Pros: Power, drivability, passenger comfort, reliability, and value
Cons: Mileage is not great.
This is our second Dakota. The first was a 1999 club cab 4X4. The 99 was a plain-jane variant with the V-6 and a 5-speed manual transmission. The only, and I mean only problem I ever had with the old truck was that it did not have enough room in the rear or "club" seating area. Anytime we wanted to haul passengers, they sort of had to stuff themselves into the back after climbing in over the front seat. It was not comfortable. So about 18 months ago, I went truck shopping to find a vehicle with 4 full size doors and more seating room in the rear.
The first place I went was the Ford store. I don't mind telling you that I am a fan of the F-150 and was seriously leaning that way. But every time I took a look at the sticker prices on the Fords and then thought about the great luck I had had with the older Dakota, it brought me back to Dodge.
In the end, I just could not justify spending the extra dough for a Ford. Sorry, Henry!
At the Dodge dealer, about the only concern I had looking at the 2002 Quad-cabs was the shortness of the bed. Going the quad route you lose an additional 6" in the bed length over the Club-cabs. Could I put up with this?
I haul mostly household stuff, dump runs, that sort of thing. Now, after having owned the quad cab for awhile, I am happy to report that it has all worked out. I notice that every now and then I end up having to leave the tailgate down and use straps to secure cargo, but not often enough to complain. Your results may vary, depending on what you have to haul.
By the way, the Dakota we are talking about here is a 2002 quad cab 4X4 with the 4.7-liter V-8, automatic transmission, limited-slip differential, and a towing package. We have the cloth interior and while the windows and door locks are powered, the seats are manually adjusted. Tilt, cruise, and a tiny glovebox round out the package.
A word about the glovebox: The owner's manual will not fit into it. But if you open the door, tilt your head WAY down and look directly into the dash over the storage area, you will see a slot about an inch tall and about 6 deep. THAT slot is where the manual goes. I had been carrying the thing around in the drop-down center console where the CDs are supposed to go. Wrong! The manual fits perfectly in this little slot. All you have to do is know about it, and then find it!
The first feature of the Dakota I want to talk about is the Dodge 4.7-Liter V-8. This engine is head and shoulders better than the old 3.9-Liter V-6. It gets about the same mileage as the V-6 but man does it ever haul the mail. When you stomp the gas, it makes the Dakota jump! Passing performance at road speeds is excellent and Dodge has done a great job of mating it to their automatic transmission. It is geared superbly for both in-town and highway driving. There is an electrically operated overdrive button in the column-mounted gear shift lever and the default position is on. You can turn it off for towing and the like, but most of the time you just leave it alone and the truck performs marvelously. One of my favorite features of the V-8 comes into play at stoplights. Here's the scenario: You come to the light and theres one of these Ford Excursions or something in the lane next to you. You need to get into that lane to make a turn at the next light. When the light changes, instead of having to creep along and hope somebody lets you over, you just hit the gas! Basically, this truck, with the small V-8, will steal the big boys lunch money before they know what hit 'em. Same goes for those little "Fast and Furious" wannabe Hondas. You're not gonna smoke a real hotrod or anything, but the power delivered by the small-block Dodge motor is more than adequate to keep up with traffic.
The Dodge Dakota 4X4 features an independent front suspension with a solid axle in the rear. Front drive is provided by CV-jointed half-shafts more like a modern front-wheel drive automobile. The independent suspension affords many benefits in the way of drivability and control at high speeds. The unequal-length A-arms allow each wheel to move independently without affecting the camber of the opposite wheel. This eliminates the bouncing feeling you used to get driving a 4WD vehicle at highway speeds over uneven pavement. Driving the Dakota under such conditions is a pleasant surprise. It drives more like a car than a truck. Same goes for the ride -- surprisingly smooth and comfortable.
This thing has tons of room. I am 6'2" and find it to be incredibly spacious and non-confining. Front to back and side to side there is no sense of crowding or compromise in interior room. Dodge has done a bang up job shoehorning so much room into what is essentially a mid-sized truck. Even the rear seats have plenty of legroom for normally sized adults in the left and right sides. The driveline hump is only about 5" tall in the rear, but that will cut into the legroom of a middle passenger. Entry and exit is easy, the biggest problem being that the cab is tall on the 4X4 and some people may have trouble making the step up.
I have already mentioned the slightly shorter bed in the Quad-Cab. What I have not talked about is the additional room you gain for storage in the rear of the cab. Both rear seats fold up if you want, resulting in a huge additional storage compartment behind the front seats. It's cavernous, essentially. And the full size rear doors allow straight in access so large boxes and the like are easy to shove in there.
I have only used the 4X4 system on runs to the local landfill. It gets quite muddy out there at times and it gives me a chance to wring the system out. The 4WD setup is controlled by an electronically activated differential with a selector knob on the dash. You can shift from 2-Wheel to 4-Wheel high at up to 55mph by just turning the knob. A small LED blinks until the drive engages, and then goes solid. Switching to 4X4 low requires you to slow down to about 2mph until it engages. Once it catches, you creep along in the mud at a nice 10-15 mph without problems. The system is an incredible improvement over the old manual hubs of days gone by. No, it is not a rock-crawler like my old FJ-40 Landcruiser, but it is more than competent in slick conditions, particularly with the limited-slip rear end. And with that, I want to make a note of telling you this: if you are going to buy a Dakota, even a 2WD variant, be sure to get the limited-slip differential. My old Dakota had a conventional rear axle and you had to be very careful around here when going through puddles or occasional slick spots. The standard differential was very prone to wheel slippage on slick surfaces and even the slightest application of excessive power would cause one wheel to break free. My 2002 does not exhibit this behavior in the slightest. When you hit the gas, you are propelled straight ahead without even a hint of yawing. Overall, this is a much safer vehicle solely due to the limited-slip. Dont let anyone sell you a Dakota without it.
I have had the opportunity to use the towing package on a couple of occasions. I towed a rental RV trailer about 500 miles this past fall and the truck performed flawlessly. It pulled without difficulty and was very stable. I kept it under 65mph and disengaged the overdrive while towing to avoid lugging the motor but the truck gave me the impression that it was not at all unhappy about being asked to pull a small RV. I also pulled a car-hauling trailer down to Los Angeles and back last year without problems. I would not buy a Dakota to pull a large 5th wheel, of course. But you will not have any problems pulling trailers within the Dakotas published GVW limits.
The ride of the Dakota is excellent, almost car like. At speed, the wind noise is minimal. I have 23000 miles on mine and it has not exhibited one body rattle. I do get a little bit of tire noise over the road, but the engine is quieter at speed than many cars. The tall gearing helps, of course, but the 4.7-Liter is basically a quiet motor. Valve-train noise is virtually non-existent in the cab, and the exhaust note is quite subtle at speed. Seating is very comfortable over long periods and both the heater and the air-conditioner will drive you out on full blast. About the only thing I would really like to see Dodge add is a dual climate control system for the front, and they may have, for all I know. Remember, this is a review of the 2002 model.
I had 36000 miles on the 1999 Dakota and traded it in without ever having had one failure. I now have, as I mentioned above, 23000 miles on the 2002. The only thing that has failed was a rubber vacuum hose that split and started leaking where it attaches to the intake manifold. It was a small split right at the end, so I just cut an inch off the hose and plugged it back in. Thats the only problem the vehicle has given me.
Basically, the Dakota Quad is a truck that behaves, on the road at least, like a car. It drives great, handles exceptionally well, and achieves sparkling performance when equipped with Dodges great 4.7 V-8 engine. The compromise of a shorter bed is worth it when you consider that you gain a full passenger compartment with a rear area that doubles as lockable cargo stowage with excellent access. This truck is a sound reliable ride that will also serve very well as a family vehicle while keeping to its main chore of being a great, mid-sized truck.