'05 Dodge Dakota - Third Runner-Up
All-New Dakota Laramie Impresses With Sharp New Body Lines and Smooth SOHC V-8

Dodge's midsize Dakota rolls into '05 as an all-new machine with a new 4.7L SOHC V-8 and available six-speed manual, as well as sharp new body lines.

Our crew was split on the styling. One camp said, "Its aggressive front and rear styling as well as its crisp exterior styling give the truck an exciting street presence from any angle." While the other camp said they weren't enthusiastic about how the box flares were incorporated into the doors. Both camps agreed that the Dakota's new styling was extreme and would probably respond well to traditional custom techniques. In that regard, the Sport Truck magazine crew's instinct was spot-on, as you'll see when you spin the pages to the end of the article and check out a few custom concepts we had Kutting Edge Graphix do up. The Dakota's new shape absolutely jumped off the page. It's a shame we don't score the concept -- perhaps next year.

Dakota's new 4.7L Magnum engine gives Dodge's midsize an advantage, as it is the only V-8 offered within a midsize pickup. If you have towing to do and need or desire a midsize, Dakota's 7,150-pound towing capacity makes it worth a road test. The 4.7L replaces the 5.9L

V-8 Dodge last used in '03 Dakotas, to which we say, It's about time -- the 4.7L produces more horsepower and better fuel economy than the ancient 5.9L Magnum V-8 engine. Dodge is telling us a high-output version of the 4.7L is coming, but it wasn't available for our competition.

The engine in our tester was the standard 4.7L V-8 Magnum rated at 230 hp at 4,600 rpm and 290 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm backed by Dodge's 5-45RFE five-speed automatic transmission. The power team moved the Dakota ably enough, but it surprised us to find that at the end of the test session, the V-8 was the slowest of the bunch. On the plus side for the Dakota, even though we didn't measure the mileage, the new V-8 seemed a lot more economical than the 5.9L Dakota we've driven, and yet still had more power than its earlier performance cousin.

In the handling department, the new Dakota is competent in every way. Its tuning is more mainstream, so it didn't score well with our crew of performance-oriented testers because it had too much body lean, nose dive, and acceleration squat. However, we found nothing in the DNA of the truck that'd prohibit tuning for sport truck performance, and we suspect Hotchkis Performance is now calculating antisway bar diameters and spring and shock valve rates for the new Dakota.

The truck's interior seemed to hit a chord with our test crew. It was smartly styled and came with a tuned six-speaker sound system with a six-disc MP3 player as the source. So, as one tester remarked, "The tunes really filled the air throughout our test week." Another observed, "Like most Dodge trucks, the interior is spacious and provides good storage for a midsize truck." The instrument panel styling also got high marks in the scoring.

Overall, the Dakota was restyled well, and seemed to be a good choice for a combination commuter/light-work pickup. As a performance-oriented sport truck, however, the suspension tuning was overly soft but with adequate road feel. We'd also like to see more power from the new V-8. However, for custom-truck enthusiasts looking for a new shape to work with, the new Dakota may be the new cool kid on the block. We can see it with huge rims and low-profile tires stuffed in the overly exaggerated fenderwells.

Performance specs:
Acceleration 0-60: 8.53 sec
Quarter-mile elapsed time: 16.12 @ 83.82
Braking 60-0: 119.83 ft
Brake fade 60-0: 123.21 ft
600-ft slalom: 59.04 mph

Sport Truck of the Year Score:
Acceleration/towing: 262 of 300 possible
Ride and handling: 151 of 300 possible
Ergonomics/style/build quality: 219 of 400 possible
Total: 632.25 of 1,000 possible

The new front end and sharp body lines
The 6-disc MP3 player and sound system
The Indiglo gauges and instrument lighting

For a V-8, the acceleration was lacking
The rear seats could be more accommodating for a midsize pickup
Mushy-shifting transmission

Dodge brings a bigger, bolder, and tougher all-new Dakota to market in '05. The company claims it stands alone as the largest, most powerful, and most capable midsize pickup in the market, with its best-in-class torque, horsepower, and towing capacity. Dodge is also touting the new Dakota's fullsize pickup styling, feel, and power, with the only V-8 in its class.

Spec-wise, it looks like a contender. And while we weren't impressed with the stock appearance, after we got the concept art on a slammed and squirted Dakota, it turned out to be one of our favorite stock-to-stylin' transformations.

'05 Dodge Dakota
Base price:$24,339
Price as tested:approx. $26,000 (excluding shipping charge)
Vehicle type:1/2-ton midsize pickup
Construction:body on hydro-formed frame
Engine:next-generation 4.7L (287 cid) Magnum, SOHC, 16-valve SMPI V-8; cast-iron block, aluminum alloy heads; CR: 9.0:1
Horsepower:230 @ 4,600 rpm
Torque:295 @ 3,600 rpm
Fuel:87 octane unleaded
Transmission:5-45RFE, automatic, five-speed overdrive
Suspension:F: upper and lower A-arms, coil springs over gas-pressure shock absorbers, link-type stabilizer bar. R: live axle, multileaf two-stage longitudinal springs, staggered gas-pressure shock absorbers, link-type stabilizer bar
Steering:power rack-and-pinion; ratio: 17.4:1; lock to lock: 3.18
Wheel F/R:17x8-inch aluminum
Tire F/R:P235/50R17 low-profile radial; fullsize spare standard
Brakes:power, front disc/rear drum, four-wheel antilock brakes: front: 12.3x1.1-inch vented disc with 2.13 dual-piston sliding caliper; rear: 11.6x2.28-inch
Wheelbase (in):131.3
Length/width/height (in):218.8/71.7/68.6
Track (in):F: 62.8; R: 62.9
Turning circle (curb to curb):44 ft
Curb weight (lbs):4,413
Tow rating (lbs):7,150 (w/ 3.92 axle)
EPA city/hwy/combined mpg:15/20/N/A
Fuel-tank capacity:22 gal