Pros: R-E-L-I-A-B-L-E spells satisfaction
Cons: Has a healthy appetetite for gasoline.
I purchased my Dakota new in 1997. It is a standard cab 4X4 Sport edition equipped with the 3.9 litre V-6 and 5 speed manual gear box.
The first thing I have to say is this has been the most trouble free vehicle I have ever owned (I've owned Buick, Ponitiac, and 3 Chevrolets). After seven years I have spent 0, nada, nothing, zip on repairs. I changed the oil and filter every 5,000 miles (Castrol Syntec and Mobil 1 filters). I gave the engine an initial treatment of Prolong engine treatment and added Prolong Booster every third oil change. 125,000 miles later, runs like a champ. I've always run el cheapo regular unleaded fuel, no spark knock has ever been detected. I've replaced the following parts- serpentine belt,battery, spark plugs, muffler (Flowmaster cat back), tires, brake shoes and pads. Note these are all parts that are EXPECTED to wear out. From a reliability stand point I could not be happier.
The power train combination I chose has been the only minor short coming. As other reviews have stated fuel mileage is less than sterling. I average 17 miles per gallon from the V-6 Magnum. I feel one would be better off with the V-8 because you would have better HP and torque without a great loss in MPG. Please don't get me wrong, the 3.9 litre is a stout little plant. I've trailered my father's full size Bronco (4,000+lbs) and my '70 Challenger(3,500lbs) on occasion and the V-6 performed well. Under a heavy load you wont break any land speed records but there is more than enough acceleration as to not impede traffic. The engine is smooth running and quick revving. It can be a bit noisy above 3,000 rpms though.
The transmission has no glaring issues. The shifter doesn't have a very positive feel and has long throws when shifting. Having driven other small/midsize trucks this seems par for the breed. 125,000 miles later I'm still on the original clutch with no decernable slippage.
The body has no issues. There is no rust, panel fit is still good, no door sag. I use this truck as a truck. I haul a lot of stuff. In this process I have scratched the paint in several places. Even these deep scratches have yet to begin to rust.
As a midsize truck the Dakota is a compromise between the compact (why wont my motorcycle, sheet of plywood etc fit?) and the full size (land yacht, call a tug boat and harbor master when parking) trucks. The truck is nimble in traffic and very manueverable at low speeds. The cab provides ample room for two adults to ride in comfort. I'm 6'1" 240lbs and have no issues with the available space. When purchased the truck was very quiet, though the after market exhaust changed that lol.
Ergonomics are fine. all controls are easily accessible. The gauges are in plain view and easily read. The heater core warms up in about 5 minutes and is easily regulated. The A/C blows ice cold and, once agian, is easily regulated. The steering has a reassuring "weighted" feel, not overly assisted but not an upperbody workout. You get very good "feedback" from road surfaces and conditions. The seats are supportive and comfortable. The fold down center console has a fair amount of space for often used items. The two cup holders behind the shifter could have been better placed. When you shift into reverse there is a tendancy to knock over drinks in the passenger side holder.
Most of my 4X4 experiences have been in snowy conditions. The truck can get a little loose in snow. Just apply the throttle smoothly and evenly and this is easily overcome. Never been stuck, never any close calls. In fact my Dakota has pulled several "superior" 4X4 vehicles out of the ditch lines.
All in all this has been a wonderful experience as a vehicle owner. If you told me that all my future vehicle purchases would be this good I would be estatic. If I ever buy another mid size truck it would most definately be a Dakota.