Introduced in 1987, the Dodge Dakota filled the sizable gap between compact and full-size pickups. Although referred to as a compact, the Dakota is slightly bigger than most of its rivals. But it wasn't until 1997, when the Dakota was redesigned and adopted the handsome look of its bigger brother, the Dodge Ram, that people took notice. The following years saw the introduction of the potent R/T muscle truck (packing a 250-horsepower V8 along with a monochrome paint scheme and big wheels) and the Quad Cab, a true crew cab pickup with full-size doors and plenty of room for rear passengers.
The 2004 Dodge Dakota features a new V6 engine rated for 210 horsepower, while dropping the tire-spinning R/T. In addition, the company has added a Stampede package to the options list that offers a monochromatic paint and additional body cladding. As before, three cab configurations and a multitude of trim levels are available including everything from a basic, standard cab workhorse to a leather-lined 4WD Quad Cab that can serve as a family vehicle. If you're looking for a weak spot in the lineup, just check out the EPA mileage ratings, as the Dakota tends to be a gas guzzler compared to its smaller rivals.
The Dakota does, however, offer more room, more power and more capability than its competition, namely the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins. Everything from its towing capacity to its available V8 power and roomy interior are a cut above the smaller rigs. Although a redesigned model is expected to debut for the 2005 model year, the 2004 Dodge Dakota is still a very appealing truck with few shortcomings.
The 2004 Dodge Dakota is available in three body styles -- regular cab, extended ("Club") cab and crew ("Quad") cab -- and six trim levels: base; value-oriented SXT; flashy Sport and Sport Plus; and luxury SLT and SLT Plus. Base models are bare-boned work trucks with basic features like air conditioning, cloth seats and an AM/FM stereo, while SXTs are upgraded with interior carpet, bucket seats and a CD player. Sport and Sport Plus models offer color-keyed cloth interiors, an upgraded gauge cluster and additional options like keyless entry, power windows and a CD changer. The SLT and SLT Plus are the top-of-the-line models that offer everything from leather seats to larger wheel and tires. A new Stampede package, offered on Sport models, adds monochromatic paint, revised front and rear fascias, extended sills, a thicker rear stabilizer bar and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
The Dakota's interior shows its age, but in terms of functionality, it works well. The quality of the materials is average, but their construction is solid. The gauges are large and clear and simple three-dial climate controls make temperature adjustments quick and easy. Quad cab models have enough room to seat four comfortably and there's plenty of storage room in the large center console.
Standard on all Dakotas is a new 3.7-liter V6 engine that's considerably more powerful than the 3.9-liter mill it replaces. This new V6 puts out 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. If even more power is needed, there is an optional (on Sport and SLT models) 4.7-liter V8 rated at 235 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission on both engines is a five-speed manual while the V6 offers an optional four-speed automatic and the V8 a five-speed automatic. Although the V6 provides more than enough power for most applications, V8-equipped models are especially fast and can tow up to 6,600 pounds.
Willing power plants, automatic transmissions that are rarely caught off guard and well-sorted suspensions make these trucks easy to live with, no matter what they're asked to do. On-road, the supple suspension swallows up bumps, yet doesn't have the truck wallowing through the turns. And off-road, the Dakota easily handles everything, even severely rutted and rock-strewn trails. All things considered, the Dakota offers the best combination of ride comfort and capability in the compact truck class.
Rear wheel antilock brakes are standard on all models. Four-wheel ABS is optional, but side airbags are not available. In NHTSA crash testing, the 2004 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab earned four out of five stars for both driver and front passenger protection in a frontal collision. Side-impact tests resulted in a five-star rating for both front and rear passengers. The IIHS tested a standard cab model and gave the Dakota a "Poor" rating (its lowest) after conducting its frontal offset crash test.
For the 2004 Dodge Dakota, a new 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter Magnum V6 replaces the previous 3.9-liter engine, while the R/T model (along with its ancient 5.9-liter V8) is dropped and a Stampede Appearance package debuts.