Good things come in medium size packages. Case in point, Dodge's newly redesigned Dakota pickup truck. This is the junior grade hauler that even before update came in a little larger than the other kids on the block. Then Dodge decided to expand it a bit more for '05. Now what some might call a "super size" midsize, Dodge is calling "right size."
That doesn't mean Dakota will bump shoulders in an effort to dislodge big brother Ram as a king of the pickup mountain any time soon. (Ram's muscular demeanor could quickly put its smaller sibling in its place.) But it does mean that the hunky-looking Dakota can now take on even more duties that could strain the stamina of a lesser competitor in its class.
Dodge bases its claim on a number of improvements. The Quad Cab version can now hold six, while the Club Cab with newly forward-facing rear seats for more adult comfort becomes the new standard edition. A longer, wider and stronger stance and tweaked suspension add safety as well as improvements in handling thanks to a strengthened box frame designed to absorb more impact. (Those improvements helped it win five-star safety ratings in federal front and side crash tests.) Both have available side curtain airbags. But the clincher is power we found truly dominating during our time in the Club Cab 4X4 Laramie with 4.7-liter, 230 HP, 5-speed auto trans V-8. ($32,244 complete.) Anchored by the standard 3.7-liter Magnum V6 (210 HP and 235 lb.-ft. of torque) the Dakota also boasts the "only" V8 in class, including an aggressive High Output Magnum V8, for 250-plus HP and more than 300 lb. ft. of torque. Both, says Dodge, are nearly 4 percent more fuel efficient than previous Dakota V8s.
New for '05 are some optional high tech interior adds, including MP3-capable six CD changer, Satellite Digital Audio radio, UConnect hands-free communications and an inter-vehicle communications network. Dodge wraps up the package with another stretch. That's the lengthy 7-year, 70,000-mile Powertrain Limited Warranty designed to keep serious midsize truckers feeling secure on the road.