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by Bruce W. Smith - Editorial Services LLC - Special to GCN

There’re not many of today’s smaller pickups that can safely tow a 5,600-pound, travel trailer and still have nearly a ½-ton of towing capacity to spare. For that matter, there are some full-size pickups that would strain at the task.

But here I was, peddling along the Tennessee backroads in the new Dodge Dakota Quad Cab pickup, rearview and side mirrors filled with the white glare from a glistening 26-foot Coachman travel trailer locked on to the weight-distribution hitch.

To those outside the cab this improbable combination probably looked a little like a tug towing a freighter.

The reality of the driving experience, however, is the 2005 mid-sized Dakota makes you feel secure in its ability to perform—both from the steering wheel and the throttle. It’s stable, and with the 4.7-liter, 250-horse, High-Output V8, powerful enough to do a little heavy towing on occasion.

Granted, I probably wouldn’t buy any mid-size pickup as a primary travel trailer toter. On the other hand, the Dakota would be a great candidate for towing tent trailers, fishing or pleasure boats, quartets of ATVs, two-horse trailers, or any variety of or smaller farm and construction equipment. And do so in an unstrained fashion.

That’s a change from the previous Dakota, which was capable, but not this capable.

Dodge made some cosmetic body and interior changes to distinguish the new generation pickup from the old and to bring it closer to the family look as the Ram and Durango.

For instance, the new grille has the bold “cross-hair” design seen on the Rams and Durnagos, and the headlights, body lines, bumpers, tailgate and taillights now reflect the same family heritage.

The interior has seen a change, too, but not in size; the dimensions are the same as the ’04. It’s after a few minutes behind the wheel you realize the interior is considerably quieter, the seats nicer, the new instrument panel and gauge cluster quite user-friendly, and the overall feel that of better craftsmanship than the previous Dakota.

But the biggest changes, though felt, are not readily seen.

For example, the frame is brand new and it’s eight times stiffer than the old one when it comes to twist resistance. To that they added an all-new independent front suspension system with a coil-over shock absorbers and rack-and-pinion steering. These changes greatly improve ride and handling compared to the old truck.

The engines have more pulling power, too; the base V6 is up to 210hp, while the 4.7-liter Magnum V8s—yes, a 230- or 250hp version—are the only such offerings in the mid-size segment.  (The High Output 4.7-liter engine will be available only on SLT and Laramie models and requires the optional 5-speed automatic transmission.)Transmissions are also changed: A Getrag six-speed manual transmission replaces the old 5-speed as the standard, while a 5-speed automatic is now the upgrade option for all engines. Both trannies shift sweetly.

If four-wheel-drive is your preference, Dodge is the only manufacturer that offers a mid-size pickup with both full-time and part-time four-wheel-drive systems. The latter is the standard package, while the full-time system, which can be used on all surfaces all the time, is an option.

My driving impressions of both the two- and four-wheel-drive model Club Cab and Quad Cab Dakotas left me with a feeling Dodge has managed to inch a little closer to full-size pickup ride, handling, and performance without stepping beyond the physical dimensions that draws us to mid-size pickups in the first place.

The 2005 Dakota is sure to give the Chevy Colorado and Toyota Tacoma a run for their money. Right now I’d place my bets in the Dodge camp for the most capable pickup.

Speaking of money, the base MSRP for the plane-Jane Dakota ST Club Cab 2wd with the V6 and manual is $19,210. At the opposite end of the Dakota price structure is the Laramie Quad Cab 4x4 with a base price of $29,324. Add in all the options and you’ll see a $34,600 window sticker.—Bruce W. Smith 

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