1997 Dodge Dakota Review

Type:

Pros & Cons

  • Dual airbags, tight turning circle, Ram styling, roomy cab, simplified model lineup, optional V-8 engine, optional ABS
  • No third door option, cannot use rear facing child safety seat in front seat because passenger airbag cannot be switched off
List Price Estimate
$860 - $1,823

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Vehicle overview

Frankly, the Dakota was getting about as stale as Halloween candy on April Fool's Day. The exterior was still ruggedly handsome, but the interior was an ergonomic throwback to 1980. SLT models had horrific fake wood that looked like it had been ripped from a '70s tract home basement. Seat comfort was marginal. The best thing the Dakota had going for it was an optional 5.2-liter V8 engine and class-leading bed size.

Now that Chrysler in flush with cash, the Dakota has received a complete makeover for 1997. The most obvious difference is the styling of the new truck. Call it mini-Ram, inside and out. The exterior isn't as attractive as the Ram, mostly because the front end doesn't gel right thanks to a multitude of cutlines around the grille and headlight assemblies. From certain angles, the ellipsoidal grille looks tacked on rather than integrated with the lights and front bumper, giving the truck an oddly proportioned appearance.

Inside, user-friendly controls and displays pass the same work-glove ease-of-operation test that the Ram does. Seats are king-of-the-road high, and infinitely more comfortable. Club Cab models will carry up to six people. Dual airbags are standard, but it is important to note that the passenger airbag cannot be switched off. This means that rear-facing child safety seats can never be used in the front seat of a 1997 Dakota. Babies and young children will need to ride on the rear bench of the Club Cab model. Can't afford a Club Cab? Shop for a Ford Ranger or a Mazda B-Series. They've had passenger airbags since 1995, and they offer a switch to turn off the airbag. Kinda makes you wonder what Chrysler was thinking.

Here's another mystery. The Club Cab offers no third door option. Seems odd from the company that pioneered the fourth sliding door on minivans and is planning a four-door full-size Ram Club Cab for 1998. To get this convenience, you've got to buy a Chevy S-10 or GMC Sonoma. Press materials indicate that the new Dakota is equipped with side door guard beams, but makes no mention that these beams pass 1999 side-impact standards for trucks. Why didn't engineers just but the stronger beams in from the get-go, rather than wait a couple of years? Dodge had a chance to build the perfect compact pickup, and blew it.

Still, it's a nice piece of work. Base, Sport and SLT models are available. Regular cab 2WD models feature a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine that provides 120 horsepower. Club Cab and 4WD models get a 3.9-liter V6 good for 175 horsepower and 225 foot-pounds of torque. Optional on all models is a 5.2-liter V8 engine that makes 230 horsepower and 300 ft-lbs. of torque at 3,200 rpm. Crammed into a regular cab shortbed with 2WD, the V8 transforms the Dakota into a storming sport truck.

Overall, the new Dakota is quite satisfying. However, we can't help but think some short-sighted thinking and cost-cutting went into the design because of the lack of several major safety and convenience features. Makes us wonder about the integrity of the stuff that isn't quite so obvious.

1997 Highlights

Powertrains are carried over, but everything else on the 1997 Dodge Dakota is new. Distinctions? Tightest turning circle in class, roomiest cabs and dual airbags are standard. Faux pas? No third door option, and the passenger airbag cannot be deactivated, so a rear-facing child seat is out of the question unless you cram it into the rear of the Club Cab.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 1997 Dodge Dakota.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Best truck I could buy
curt,09/26/2006
I wanted to get a little truck hoping for good gas mileage, and when I found my Dakota SLT 4x4 with the 5.2 V8 I fell in love. Since I got this truck all I have had done was put dual flowmaster exhaust on it which increase my fuel mileage 3 miles. I love the horsepower it has, and I feel this is the best looking Dakota model out there, and my friends agree.
Handy to have around
Phil Briddell,01/12/2008
I bought this for my daughter who always wanted a pickup. It has a teal color. It worked very well for her. She has moved to the city and a pickup is unnecessary, so I inherited it. I'm having trouble giving it up as it is handy to have around. Drives like a truck and gets the same kind of low mileage but that is what it is.
Reliable
MW Maker,08/02/2008
I bought the Dakota new back in 1997. I now have almost 150k miles with nothing but standard maintenance required. I have had a problem with the speakers since I bought it and the dealership could never figure it out. Other than this one issue the truck has served me well over the past decade.
Terrible
Rp,01/03/2009
Bought it with 90k miles. Within two months it needed a new motor and a new transmission. It has numerous other defective parts since then - horn does not work, cruise control does not work, alarm is set off when unlocking the door with the key, a/c does not work, speakers broke, heat does not work on passenger side, air vents shut off at random. It has had numerous sets of brakes because it cannot stop well at all. Design flaws - any owner will tell you they have replaced all the tie rods and ball joints at least once, if you have a V8 model say good bye to good fuel economy (11 mpg highway at 65mph), terrible interior with no back doors, 4WD with no locking differential?

Features & Specs

See all Used 1997 Dodge Dakota features & specs

Safety

IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Not Tested
  • Roof Strength Test
    Not Tested
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
    Not Tested
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test
    Poor

More about the 1997 Dodge Dakota

Used 1997 Dodge Dakota Overview

The Used 1997 Dodge Dakota is offered in the following submodels: Dakota Regular Cab, Dakota Extended Cab. Available styles include SLT 2dr Regular Cab SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), SLT 2dr Regular Cab LB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), 2dr Regular Cab SB (2.5L 4cyl naturally aspired 5M), SLT 2dr Extended Cab SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), Sport 2dr Regular Cab 4WD SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), Sport 2dr Extended Cab 4WD SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), Sport 2dr Regular Cab LB (2.5L 4cyl naturally aspired 5M), SLT 2dr Extended Cab 4WD SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), 2dr Regular Cab LB (2.5L 4cyl naturally aspired 5M), 2dr Regular Cab 4WD SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), 2dr Extended Cab SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), Sport 2dr Extended Cab SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), Sport 2dr Regular Cab SB (2.5L 4cyl naturally aspired 5M), 2dr Extended Cab 4WD SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M), and SLT 2dr Regular Cab 4WD SB (3.9L 6cyl naturally aspired 5M).

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Should I lease or buy a 1997 Dodge Dakota?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

Check out Dodge lease specials
Check out Dodge Dakota lease specials