2003 Dakota New Car Test Drive
We've often seen the Dodge Dakota classified as a mid-size pickup, or even as the mid-size pickup: smaller than a Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, or Dodge's own Ram, yet bigger than the Ford Ranger, Chevy S-10, GMC Sonoma, or Toyota Tacoma. Dodge strategically promotes the Dakota as the biggest, most powerful, most capable compact pickup on the market. Call it a compact and it's the only compact offering optional V8 power.
Whatever you call it, the Dakota offers more versatility than other compact pickups, without quite as much bulk as a full-size truck. Or as Shakespeare might have put it: A Dakota by any other name would be precisely the same size. And that size seems to fit some pickup buyers just right.
Dakota's biggest change for 2002 is the addition of the value-priced SXT, which offers sporty looks and features for under $17,000. And unlike some competitors' compact-trucks-with-attitude, SXT comes in two or four-wheel drive.
For more serious performance, Dakota continues to offer the big-engined R/T model, now with chromed wheels optional. Most Dakotas ride into 2002 with an increased GVW, and the rear-wheel anti-lock brake system (RWAL) now includes electronic brake apportioning (EBA) for more effective stopping and increased lining life.
Dodge Dakota is available in three cab configurations: Regular Cab, extended Club Cab, and four-door Quad Cab. While some competitive extended cabs feature short auxiliary doors behind the main doors, the Dakota Club Cab comes with two doors only.
Regular and Club Cabs are offered in three trim levels: base, Sport and SLT. Base Regular Cab 2WD retails for $14,810; Sport Regular Cab 2WD goes for $15,855; and SLT Regular Cab sells for $16,415. Sport adds better seats and interior trim and upgrades to the exterior. SLT comes with V6 power, gray fascias, and bright bumpers and grille. Quad Cabs start at the Sport level, powered by the V6.
The new SXT model, available only with a Regular or Club Cab, adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear stabilizer bar, cloth bucket seats, carpeting, and special Graphite Metallic exterior trim. Outline-white-letter tires are also part of the package: You get the all-season type with two-wheel drive, and all-terrain tires on four-wheelers.
Four engines are available. A 120-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline-4 is standard on Regular and Club Cabs in base or Sport trim. SLT's and all Quad Cabs come with a 175-horsepower 3.9-liter V6. Rounding out the option list are a 235-horsepower 4.7-liter V8, and a 5.9-liter V8 that produces 245 or 250 horsepower, depending on model. Manual transmissions are offered with all but the 5.9. All engines are available with an automatic option, including an unusual ``mutli-speed overdrive' unit exclusive to the 4.7.
Two types of four-wheel drive are available: One is a part-time system with shift-on-the-fly capability, probably the best choice for off-road use. The other is a full-time system that emphasizes all-weather traction.
The R/T Group adds $2,190 to the cost of a Regular or Club Cab, and features a high-performance version of the 5.9-liter V8. A less restrictive exhaust increases horsepower and torque and offers a more aggressive exhaust note. R/T's also pack aggressive (255/55R17) blackwall tires on 17-inch aluminum wheels, heavy-duty stabilizer bars, a lowered (by one inch) handling-oriented suspension, limited-slip rear differential, bucket seats, a floor console, fog lights, special trim and a long list of convenience items.
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