'04 Dodge Dakota
In the compact pickup segment, the '04 Dodge Dakota is the power leader with the optional V-8. This year, it gets a new 210hp 3.7L Magnum V-6 with an optional 230hp, 295 lb-ft-torque 4.7L Magnum V-8.

The Dakota comes in Regular Cab, Club Cab, and four-door Quad Cab styles. In our experience, all the body configurations are roomy, which stands to reason since this is the truck that established the midsize truck segment. This is a very important selling point for Dodge. along with the fact that Dakota Quad Cab offers four fullsize doors in a compact pickup.

The model lineup starts with Regular Cab in base trim, followed by SXT, Sport, Sport Plus, and then SLT, topping out with SLT Plus. The Club Cab and Quad Cab follow with the larger engine only offered in Sport-and-above trim levels.

If you're into package deals, check out the Dakota "Stampede" package on Regular Cab and Club Cab Sport models. The Stampede gets you clean monochromatic custom front and rear body-color fascia moldings, ground-effect side body moldings, 16x8-inch aluminum wheels, wheel flares, and rear stabilizer bar.

Driving it
The ride quality is good for a midsize body-on-frame solid-axle leaf-spring pickup, though you get a sense the suspension is working hard to manage the unsprung weight. When the suspension absorbs rough road surfaces, you can feel the bushings deflect and the delay in the absorption of the energy through the steering wheel and the seat of your pants. Given the choice of feeling all the road shock or having the bushings and shocks absorb them, we're all for the choice made by the Dodge team.

When equipped with optional 16-inch wheels and tires, the truck has lots of grip, and its compact size allows you to toss it between corners with a great sense of control and balance. The only surprise we had driving the test loop was an off-throttle deep braking maneuver just on turn-in. The truck took a bump and the rear really stepped out on us. But that's typical of an unloaded pickup under braking into a downhill grade.

A significant part of the appeal of the Dakota when packing the V-8 is its sound. The Dakota is a great package for a performance-minded sport truck enthusiast. There's good aftermarket support for this machine as well as good factory performance parts available through Mopar Performance.

Stuff we Like
* V-8 growl in upper trim level Dakotas
* Good availability of 5-speed manual behind the V-8
* Lots of leg and elbow room
* Great-looking truck, with lots of styling options

Stuff We Don't* Interior trim fit and finish
* Ride height; it's still too high on 2WD Sport packages
* Handling and ride need improving
* Sluggish or lazy shifts from automatic tranny

'04 Dodge Dakota
Base price: $17,845 MSRP
Vehicle type: midsize pickup
Construction: body on frame
Body styles: Regular Cab, Club Cab, Quad Cab
Standard engine: 3.7L, 225ci, OHV, 12-valve SMPI power tech V-6, 90-degree V-type, liquid-cooled, SOHC, 12 valves, roller followers with hydraulic lash adjustment, multipoint fuel injection with returnless fuel rail, cast-iron block, compacted graphite bed plate, aluminum cylinder head. Opt. V-8: (all models with Sport or SLT equipment) 287 ci (4,701 cc); chain-driven SOHC; 16 valves; hydraulic end-pivot roller rockers; sequential, multiport, electronic, returnless fuel injection; cast-iron block aluminum alloy heads; CR: 9.3:1
Horsepower: std.: 210 hp @ 5,200 rpm; opt.: 230 bhp @ 4,800 rpm
Torque: std.: 235 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm; opt.: 295 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm
Fuel: 87-octane unleaded
Transmission: std.: 5-speed manual; opt.: 46RE, hydraulic control, electronically controlled governor, Overdrive lockout, and converter clutch