class and the build quality wasn’t something to rave about either. Though, the cab had a pretty solid feel and was able to get along great with harsh working conditions.
The center console was laid out in a classical way with the audio system on top and the HVAC controls underneath it. The center console was also fitted with two rectangular cubbies and there was another big storage bin in front of the passenger’s seat sculpted into the dash. You also get a pretty generous glove box and a set of convenient door pockets.
The instrument panel looks pretty conventional and received a set of white face gauges that are fairly easy to read during both night and day.
The steering wheel is more on the rudimentary side of things, but it comes with integrated controls and it’s comfortable to hold.
The Dakota Club Cab offers space for up to five adults. A three-place front bench is standard, while front bucket seats are optional. At the back there are two seats that theoretically can accommodate adult passengers, put practically it’s best to leave them only for kids.
If you want more space at the back, you should choose the Quad Cab model which comes with standard seating for five - with front bucket seats - or optional seating for six - with the 40/20/40-split front bench.
The vehicle was available with a lot of high class features which included heated leather seats, a sunroof, and a 508-watt SoundBox audio system.
Engines and performance
The standard engine was a 3.7 liter SOHC V-6. The engine churns out 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the wheels by means of a six speed manual transmission or a four speed automatic unit available for the top of the range trim level. The V6 managed to offer a good mix between performance and efficiency and was also a good match for light duty activities but it wasn’t as strong as other units in its class.
There was also a stronger 4.7 liter SOHC V8 on offer. The V8 cranks out 230 hp with a peak torque of 290 lb-ft and can be combined with a standard six speed manual or an optional five sped automatic transmission. The latter features an alternate "kick-down" second-gear ratio which will come in handy when you’ll need to deal with uphill sections or to tow heavy weights.
Dodge Dakota Engines Specifications
|Engine||Power - Hp||Torque – lb-ft|
Ride and handling
The Dakota was a good option for those seeking a daily commuter. It suspension setup was perfectly suited for day by day driving, but also for heavy load transport being able to soak most of the road bumps without affecting the passengers comfort.
The vehicle had also a perfectly controlled body roll and thanks to its good body balance it staid well planted on its wheels. The Dodge Dakota is offered with a standard rack-and-pinion which does a great job and rewards you with accurate turns and decent feedback.
All models come with standard rear wheel drive but you can also choose the optional four wheel drive system.
Since its inception, the Dodge Dakota evolved pretty nice and offered a reasonable alternative to the big full sized pickups. Despite the fact that it was smaller than its full-sized siblings, the Dakota was fairly practical thanks to its big load bed and the generous towing abilities. The cabin wasn’t the best you’d find around, but it was well equipped and had well sorted ergonomics.
We also like the V8 unit and the optional full time 4WD system, which helped the Dakota tackle the harshest terrains with poise. On the other hand, the build quality was pretty poor and the engines were far from being frugal.
In the end however, the Dodge Dakota offered the utility of a full sized pickup combined with the price of a small truck which is certainly an attractive mix.