Dodge Dakota Quad Cab
Today's pickup truck needs to be more balanced and well rounded than ever. To this end, the new Quad Cab Dakota scored at the top of nearly every category in all our testers' books. From styling to motor and chassis, the Dakota excelled in all our tests. For those who think this is merely an extended-cab Dakota with a shorter bed and two more doors, it is not. Engineers designed a unique wheelbase for this mini Ram as well as special spring rates front and rear and even unique cab mounts.
Motivating our Dakota was the powerful new 235hp 4.7L V-8 borrowed from the Jeep Grand Cherokee and mated to the slick-shifting NV3500 five-speed manual tranny. Now, most big-motor buffs would scoff at this smaller-displacement mill's replacing the venerable Magnum 5.2L V-8, but at the track, this little beast scorched the strip, leaving rubber in three gears and going on to nearly tie the speedy Tundra in both 0-60 and quarter-mile times. In fact, during our loaded acceleration test, with each truck carrying half its payload, the Dakota beat the Tundra by a few ticks to 60 and in the quarter-mile. Since our truck was preproduction and lacked motor-size badging, some testers thought this truck had the bigger 5.2L V-8 motor. Although that motor is history, Dodge still has the 5.9L Magnum V-8 paired with a new five-speed automatic available for those who need some extra torque for towing. The great motor and tranny topped the scores in the test books as the Dakota became the official muscle-truck of our group. One sophomoric tester seldom missed an opportunity to leave some black strips on the pavement and wring each and every horsepower and pound-foot of torque out of the little truck. And while this type of behavior rarely benefits our mileage testing, the Dakota still managed a respectable 14.0 mpg--only 1.8 mpg less than the Nissan.
On the trail, testers found the articulation (only bettered by the live-axle Ram) combined with the grunty V-8 and 43:1 crawl ratio to be one of the best factory crawlers around. And it came as no surprise that the gearing allowed it to handily win our crawl competition (see the "Second Annual Crawl-Off" sidebar). The soft suspension and bulbous (in this day of 17-inch tires) 31x10.50 tires smoothed trail obstacles better than any truck in the test. Over both the high-speed whoops and in the sandy dry wash, at least two testers thought this was the best of the bunch, one noting, "Great suspension. Pound it and it wants more."
Designing a suspension to handle all types of four-wheeling, ride smoothly on the pavement, and take corners like a sport truck is a tall order. The words balanced and grippy filled the test books as we sped along the twisty high-elevation canyons. Oddly, with the most sidewall of the group, the Dakota's 31-inch rubber seemed to do the best job in these high-speed corners, rarely barking a tire. While it didn't have the razor precision of the Tundra, the new-for-2000 rack-and-pinion steering gave testers a good feel for the road and made setting the chassis for the next turn a one-motion affair. Like with the Ram, which shared many of the Dakota's interior bits, testers liked the simple and straight-forward controls. The feel and weight of all the stalks and buttons were just what we liked, and many praised the thoroughness of the gauge cluster.
Since each truck in this contest had four doors, we thought it appropriate to cram three well-fed Four Wheeler staffers in the back seat of each truck for comparison. All unanimously voted the Dakota as having the best seat for legroom, comfort, and ingress/egress. One scribbled in his book, "This is the only one I want for a trip to Vegas."
Anyone familiar with Four Wheeler history will remember that the Dakota won our '97 Pickup Truck of the Year test and the Dakota-based Durango won our Four Wheeler of the Year in 1998. If you're guessing that we like this chassis, you're right. This latest Dakota simply delivers more of a good thing--more power, more doors, more versatility. And it's this balance of talents that makes the Dakota Quad Cab our Pickup Truck of the Year for 2000.
Stuff We Liked
Dakota Wheels and Tires
In a world where 16-, 17-, and even 18-inch P-Metric tires are finding their way onto nearly every truck today, we appreciate those manufacturers that continue to use 15-inch wheels and flotation tires. These 31x10.50R15 Goodyears on our Dakota provided the most sidewall for the trail and, incidentally, rated very high in the books for the street.
Dakota Transfer-Case Lever
Three out of four pickups in our test used a lever to engage 4WD. That must mean people still like to be hands-on when it comes to 4WD systems. The lever in our Dakota was the slickest shifter of the bunch.