2006 Dodge Dakota
2006 Dodge Dakota Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The biggest little truck you can buy.
The Dodge Dakota is a mid-size pickup with a full-size attitude. Dakota is the largest pickup in its class and the only mid-size truck available with a V8. Dodge claims its 7150-pound maximum towing capacity is by far the best in class.
The Dakota looks big. Completely redesigned for 2005, it's larger than before and looks almost as big and tough as the full-size Dodge Ram. With sales of basic small trucks in steady decline, the market is headed toward bigger, more powerful, better-equipped pickups. (If you want a small, basic truck, you have a choice between the Ford Ranger and used pickups.)
The current Dakota is substantially longer than the previous-generation (pre-2005) version, with styling that mirrors the recently redesigned Durango SUV. Getting in is easy, and the redesigned interior is comfortable and convenient with controls that are easy to reach and operate. The Club Cab version of the Dakota achieved a five-star safety rating in frontal and side-impact crash tests conducted by the federal government.
For 2006, the rear doors on Club Cabs have been redesigned to open wider. Otherwise, changes between 2005 and 2006 are limited to packaging: A new sunroof and new sound systems are options for 2006 Club Cab models. An auxiliary audio jack has been added to allow playback from personal audio devices, such as an iPod. Sirius Satellite Radio now comes standard on 2006 Laramie models. Special-edition packages have been added to personalize your 2006 Dakota.
If you want a pickup that's big and brawny, but not as big as a full-size, you should visit your local Dodge dealer. Dakota is available with a choice of V6 and V8 engines. Underway, the Dakota is smooth and quiet. The optional 4.7-liter V8 burbles subtly in the background when cruising, but really scoots when the throttle is mashed. Yet its fuel economy is rated within 1 mpg of the standard V6's. The steering is light for easy maneuverability in crowded parking lots and the Dakota responds quickly on mountain roads and tracks nice and straight on the highway.
Dodge Dakota comes in two body styles: The Club Cab is an extended-cab version with small, reverse-opening rear doors to access the rear compartment and a 6 1/2-foot bed. The Quad Cab is a crew-cab style with four full-size doors and a 5-foot, 4-inch bed. Each can seat five to six passengers, but back-seat riders will be much more comfortable in the Quad Cab. Both bodies are built on the same 131.1-inch wheelbase.
Three trim levels are available, ST, SLT, and Laramie.
The standard engine is a 3.7-liter V6. It comes with a six-speed manual transmission. An optional four-speed automatic ($1,095) is available for ST and SLT; the Laramie comes standard with the automatic. A 4.7-liter V8 engine is available for all models ($785-$860). A high-output version of the 4.7-liter V8 is available for the SLT and Laramie. With either V8, a six-speed manual transmission is standard; a five-speed automatic is optional.
ST Club Cab ($19,785) and Quad Cab ($21,185) come standard with air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo with audio auxiliary jack, tinted rear windows, front disc/rear drum brakes with rear-wheel anti-lock (ABS), and 16-inch steel wheels.
SLT Club Cab ($21,540) and Quad Cab ($22,940) are upgraded with cloth bucket seats with a full-floor console, chrome bumpers, fog lamps, power mirrors, windows, and locks with keyless entry, 16-inch cast-aluminum wheels.
Laramie Club Cab ($24,750) and Quad Cab ($26,240) add leather bucket seats with six-way power driver's seat; Alpine AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with six-disc changer, 288-watt amplifier, and Sirius satellite capability; leather-wrapped steering wheel with remote audio controls; auto-dimming day/night rearview mirror; UConnect Hands-Free Communications System with Bluetooth wireless technology; security alarm; Sentry Key engine immobilizer; an overhead console; and automatic headlamps.
Four-wheel drive is available for all models, traditional part-time 4WD (which adds about $2,850) or full-time 4WD with an electronically controlled locking center differential ($395) for SLT and Laramie models with V8 and automatic transmission.
Safety features: An Enhanced Accident Response System, or EARS, automatically turns on interior lights and unlocks doors in the event of an air bag deployment, so that medical or response personnel can help faster and easier. Side-curtain airbags for the front and rear seats are optional ($495); we recommend them because they are designed provide head protection. Head restraints and shoulder belts are provided for all seat positions. Seatbelts are your first line of defense in an accident, so always wear them.
Options include Sirius Satellite Radio ($195), the premium 276-watt, 288-watt, and new 508-watt sound systems, heated seats, four-wheel ABS ($495), towing packages ($455-$525), and 17-inch chrome wheels ($820). A sunroof is available for the Quad Cab. An optional hands-free communications system that uses Bluetooth technology integrates a compatible cellphone with the truck's audio system.
Option packages for 2006 include TRX, TRX4 Off-Road, R/T, and Night Runner. Each is available in the Club Cab or Quad Cab configuration.
TRX includes unique five-spoke/five-lug 16-inch aluminum wheels and Goodyear Wrangler off-road tires; tow hooks; a limited-slip differential; and TRX decal on the cargo box. The TRX package is available on 2WD ST, SLT and Laramie. TRX4 Off-Road includes everything in the TRX package plus painted shocks; an increased ride height of one inch; heavy-duty service package; skid plates; TRX4 Off-Road cargo box decal; and slush mats.
R/T is an SLT with the high-output 4.7-liter engine and: 17-inch five-spoke/five-lug chrome-clad aluminum wheels; hood scoop; sport appearance package (in Red Flame or Black only); body color grille surround; chrome exhaust tip; cargo box decals; R/T identification on headrests and instrument cluster; and Satin Silver accents for the center stack and door remotes.
The Dodge Dakota looks massive and menacing. The redesign for 2005 stretched the Dakota nearly four inches, with almost all that extra length devoted to front crush space and deeper bumpers to meet future crash standards.
The new size came with a new look, with sharper edges on the grille, roof, fenders, doors and bed; and fender lines deliberately extended halfway along the length of the door. The Dakota retains its family resemblance to the Dodge Ram and Durango, though it looks crisper and the grille is laid back, not vertical. The intersection of the front fenders with the multi-element, twin-lens headlamps and raked chrome grille makes the whole design work beautifully.
The frame, completely new for 2005, is eight times as strong in twist resistance and twice as strong in bending resistance as the old frame (which dated from 1997). Dakota's frame is shared in part with the Durango SUV.
A coil-over-shock independent front suspension is used on both 2WD and 4WD models, with conventional leaf springs at the rear. All models come with front and rear tow hooks and tie-downs in the bed.
The interior was redesigned for 2005 and continues with little change for 2006. Black-on-white gauges are outlined with chrome rings, and the central speedometer is about twice as large as the other two gauges. The angular center stack houses the sound system, climate controls and vents. The thick four-spoke steering wheel features audio and cruise controls. The designers added in more brushed sheet metal accents around the cockpit, and the whole design works very well in terms of usability, convenience, and reach. The plastic materials look good but not great, and interior fits and finishes were good.
The driver's seat looked good and felt good with its upper and lower support wings and good padding where it counts. Interior room, even for tall drivers is excellent.
Club Cabs have auxiliary rear doors that swing open nearly 180 degrees.
Quad Cabs feature four huge doors; the rear doors open out to nearly 90 degrees, so ingress and egress are very good. Quad Cab interiors are roomy. By making the Dakota larger, Dodge expanded the Quad Cab interior to nearly 56 cubic feet. The rear seats are deliberately stepped up on their bases so that rear-seat occupants can see out more easily, and they are split into 40/20/40 folding sections with two rear cupholders. Rear-seat room is generous for family use, with 33 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat. A center console and lots of cubbyholes provide space to stash stuff.
We found the Dodge Dakota surprisingly quiet, smooth and civil in its behavior, more like a car than a truck inside. Thick glass, big mufflers, and generous sound insulation throughout the body and firewall help reduce noise.
The Dakota drives bigger than it looks, with a hefty, Ram-like way about it, a nicely muscular street swagger.
The V8 is worth every penny. The V6 feels a bit light on power for this big, heavy pickup and it doesn't offer a big fuel economy advantage.
The 3.7-liter V6 is rated 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. The 4.7-liter V8 generates 230 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. The 4.7-liter High Output V8 is rated 260 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, thanks to higher compression and more aggressive valve timing. Fuel economy differences between the V6 and V8 are not great when four-wheel drive and automatic transmissions are involved. A V6 4WD automatic is rated 15/19 mpg City/Highway by the EPA; a V8 4WD automatic rates 14/19. Most frugal is a V6 2WD with manual transmission.
Our Quad Cab with the standard 4.7-liter accelerated with uncommon vigor and a wonderful exhaust note. At highway speeds it settled down to a nice background burble in overdrive fifth gear. Its strong torque means plenty of low-down grunt for pulling payloads of up to 1,800 pounds or towing up to 7,150 pounds.
The transmission has perfectly spaced ratios for trucking, and worked without complaint, roughness or harshness, even in high-rpm full-throttle upshifts. With only two occupants and no load, it really scoots from the stoplight despite the nearly 4800-pound weight of the Quad Cab 4X4. For towing, there's a Tow/Haul setting that alters the shift pattern of the automatic transmission.
Dakota's rack-and-pinion power steering is a bit over-assisted for our taste, but the chunky steering wheel feels great in the hands. The truck tracks extremely well, responds quickly to inputs, and stays hunkered down during mountain road playtime. Its 265/70R16 B.F. Goodrich Wrangler tires gripped corners yet were quiet at highway speeds, adding a measure of plushness to the ride quality that we really appreciated. We liked the ride and handling, though like all pickup trucks it can get choppy over small, high-intensity bumps and ruts.
The Dakota comes with rear-wheel anti-lock brakes as standard safety equipment, but four-wheel ABS disc/drum brakes are optional. We deliberately tried the rear ABS on a straight, flat, dry road for several maximum-g stops with no load and no passengers, and it worked well, keeping the unladen, light-in-the-rear pickup straight and coming to crisp stops four times in a row without locking the rear wheels.
The Dodge Dakota is on the large end of the mid-size pickups. Dakota is unique in its class, with its brawny style, generous size, powerful V8 engines for towing, and plenty of room for a typical family.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Dearborn, Michigan.
Dodge Dakota ST Club Cab 2WD V6 ($19,785); 4WD ($22,635); ST Quad Cab 2WD ($21,185); 4WD ($24,035); SLT Club Cab 2WD ($21,540); 4WD ($24,390); Quad Cab 2WD ($22,940); 4WD ($25,790); Laramie Club Cab 2WD ($24,750); 4WD ($27,600); Laramie Quad Cab 2WD ($26,240); 4WD ($29,090).
Options As Tested
V8 engine ($860); heated seats ($845); bedliner ($245).
Dodge Dakota Laramie V8 Quad Cab 4WD ($29,090).
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