The Dakota was completely redesigned inside and out in 1997, so this year the changes are kept to a minimum. A passenger airbag cutoff switch makes the Dakota available to those with small children and a new R/T edition makes its way into the lineup, which is bound to spark interest from enthusiasts. The R/T gets a 5.9-liter Magnum V8 with 250 horsepower and 335 foot-pounds of torque, sport bucket seats, a sport-tuned suspension, new wheels, and various R/T decals. And it will no doubt be a blast to drive.
Inside the Dakota, user-friendly controls and displays pass the same work-glove ease-of-operation test that the bigger Dodge 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.
The Club Cab offers no third door option: Seems odd from the company that pioneered the fourth sliding door on minivans and has a Quad Cab full-size Ram for 1998. To get this convenience, you've got to buy a Chevy S-10, Ford Ranger, GMC Sonoma or Mazda B-Series. 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 put the stronger beams in from the get-go, rather than wait a couple of years? Dodge had the chance to build the perfect compact pickup, and we'll have to wait to see if they ever decide to add more doors.
Still, it's a nice piece of work. Base, Sport, SLT and R/T 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 (except R/T) is a 5.2-liter V8 engine that makes 230 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds 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 Dakota is quite a truck. Want the best-looking, best-performing compact pickup on the market? Look no further.