Yeah, yeah. It's a tried-and-true idea: a pickup with four doors and a back seat. Yet unlike many trucks in this category, the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab skips the heavy tool-and-die look of a road construction vehicle. Also, it's a multi-talented performer that can tow boats, haul families, and run errands in style - a sort of hybrid SUV/pickup. Yes, Nissan's Frontier was the first truck designed around this concept, but the Dakota features some truly usable accommodations. Two adults can ride in the back without complaint. And in a pinch, there's a lap belt for a third passenger.
The Dakota's 63.1" cargo bed tops the Frontier's 60" bed and topples the upcoming Ford Explorer Sport Trac's 50" bed. Nevertheless, you'll need to drop the tailgate on any of these trucks to haul four-by-eight sheets of plywood or a motorcycle. The Dakota's towing capacity ranges from 3,250 to 6,350 pounds, depending on which powertrain you choose.
The tradeoff for the bigger box? Passenger access. However, that's not an unreasonable compromise because the rear seat splits and folds for easier access. You can quickly reconfigure it for hauling an outboard or bulky waterski gear.
For our test, I selected a five-speed stick shift and the 235-hp 4.7-liter V-8, which is the smaller of two that are available. Why? The 245-hp, 5.9-liter engine costs about $1,000 more and gets 2 to 3 fewer mpg. The modern 4.7-liter V-8 has an overhead cam and runs evenly. Its redline is 6000 rpm. The wide-ratio gearbox sits well forward on the floor, which helps you avoid kneecapping your copilot.
I towed an 18 1/2' Sea Ray bowrider on an EZ Loader single-axle trailer from Las Vegas to Lake Mead, Nevada. With the transmission in overdrive, the V-8 hummed placidly at 70 mph and 2500 rpm. I dropped down into fourth gear and watched the tach climb to 3500 rpm, where I found a sweet spot between the peaks of this V-8's horsepower and torque. A stick shift is great for holding the extra revs you need to climb grades or pass. Automatic transmissions often must hunt for the right gear whenever you change throttle pressure.