Only V-6- and V-8-powered versions of Dodges midsize Dakota pickup truck are available for the 2003 model year because the four-cylinder engine has been dropped. A new Stampede Appearance Package will be added during 2003; offered on regular cab and Club Cab Sport models, this option group includes ground-effects side moldings, wheel flares, 16-by-8-inch aluminum wheels and a rear stabilizer bar.
All-disc brakes are now standard for the Quad Cab, 4WD and performance-oriented R/T models. Newly styled cast-aluminum 16-by-7-inch wheels are installed. Dodge now offers a five-speed-automatic transmission that features a dual-ratio second gear, which teams with the 4.7-liter engine.
A value-priced but boldly styled SXT model tempts budget-minded shoppers. The lineup also includes base, Sport, Sport Plus, SLT and SLT Plus trim levels. The top performer is the Dakota R/T (road and track), which is equipped with a 250-horsepower V-8 engine, front and rear stabilizer bars, unique suspension tuning, P255/55R17 tires and a stance thats 1 inch lower than usual. Dakotas were last redesigned for the 1997 model year.
Basic Dakota styling is patterned after the company's full-size Ram pickup. Regular cab, Club Cab (extended-cab) and Quad Cab body styles are available. The four-door Quad Cab rides the same 131-inch wheelbase and measures the same 215 inches in overall length as the Club Cab. Because the Quad Cab devotes more space to passengers, it comes with a shorter, 5.5-foot cargo bed. The Quad Cab version can tow as much as 6,050 pounds.
Although regular-cab models use a 6.5-foot cargo bed, they have shorter dimensions than the Quad Cab for both the wheelbase and overall length. Regular cabs measure 196 inches long overall on a 112.1-inch wheelbase. Unlike other extended-cab compacts, no rear doors are offered on the Dakota Club Cab. The value-priced SXT model includes graphite bumpers, fascia, grille and fender flares, along with sporty 16-inch aluminum wheels.
All Dakotas may be equipped with either a front bench or a pair of front bucket seats. Club Cab and Quad Cab models have split rear benches with cushions that fold for extra storage space.
Because the Quad Cabs interior is about a foot longer than the Club Cabs length, its backseat is vastly roomier. Space for adults in the Quad Cabs rear seat is adequate, but they will likely be cramped in the Club Cab. Tall rear doors that open 90 degrees on the Quad Cab ease entry and exit.
Under the Hood
A 175-hp, 3.9-liter V-6 serves as the base engine, but Dakotas are unique among compact pickups because they can be fitted with V-8 power plants. A 235-hp (230 hp in California), 4.7-liter V-8 is available for all three body styles. A 245-hp, 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 which is larger than the V-8s in some full-size pickups is available for all body styles. A special 250-hp version goes into the sporty Dakota R/T. Three transmissions are available: a four-speed automatic, a five-speed automatic and a five-speed manual. A dashboard switch controls transfer-case operation on four-wheel-drive (4WD) models.
Four-wheel antilock brakes and roof-mounted side curtain-type airbags are optional.