Used 1996 Dodge Dakota Regular Cab Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

America's first midsized pickup, the 1996 Dodge Dakota gets a more powerful standard four-cylinder engine, revised sound system, and three new colors.

Vehicle overview

Until Toyota launched its T100, Dodge led the pack with a pickup truck that ranked somewhere between compact and full-size. Nothing changed for 1996, aside from the addition of a more powerful four-cylinder engine and three new exterior colors, but the midsize Dakota continues to attract an eager following. Toyota still doesn't offer a V8 engine, giving Dodge a modest edge on that score. In fact, Dodge gives buyers a choice of three engines: a new 120-horsepower 2.5-liter Magnum four, a 175-horsepower 3.9-liter Magnum V6 (standard on 4x4s and Club Cabs), or the optional 220-horsepower 5.2-liter Magnum V8. Unless you rarely carry any cargo to speak of, go for one of the upper engines and skip the four cylinder.

A driver's airbag is standard, and antilock braking is available. Inside, Dakota's styling will transport you back into the go-go eighties, though the driving position is fine and you know you're unquestionably inside a truck, not a car--especially with that long manual gearshift protruding from the floor. The standard three-passenger bench seat feels better than optional buckets, which aren't as supportive as some. Gauges are small but complete, in a vertical, squared-off dashboard of dated design.

Club Cab models are the most popular, though what you get is an extremely low back bench that runs across the width of the cab, its split-folding feature standard. Front occupants in Club Cabs have a 60/40 split bench with center armrest. Behind the front seat is 25.2 cubic feet of cargo space.

Payloads can reach 2,600 pounds with a regular 4x2, and 2,000 pounds for the Club Cab. An SLT package includes a tachometer, carpeted mats, cassette player, and lower bodyside moldings. The Super SLT adds air conditioning and tilt steering, and a Sport Package features a body-color grille.

Crash tests have proven the Dakota to be among the safest of small pickups. Dodge offers a good value here, and a shortbed Sport equipped with the V8 is a serious straight-line performance pickup. Still, this design is a decade old, and an all-new truck featuring Ram-like styling is due within a year or two. Drive the Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma before settling on a Dakota.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.