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The “Baby Ram” Dodge Dakota: 1997-2004

Info: | 1987-1996 Dodge Dakota | 1997-2006 Dodge Dakota | 2008-2011 Dodge Dakota | 2015 Dodge Dakota | Dakota forums
Reviews: 2008 Dodge Dakota | Dodge Dakota Sport Quad Cab (2000) | Dodge Dakota (Quad Cab, 2006)  

baby ram dakotaSpecs and Techs | Interior / electrical

The second-generation Dakota (body code AN) ran from 1997 to 2004. Along with its new “baby Ram” look, it switched from being called a mid-sized pickup to “the most capable compact pickup” even as it grew in size and capability.  

With a sophisticated, well-tuned suspension, the Dakota provided a luxurious ride combined with good cornering and high capability. Under the hood was a standard AMC 2.5 liter four, a 3.9 liter V6 (based on the LA series V8s), and a 318 cubic inch V8 engine; the 360 (5.9 liter) V8 was added in 1998 for the quick Dakota R/T. Originally the Dakota was a two-door pickup, but the Quad Cab, with four doors, was added in 2000 (keeping the Club Cab wheelbase and compensating with a smaller bed). Also in 2000, the 318 was replaced by the new 4.7 liter V8. The four cylinder would be dropped in 2002, and was not missed since the V6 gave almost the same gas mileage.

Dodge Dakota crash test at Chelsea Proving Grounds

According to Chrysler, the majority of Dakota buyers purchased their trucks to fit their lifestyle needs: they bought the Dakota for personal transportation, buying it instead of a car to get the utility, durability, and reliability of a truck.

Mike Shatto’s
623,000-Mile Dodge Dakota

“Essentially, our current customers co-wrote our strategy," said Tony Richards, General Manager, Jeep-Truck Product planning. "They told us we had to demonstrate competitive superiority in these seven areas in order to reach them. With this as a guideline, the team developed a truck that either met or exceeded customer expectations in each of these areas."

Durability and Reliability: By borrowing from Ram's frame design concept, body dimensional integrity was improved, providing higher torsional stiffness. Electro­coated frames provided better resistance to corrosion, while full body anti-chip primer gave an additional measure of resistance to paint chipping."We logged more than four million miles of chassis testing and increased our durability testing by 50 percent over previous launches," Richards said. "We set a very aggressive internal target to be best-in-class in durability and reliability."

rear of 1997 dodge dakota pickup trucks

Overall Size and Roominess: Already the biggest truck in its class, the 1997 Dakota was made even bigger With a width of 72 inches, shoulder, hip and head room were improved. With a full-facing rear bench seat in the Club Cab, Dakota provided six-passenger seating.

Powertrain Performance: Dakota boasted the only V-8 engine in the compact market, and added 10 more horsepower (230) and an additional 10 ft-lbs. of torque (300).  This was in addition to the powerful four- and six-cylinder engines. These power-plants supported the highest hauling capacity and towing capability among compact trucks. In addition, gearing was altered for a lower first and second gear (2.74:1 instead of 2.45:1 in first gear), to provide a better launch feel and quicker low-speed passing; the new 45RFE transmission used with the 4.7 liter V8 was 18 pounds lighter than the old 46RE, had less inertia, and less parasitic drag, to increase gas mileage.

Ride and Handling: The Dakota team went back to the basics to create a chassis that could be tuned with a solid frame structure, truly optimum steering and suspension geometry, generously sized wheels and tires and appropriately sized shock absorbers and bushings, the chassis will respond to tuning, allowing for best in class steering, ride, and handling. "We put our money into getting the basics right," said Dennis Moothart, Executive Engineer for Truck Chassis Engineering. "We didn't abuse our purpose by creating a multitude of optional suspension packages. We [created] one basic package each for the two- and four-wheel drive models and one optional handling package with bigger tires, wider wheels and a rear stabilizer bar."

dakota pickup chassis

Vehicle Quietness: was developed by viewing the truck as a total unit.

Safety and Security: For the first time, Dakota had standard driver and passenger airbags; adjustable turning loops in the shoulder belts provided better positioning; and rear wheel ABS was standard (four-wheel ABS was optional). The largest outside mirrors in the class provided better visibility.

Styling: The aggressive look sets owners apart from the crowd, with enough differentiation from Ram to create their own identity. Inside, seat travel was increased along with rear seat access on Club Cabs; a new instrument panel follows the shape of the grille.

dodge dakota interior

For Dodge, the road back to truck acceptance began nearly twenty years ago with the introduction of the 1987 Dodge Dakota. Bigger and stronger than the Ranger and S-10, it signaled the beginning of a Dodge Truck re-birth. Five years later, the introduction of Magnum engines put Dodge at the top of the list for power-hungry truck buyers.

For more, see “Using CATIA and common body architecture to create the Dodge Dakota.”

2000 Dakota engines

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

Lift kits

Suspension engineer Bob Sheaves wrote:

Look at how people lift Dakotas (I am speaking specifically of the 1997 to 2004 here) with $130 torsion bar keys and rear spacer blocks. If all you want to do is fit 33 inch tall tires, fine. It is cheap and will do just that... well as destroy halfshaft joints, cause vibration in the driveline, potentially have contact between front headpipe and front driveshaft.....

“Sweating the details” is what causes the costs that many people don't want to pay for. Few will care too much about all that “excess cost”...until parts start to fail due to ignorance of systems integration.

Also consider — the larger diameter tire increases the force moment arm acting on the brakes, causing longer stopping distances.

1997 Dodge Dakota best-in-class features

  • Highest trailer towing capacity - 6800 pounds (2WD regular cab with 5.2 L V-8 engine)
  • Highest gross combined weight rating - 10,500 pounds
  • Best ride and handling
  • Tightest turning circle
  • Highest payload - 2600 pounds
  • Quietest interior
  • Most stable steering column
  • Largest pickup box
  • Roomiest regular and club cabs
  • Highest domestic US seating position
  • Largest glove compartment in class
  • 6 x 9-inch power mirrors provide the largest optional-mirror field of view
  • Most powerful and fastest accelerating engine - Magnum 5.2-liter V-8
  • Most powerful domestic US four-cylinder engine - Magnum 2.5-liter
  • Widest range of available powertrains

dodge dakota cutaway image

Exclusive Dodge Dakota features

  • Transverse, rubber cab-to-box sealing flap on regular cabs
  • Front wheelhouse liners
  • 40-20-40 seat
  • Forward facing, three-passenger club cab rear seat
  • Only V-8 engine available
  • Only domestic US compact pickup with electro-coat painted frame
  • Large-diameter spool-type engine mounts
  • Only compact pickup with a standard passenger air bag
  • Straight-line gauge pointer illumination

Dodge Dakota performance upgrades

dakota pickup salesThese performance upgrades were suggested in a longer, more substantial Mopar Muscle (January 2001) article:

  • Mopar Performance computer. Recommended by several people, this allows for higher engine speeds, more fuel, and more spark advance.
  • Installing a bed (tonneau) cover - this cuts wind resistance while protecting the bed from the elements (and, for that matter, keeping whatever is on the bed from public view). These covers are easy to install, and help gas mileage slightly.
  • Ram air package - Mopar Performance sells one. This provides additional cold air to the engine, and has a washable K&N type cone filter instead of the restrictive air path of the standard intake. It's fairly easy to install but will lengthen engine warmup times, shortening engine life, raising pollution, and eating fuel.
  • Exhaust system. Mopar Performance sells headers with oxygen sensor mounts, as well as a complete catback exhaust system to reduce airflow restriction. A Dynomax dealer may be able to install a similar, custom-made system for less money.

Quality and production

To improve quality, the Dodge City/Warren Truck Assembly Plant underwent a $170 million renovation that included a new body shop, a new 96,000 sq.ft. full-body anti-chip paint shop and a new test track facility, where every vehicle produced went through a series of road tests that simulated all road conditions.

At full production the Dodge City plant, located in Warren, Michigan, was expected to produce 1,016 Dakotas a day on two, eight-hour shifts The plant employed 3,905 people in 1996 who produced Dodge Ram and Dodge Dakota pickup trucks All major body panels for both the Ram and Dakota were provided by Chrysler's Warren Stamping Plant located next door.

International Dodge Dakota pickup trucks sales

Dodge Dakotas being made in BrazilThe Dodge Dakota was expected to add to Chrysler Corporation's rapid international expansion. Similar to the US market, light trucks made up most of Chrysler's international sales, specifically the Chrysler Voyager and Caravan minivans and the Jeep® Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicles. Since Chrysler's re-entry into the international arena in 1987, sales have increased year-over year by double-digit percentages to 204,362 units in 1995. For the first four months of 1996, international sales were up 32 percent over the January - April period of 1995 for a total of 70,493 units. Light trucks, including pick-ups, made up 75 percent of Chrysler's total international sales volume.

The new Dakota was expected to open up even more markets in Latin America, Asia­Pacific and Europe. "There is strong market potential in countries like Australia, Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, Great Britain and Scandinavia," said Thomas C. Gale, Executive Vice President of Product Design and International Operations. "In Brazil, for instance, sales of large and medium size pick-up trucks increased 66 percent over the four year period, from around 30,000 in 1992 to just over 50,000 units in 1996. And the market shifted from virtually 100 percent large pick-up trucks to more than 60 percent mid-size pick-up trucks. In 1995, the sales of mid-size pick­up trucks totaled 30,000 units. Other international markets showed similar trends," said Gale.

"In fact, nearly 40% of the Toledo, Ohio, produced Jeep Cherokee vehicles are shipped outside the United States and half of all Cherokees assembled worldwide are for customers outside North America." (This is one reason why Kaiser bought Jeep way back when.) Chrysler's International Operations overlooks assembly facilities for Jeep vehicles in Austria, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt and Venezuela. All Jeep vehicles are available in left-hand and ride-hand drive versions.

Year 2000 Dodge Dakota changes

For 2000, the new Dodge Dakota Quad Cab arrived, with four full-sized, wide-opening doors, a full size rear seat, up to 26 cubic feet of storage space in the cab, a five-foot, three-inch bed, 1,450 pound payload, and a choice of three engines — the original 3.9 liter V6, the new 4.7 liter V8, and the big old 5.9 liter Magnum V8. There were new colors and new interior trim and fabrics; the adjustable, retractable cupholder was redesigned. With the Quad Cab, though, came the loss of the eight foot bed.

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

The 4.7 liter V8 was new, and was combined with a 45RFE automatic transmission that had four regular gears and a special kickdown gear for better highway passing. The base V6 got a new manual transmission, and the optional full time transfer case eliminated two wheel drive mode.

4x4 models were improved in numerous ways, with a new front axle that was better made, higher capacity, and lower weight; a smoother and easier to use transfer case shifter; and an optional full-time four wheel drive transfer case. The rack and pinion steering system on 4WD Dakota trucks was changed to enhance handling precision and feel, and used lifetime-lubricated tie rods. Optional composite skid plates give 4WD models increased coverage and lowered weight.

On all models, the Dodge Dakota switched to weight-saving tubular stabilizer bars, and revised the steering geometry to reduce low-speed cornering tire wear; a hybrid engine cooling fan was quieter yet delivered better air conditioning performance. A 22 gallon gas tank was made standard on regular and Club Cab, and a new gas cap was used. The 2000 Dodge Dakota was already compliant with the 2003 model year head impact safety standard.

2003 Dodge Dakota Changes

For 2003, the 545RFE five-speed automatic was finally available with the 4.7, for better passing acceleration and an overall superior driving experience. It was optional on the Sport, Sport Plus, SLT, and SLT Plus. The 2.5 four-cylinder AMC engine was finally gone. It was ahead of its time but the Dakota's pretty heavy for a four-cylinder. Four-wheel disc brakes with rear-wheel anti-lock (RWAL) were standard on 4WD models and 2WD models 5350 lbs. GVWR and over. 16" x 7" cast-aluminum wheels were standard on all models except R/T.

Tires have chanced. Stampede Ground Effects Group for Regular and Club Cab Sport models, (standard on R/T and optional on Regular and Club Cab 2WD models) included body-color front fascia with extension, rocker cladding, rear body color bumper with step pads, and tire and handling group. Four-gauge cluster standard on base and SXT models. Next-generation controller (4.7L engine only). New six-disc in-dash CD changer radio was optional (late availability). Onboard Regueling Vapor Recovery System was added to all Club Cab models. Natural Vacuum Leak Detection Pump was added (4.7L engine only).

2004 Dodge Dakota changes

The 2004 Dodge Dakota added a new 210 horsepower V-6 to round out the most powerful engine lineup in the compact pickup segment. (This means that the Liberty V6 replaced the old 3.9 LA V6).

For 2004, Dodge Dakota offered style with a "Stampede" package on Regular Cab and Club Cab Sport models. The Stampeded model featured unique monochromatic custom front and rear body-color fascia moldings, ground-effect bodyside moldings, 16 x 8-inch aluminum wheels, wheel flares and rear stabilizer bar.

Like its big brother, the Dodge Ram, Dakota Quad Cab offered four full-size doors, but in a compact pickup. For 2004, bucket seats were standard on Quad Cab.

The Dodge Dakota R/T model and the 5.9-liter Magnum V8 were discontinued for 2004.

Molten Red was new to Dakota's color palette for the 2004 model year.

More Dodge Dakota information

Info: | 1987-1996 Dodge Dakota | 1997-2006 Dodge Dakota | 2008-2011 Dodge Dakota | 2015 Dodge Dakota | Dakota forums
Reviews: 2008 Dodge Dakota | Dodge Dakota Sport Quad Cab (2000) | Dodge Dakota (Quad Cab, 2006)

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