What's New for 2002
A new value-priced 2002 Dodge Dakota SXT debuts and includes 16-inch alloys, automatic tranny, air conditioning, bucket seats and CD player. An appearance group consisting of graphite-colored bumpers, grille and fender flares is also fitted to the SXT.
The Dodge Dakota offers more room, power and capability than the other trucks it ostensibly competes against. We say ostensibly because the Dakota is unique; it is not as small as the true compacts, such as the Toyota Tacoma, nor is it as big as full-size pickups like the Ford F-150. With a ruggedly handsome presence and a roomy, comfortable interior, the Dakota is available in three body styles: regular cab, extended ("Club") cab and crew ("Quad") cab.
A multiplicity of engines assures that there's a powertrain geared for any purpose. We're not sure the 2.5-liter inline four deserves the "Magnum" moniker considering its lightweight output of 120 horsepower, but on a base regular cab with a five-speed manual, it earns 20 city/25 highway EPA fuel economy estimates. The more popular choice is the 3.9-liter V6 that pumps out a more respectable 175 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque. Next up the power ladder is the 235 horsepower 4.7-liter V8 that churns out 295 pound-feet of twist. Still not enough for ya? Then how about a 5.9-liter V8 with 245 or 250 horses (depending on application) and 295 pound-feet of twist.
OK, now what about trim levels? Along with the new entry-level SXT, there are base, Sport, SLT and R/T to choose from. The base model has antilock brakes and a stereo with cassette player, but other than that, it's pretty bare-bones. The Sport adds alloy wheels and cloth seating. The 3.9-liter V6, cruise control, air conditioning and chrome bumpers and grille come on the SLT. And the fired-up R/T has the 250-horse 5.9-liter V8, a sport-tuned suspension with 17-inch alloy wheels, an anti-spin rear axle and color-keyed bumpers and grille.
You'll likely have to keep reminding yourself that this is indeed a compact pickup -- everything from its towing capacity and stance to its power and interior seems bigger than the norm. A 40/20/40 split seat is standard (but you can opt for high-back buckets), and rear passengers travel on a 60/40 split-folding bench seat, creating seating for six in Quad Cabs. Optional audio equipment, featuring two- and three-band equalizers and steering wheel-mounted controls, give the Dakota a more upscale feel, but those wanting the ultimate luxury-hauler should look into a Quad Cab with the optional leather interior.
Both two- and four-wheel-drive versions are available, and the independent front suspension works effectively with the Dakota's rack-and-pinion steering for a confident yet comfortable ride. Underneath, you'll find front disc brakes with optional ABS and rear drums with standard ABS (you can upgrade to slightly larger rear brakes when opting for ABS).
Thanks to its wide selection of engines and body configurations, the Dakota is one of the best pickups currently sold. If you're in the market for a compact pickup, a test drive is certainly in order.