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The 1997-2004 Dodge Dakota Sport Quad Cab

click here for the 2005+ review

Back in the 1980s, Dodge looked at its lineup of full-size trucks and its Mitsubishi-made compact pickup, and decided something was missing. In between the little trucks and the big ones, they stuck the world's first and only mid-sized pickup, the Dakota. It could carry and tow much more than the D-50, Ranger, and S-10/Sonoma (1995 | 2001), but less than the D-150 and its competitors. It was the ideal solution for people who had substantial towing or hauling needs, but who did not need the excessive bulk and nuisance of a full-size pickup.

Review Notes: 2000 4.7 V8, automatic, 4WD Quad Cab
Gas mileage About 14 city /20 highway
Clearly Superior In: Utility touches.
Thinking about owners.
Interior space.
Towing and hauling.
Above Average In: Ride and handling.
Needs Work In: Wind noise, vent noise,
gas mileage.

Like most of the company's products during that time, the Dakota suffered from media inattention and poor marketing. (This was the era where superb cars like the LeBaron GTS and performance leaders like the Omni GLHS and Spirit Sport were also ignored).

After Chrysler started to redesign all of its models, the Dakota was lifted by the general tide. Its engines had been upgraded, the corporate 100 hp four- cylinder powerplant quietly replaced with a similar- displacement 125 hp AMC model. When it was redesigned, after too many years of neglect, the interior was substantially improved, and the truck was refashioned to look like a mini-Ram. Dodge also quietly dropped the mid-sized monicker and, in an era where Americans think "the larger the better," billed it as the largest compact pickup. Sales soared.

1997-2004 Dodge Dakota details (more to come)

Main 1997-2004 Dakota page

Supplier cost reduction effort and the Dodge Dakota

The 2000 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab: brief notes

Three engines are available, two in the Magnum series. The base 3.9 V6 is based on the LA series V-8 engines, long known for their durability. Most people would find its 175 horsepower and 225 lb.-ft. of torque to be enough; after all, that's more than the 318 V8 had for many years. It can tow up to 4,900 pounds. (Click here for a history of the LA series engines).

The other LA series engine is the 5.9 liter (360 cid) V-8, the largest LA engine every made. It provides the most power of the Dakota's engines, as well as gobs of low-end torque. With the 5.9, the Dakota Quad Cab can pull up to 6,350 lb, quite a nice load for a "compact" pickup. It generates 245 hp and 335 lb.-ft. of torque, at relatively low engine speeds.

Until this year, Chrysler made one type of V-8, based on the old LA series. However, there is now another option, celebrating its first birthday: the new 235-hp 4.7 liter V-8. It pumps out 295 lb-ft of torque, making it more powerful than the larger engine it replaced, and gets better gas mileage; it can tow just over 6,000 pounds. Though the 5.9 is larger, we'd generally recommend the more-economical 4.7 for most people. The five-speed automatic alone makes the 4.7 worthwhile.

Engine
Transmissions Available (2000)
Maximum Towing
Power (200)
3.9 V6
NV-3500 five-speed, 42RE automatic
4,900 lb
175 hp, 225 lb-ft
4.7 V8
NV-3500 five-speed, 45RFE automatic
6,100 lb
235 hp, 295 lb-ft
5.9 V8 46RE automatic
6,350 lb
245 hp, 335 lb-ft

The revised NV-3500 five-speed manual transmission is available with the V6 and 4.7 V8. A four-speed 42RE (medium-duty) automatic is available with the 3.9 V6; those with heavier loads can get the heavy-duty 46RE four-speed automatic with the 5.9 V8. A new five-speed automatic (actually a four-speed automatic with a clever alternative second gear ratio), the 45RFE, is available with the 4.7 liter V8 only. This transmission is reportedly being updated for 2001 models with two optional gear ratios.

Review

Our test Dakota came with a heavy-duty suspension and trailer towing package, which made the ride a bit rougher than it would on a base model. It was not bad, but somewhat trucklike (not surprising given the Dakota's towing capacity). Loading up the bed with firewood improved the ride substantially, making us think that Dodge should throw 300 lb of sand into the bed before letting journalists drive it. This is normal behavior for trucks with heavy duty suspensions: the heavy springs tend to jounce a little unless there is some weight to carry.

Out of fairness: the ride of the Dakota is surprisingly good for its capacity. The base models are as pleasant to drive as smaller pickups from other makers, and the heavy-duty model is smoother and more carlike than comparable Ford and Chevrolet models.

The turning circle was better than we expected, given the fact that the truck is about the same length as a Yukon. With four wheel drive on, the turning circle was much larger, but still not bad compared with competitive vehicles with their four wheel drive on. As usual, we do not recommend getting part-time four wheel drive unless you absolutely need it. It makes the truck much heavier, adds to the price, and has little use most of the time, unless you happen to live in very snowy areas. The optional NV242 full-time transfer case provides all-condition, full-time four wheel drive, but is not available with the V6. This system does not penalize fuel efficiency as much, is more convenient, and it lets drivers use the system on dry or moderately slippery roads as well as very slippery surfaces. Still, for most people who are south of the Snow Belt, two wheel drive makes the most sense.

Braking was good, and brake feel was very satisfactory. Handling was better than we expected, and was in fact almost carlike. We don't know if the standard models perform as well as the Sport, but if they do, it's an impressive achievement. There was some wheel hop without a load, but again, that's to be expected of a heavy duty suspension.

Speaking of firewood, we were gratified to see the Mopar bed protector installed. This is a must-buy item for any pickup; otherwise, it is far too easy to scratch the bed, with rust to follow. The Mopar item fit perfectly and seemed to cover up any place where we could scratch the paint.

Inside the cab were a number of amenities, some not readily apparent. There was a place to put pens and coins, well-hidden cupholders (in case your friends think cupholders are not macho?), a removable ash tray, a cigarette lighter and extra power outlet, and roof-mounted sunglass and garage door opener bins. The cab was very well lit at night, though some controls could use better lighting. We recommend the overhead console, which provides a compass, exterior thermometer, gas mileage, and other gadgets. You can fit three people in the back seat; the interior is about the same size as a compact sedan.

There was a large, flat fold-down armrest between the front seats, which has storage areas for two stacks of CDs and a bunch of cassettes or, in our case, an electric shaver. This armrest is designed so that you can flip it up without having the contents in disarray. It also contains a well-made coin holder.

Some exploration led us to find the hidden cupholder for the rear seats, which, we also discovered, flip up in case you need more storage space in back. Combined with the fully-opening rear doors, this gives the truck a surprising amount of versatility, even on rainy days. Elastic bands sewn onto the bottom of the rear seats can hold objects upright (or stow snow brushes, umbrellas, etc). The system was, like those on the minivans, surprisingly well designed. The rear seats themselves recline more than those in some other extended cabs, making them more comfortable. You can have one seat flipped down at a time, allowing for four passengers plus a folded-down seat.

The Infinity stereo option lets you play both CDs and cassettes (not at the same time), and provides excellent bass response with dedicated tweeters. At high bass levels, though, one of the doors rattled a bit, and it was hard to turn the bass down to comfortable news-radio levels.

Wind noise was an issue at higher speeds, as was ventilator noise with the fan at any but the lowest positions.

Visibility was excellent, with large mirrors, strong, well- focused headlights, low windows, and good sun visors (though we missed the two-way visors in the big pickups). We liked the remote mirror control, which was logical and easier to use than most. The washers and wipers were effective.

The Quad Cab's rear doors open all the way, unlike most car doors, so you can more easily fit large objects into the opening. These are fully independent, "real" doors, unlike those used on the current four-door Rams. The liftgate was also easy to lower and raise back, and didn't require a slam.

It was relatively easy to get in and out of the Dakota, compared with a full-size model. Getting cargo in was also easier. However, a compact pickup like the Sonoma is even easier. There was an incredible amount of headroom, so you can leave that ten- gallon hat on.

Those who like to tow will love the Dakota. With the Quad Cab, it provides the convenience of a Blazer, Yukon, or Durango, at a lower price and with somewhat better gas mileage (compared with a Yukon or Durango, at least). The towing capacity is nearly as high as the base one-ton pickups and full-size SUVs, and the 4.7 liter V8 (an entirely new design, first used in the 1999 Grand Cherokee) has lots of power.

We do have to qualify that statement a little: unlike past Chrysler V8s, the 4.7 does not have gobs of torque at low rpm and little to spare as engine speeds climb. Instead, it has less torque at lower speeds, and much more power as it approaches redline. The transmission helps to make this transparent to the driver, by downshifting into the power zone as needed. This can cause a little hunting between 55 and 65 mph, but that might disappear as the electronic transmission gets used to the driver's style.

The engine warmed quickly and idled smoothly. Heat was on tap with surprising speed. On our Sport model, every touch of the accelerator brought exciting exhaust noise, not unlike that of the Toyota MR2. It made ordinary city driving seem more interesting, though some may not like the drone on the highway. We liked the Sport sound, but not everyone will.

Gas mileage on our vehicle improved substantially when we stayed at around 60-65 mph. Higher speeds cause economy to drop by about 2 mpg.

Though the Ram truck series had some quality issues when first introduced, we have not heard any complaints about the Dakota. Chrysler's new car testing appears to have improved dramatically since the Neon and Cirrus debacles. We would almost say it is safe to buy a Dodge in its first year of production. Almost. Fortunately, the Quad Cab is essentially an extension of a proven design; so feel free to order one. (The Dodge Dakota recently took first place for its class in the J.D. Power Initial Quality survey).

One strong competitor is the Chevrolet S-10 Crew Cab. Due to be redesigned in 2002, the S-10 may sell at a low price, and gets better gas mileage without sacrificing much in the way of towing capacity or interior space. Click here for a brief comparison.

Overall, this is an impressive pickup, and a viable, attractive alternative to the F-150, Silverado 1500, and Ram 1500. It's even macho-looking enough to replace those heavyweights in the land of the ego and id.

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Review of the Dodge Dakota Sport Quad Cab with historical Dodge Dakota drivetrain and development information.