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Dakota 4×4

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

As I fueled up our Dodge Dakota Quad Cab 4×4 test pickup at the local gas station, an
attendant paused to give the Patriot-Blue hauler a lingering look. “Nice truck,” he said,
now walking toward it. “V-6?” “Nope, it’s a V-8,” I replied, with a hint of macho
arrogance. “Automatic?” he inquired. “Naw. This one’s got the five-speed manual,” I said,
nearly swaggering as I put the gas pump back in its hanger. The guy appeared shocked,
slack-jawed, staring blankly at the Dakota’s chiseled good looks. I think he muttered
“whoa” under his breath. “Well, you have yourself a nice day,” I said, as I climbed into
the cab and shut the door. If I had on a 10-gallon hat, I’d have tipped it. “I wish I had a
toothpick,” I thought. I know. I was out of control. And it wasn’t even my truck. But let’s
face it, there’s something about a V-8 matched to a manual transmission that brings out the
macho side in all of us. Mate these attributes to four-wheel drive, and we’re talkin’ ’bout
pure testosterone here. Yet, with four large doors and a roomy back seat, it’s still a
practical choice for family transportation. Typically, light-duty pickup trucks with manual
transmissions have significantly lower tow ratings than their automatic-equipped
counterparts, but this is not the case with the Quad Cab Dakota we tested. In fact, it’s
the other way around; the manual version sports a tow rating of 4,800 pounds equipped with
a 3.55:1 axle ratio, while a similarly equipped automatic truck is rated to tow 4,750
pounds. This Dakota retains its usability as a tow vehicle, while at the same time offering
the active driving experience of a manual transmission — not to mention its off-road
abilities. The 4.7-liter single-overhead-cam engine produces an impressive 235 hp (230 in
the California test model) at 4,800 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. The engine
pulls smooth and strong all the way to its lofty 6,000-rpm (electronically limited) red
line, and the NV3500 five-speed manual rows smoothly through the gears without excessive
slop. The electronic transfer case allows the user to switch between two-wheel-drive high,
and low/high four-wheel-drive modes on the fly with the turn of a dash-mounted knob.
Despite the fact that this is a truck, and a four-wheel-drive one at that, the ride is
surprisingly smooth. The 4×4 Dakota utilizes upper and lower A-arms up front, in
combination with torsion bars and gas-charged shock absorbers. The aft end is a solid
rear-axle setup with two-stage leaf springs and gas-charged shocks. A front stabilizer bar
and rack-and-pinion steering make for lively handling — a characteristic that was enhanced
by the optional Tire and Handling Group, which includes a rear stabilizer bar and
P265/70R16 all-terrain tires, as well as 16 x 8-inch aluminum wheels and wheel flares.
Standard front-disc brakes and rear-drum brakes with ABS provide the stopping power.
Inside, the Quad Cab comes standard with a 40/20/40 split-bench seat with recliners with
integral head restraints. Rear seats are 60/40 split with a folding cushion. We found the
seats to be comfortable, yet supportive, and there was even enough legroom in the back for
full-size humans. The test truck also came equipped with the Deluxe Convenience Group,
which includes speed control and a tilt steering column, and the Power Convenience Group,
which includes power mirrors, remote keyless entry, power front windows and power door
locks. Stand-alone options included an upgraded AM/FM stereo radio with CD player, 120-watt
amplifier, 8-Infinity-speaker sound system and fog lights. Everything in the interior is
where it should be, and even with the all-terrain tires, the ride is very quiet. Visibility
in all directions is excellent, not only because you are higher than most passenger cars,
but because there are large panes of glass at every corner. There are virtually no blind
spots. Estimated fuel economy for this particular model is 14 mpg city, 18 highway, which
although unexciting, is about par for this type of vehicle. Though our route didn’t take us
through lengthy periods of metropolitan driving, we did manage to pull down as much as 19.1
mpg on the highway at 65-70 mph. The Dakota Quad Cab 4×4 SLT has a base MSRP of $23,190,
and with the optional equipment, the total came to $26,405. It’s not cheap, but it’s a
vehicle that can satisfy your macho and practical sides, as well as fulfill your towing
needs and penchant for off-road escapades, all rolled into one.

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