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Midsized Dakota is a capable towing rig

August 13, 2004|by JEFF JOHNSTON/Motor Matters

A big, burly pickup is not required for successful RV towing. The Dodge Dakota virtually launched the so-called "midsize" pickup class, and the all-new 2005 model further refines the genre.

In truth, the "midsize" aspect of the Dakota is somewhat open to interpretation. Yes, the truck is marginally smaller overall than the 1/2-ton 1500-series trucks offered by Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge. In real world day-to-day function, such as passenger comfort and capacity, ease of driving, and parking, the Dakota is more like a slightly downsized full-size truck than a midsize. Vehicles in the midsize category could include the Toyota Tundra, but such rigs seem to grow with each new model.

Regardless of what you call its size, the Dakota does a very good job as a tow rig when properly matched to a suitably-sized trailer. The Dakota can be rated to tow as much as 7,150 pounds.

The new Dakota is restyled with the same squared-off details, such as the hood, fender flares and body lines, found on the balance of the Dodge truck family. The effect looks good on the Dakota and gives it a fresh, contemporary image. Both Club Cab and Quad Cab models are available with 6-foot 6-inch or 5-foot 4-inch bed combinations, and 2WD or 4WD drivetrains.

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Inside, the truck has an all-new dash and freshened interior that help make a trip comfortable and relaxing. The dash includes new white-faced gauges, a new central control pod and smoother visual lines.

The new seat upholstery and optional heated cloth seats are among the rig's comfort features, and extra-thick door glass, plus wind-cheating pillar and seal design help quiet the interior.

Safety is high on the Chrysler engineer priority list, and starts with new crush-zone frame design for improved impact management. Next-generation air bags help protect the front seat occupants and use the new occupant classification system to deploy, only as needed, the front passenger bag. Optional side-curtain air bags, which protect both front and rear seat occupants, are also across the board on the trucks.

Three engines are available, starting with the base 3.7-liter V-6 rated at 210 horsepower and 235 lbs.-ft. of torque. The standard-output 4.7-liter V-8, the base model of the V-8 engines, is rated at 230 hp and 290 lbs.-ft. of torque. For those who require optimum performance, there's the new high-output Magnum 4.7-liter V-8 that's rated to produce 250-plus hp and 300-plus lbs.-ft. of torque.

A Getrag six-speed manual transmission is standard, and two automatics round out the line. A 42RLE four-speed automatic is available for the V-6, and both V-8s use 5-45RFE five-speed automatics with a tow/haul mode switch for increased control and modified shift points when towing.

An all-new coil-over-shock front suspension was designed to provide greater control, more precise steering and a smoother ride. Out back, the solid axle/leaf spring arrangement has been fine tuned for improved performance as well. Disc brakes with full ABS are standard front and back.

All of this is based on a new frame that's stronger and stiffer with greater bending, torsional and lateral flex resistance. Welded frame assembly, combined with hydroformed frame section technology, is borrowed from the company's larger Ram trucks.

For our brief road test, the Dakota V-8 rig was hitched to a Coachmen Spirit of America model 300TBS trailer that weighed approximately 6,500 pounds, so it represented a healthy load for the Dakota.

Ride and handling with the trailer aboard are terrific. Use of a well-adjusted equalizing hitch helps a great deal to avoid that fore-and-aft buckboard that results from a bad hitch setup. Steering and cornering feel tight and secure, as does braking.

Hill climbs require extra throttle and the engine works hard, which is standard for a tow rig with a small-block V-8. However, the truck only slowed to match the curves and traffic, and could have managed the 6 percent grade in the 45 mph range with no problem. That's not bad for hauling a trailer of that size.

Engine and road noise are average during a hard climb, and very quiet on the open road. The older-model Dakotas were always whisper quiet - well, almost - and this new one is no exception.

RVers looking for a new, sophisticated tow rig suitable for medium-sized trailers, which also serves well as a family hauler, may find the new Dakota to their liking.

© Motor Matters, 2004

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