Although it faced off in the marketplace against the Ford Ranger and the Chevrolet S-10, the original Dodge Dakota stretched the definition of "compact pickup" to new dimensions. What Dodge's just-right-sized Durango is to the sport/utility-vehicle segment, the Dakota is to pickups, neatly bridging the size, performance, and capability gaps between compact and full-size trucks. The latest iteration, new for 2005, carries on that tradition, offering V-8 power and near-full-size towing and hauling ability in a more affordable, more frugal, and more manageable package.
For 2006, Dodge adds four new iterations to the Dakota lineup. The TRX and TRX4 Off-Road packages are offered in ST, SLT, and Laramie trim in either Club Cab or Quad Cab configuration. The TRX gives the 2WD Dakota a pre-runner treatment, with 16-inch wheels, painted monotube shocks, tow hooks, aggressive off-road tires, and TRX stickers. The TRX4 is the real deal, building on these items by adding a 4WD transfer case, anti-slip differential, more aggressive axle ratio, skid plates, heavy-duty cooling system, and a 750-amp battery.
Available in either cab style, the new Night Runner edition is a black truck with a blacked-out grille, black-chrome 17-inch wheels, and abundant street attitude. Offered on SLT trim, the Night Runner features embroidered headrest logos and black dash center stack. The color and name remind of the unsuccessful Toyota Tacoma S-Runner from a few years ago, with the key difference being an available V-8. Big power is at the heart of the R/T, which fits a 260-horsepower V-8 to either cab style to create a potent street machine. The exterior is coated in bright red, yellow, or black paint and then distinguished with hood scoop, chrome exhaust tips, 17-inch chrome wheels, and decals. The interior is dressed with specific R/T gauge faces.
Again, Dodge drew inspiration for the Dakota from the bold full-size Ram pickup, adapting a vertical crosshair grille, contoured fender, and sharp body creases. Eschewing the traditional two-door standard cab, the Dakota arrives in two four-door body styles. The standard Club Cab model features an extended passenger compartment with rear-hinged rear-access doors and a six-foot, six-inch bed. The optional Quad Cab body features four full-size, front-hinged doors and a five-foot, four-inch bed. A tubular bed extender, available as a dealer-installed accessory, can help manage smaller items in the bed, or flip over, with the tailgate down, to increase bed length and cargo capacity.
The Dakota Club Cab features seating for up to five. A three-place front bench is standard; front bucket seats are optional. The Club Cab's smallish, bolt-upright rear compartment features two seats that can fold up when not in use to augment storage capacity. Though technically suited for adults, these rear seats are best occupied by smaller passengers. Those requiring a bona fide back seat should opt for the Quad Cab model, which features standard seating for five (with front bucket seats) or optional seating for six (with the 40/20/40-split front bench).
A three-place 60/40-split rear bench seat is standard. Both models boast excellent ergonomics, space for tall front-row riders, and a raft of available premium amenities, including heated leather seats, a sunroof, and a 508-watt SoundBox audio system, giving the utilitarian Dakota a dash of luxury. Aside from the electric treats, the interior feels sparse, with budget-limited plastics and plain appearance. A Timex-type "Indiglo" for the white-face gauges at night is a welcomed embellishment.