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Although there is a clear similarity between the front ends of the '05 Dakota and its bigger sibling, the Dodge Ram, there are sharper, more angular shapes on the Dakota. The two trucks share something even more closely: The Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Michigan, where both are produced. There's more than a small amount of experience there: they've been producing trucks there since the plant opened in 1938. Another familial link is that engines for the Dakota and the Ram (some Rams, that is) are produced at the Mack Avenue Engine Complex in Detroit.

Dakota: Unmistakably Dodge

With vehicles like the Chrysler 300 notwithstanding, Chrysler Group seems to be on a mission to create a dominant position in the truck market.

With vehicles like the Chrysler 300 notwithstanding, Chrysler Group seems to be on a mission to create a dominant position in the truck market. While it is exceedingly unlikely that it would be able to overtake the Ford F-Series for sales, it could most certainly improve on its position in the market and undoubtedly attain a share-of-mind that is valuable if for no other reason than to maintain viability in an increasingly crowded vehicle market. "Dominance" doesn't necessarily have to be defined by the greatest number of vehicles sold. But if people think "truck" and then they think "Dodge," or at least what a Dodge truck looks like, that's SUCCESS writ large (particularly when those people want to buy the trucks in question). So, in order to achieve this dominance, consider some of the moves the company has made, such as in bringing out: The HEMI-powered Dodge Ram pickup, said to be the "most powerful" light-duty pickup on the market

  • Dodge Ram SRT-10, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records in the "fastest production pickup"
  • The Dodge Ram Cummins 600, with 600 lb-ft of torque, which is said to be the most in the category.

What's happening at Chrysler in the light-truck market is a continuation of what it has been doing since the '94 Ram pickup came out. Rick Anerios, vice president, Jeep®/Truck & Component Design, recalls of that time: "We were clearly a non-player. We knew we had to break out of the mold. We were looking at trucks that looked very much like Chevys and Fords at the time. Thankfully, our management demanded we break new ground. We created the drop-fender, over-the-road kind of look with that vehicle." A goal was that they would produce a look that someone who was looking in a rear-view mirror would be able to identify as Dodge even from 100 yards away. And by installing the HEMI and by creating the 500-hp, asphalt-blistering SRT-10, the vehicle seen in the rear-view mirror wouldn't be there long.

Anerios, again: "Some people are going to love these trucks and some are going to hate them. And that's fine with us."

Management then, and now, recognized that in order to be a player, in order to be competitive, there has to be a discernable difference. In the case of Dodge trucks the difference is comparatively smashmouth vis-à-vis the competitors, whether it's Ford and Chevy or Nissan and Toyota. But as Steve Jakubiec, program manager for the 2005 Dodge Dakota points out, today's truck customer wants something that's distinctive, yet not raw: "When we started out the program, 'refinement' was one of our key messages."

Yes, yes, there's that. There are nice seats in the Dakota. The front side glass is 20% thicker than that in the previous generation, thereby providing a quieter cab. You can get leather. Sirius satellite radio. Cup holders both abundant and functional. Interior fit and finish that is indicative of the new demands that design chief Trevor Creed is insistent about. Etc., etc., etc. But the Dakota is a Dodge truck. It is a vehicle that's clearly one that's meant to fit within the powerful lineup, meant to be something that's clearly different from a Ford Ranger or Chevy Colorado, Nissan Frontier or Toyota Tacoma.

So, not surprisingly, the '05 Dakota is the only vehicle in its class that offers a V8 engine. The vehicle can be fitted with a 287-in3 cast-iron block (OK, it has an aluminum head, as this is the 21st century) V8 that produces 230 hp @ 4,600 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque @ 3,600 rpm. But because this is Dodge and those guys don't believe in any half measures, there is another V8, a High Output version that will provide in excess of 250 hp and more than 300 lb-ft of torque. (In addition to which: There can be little question that at some point in the foreseeable future, the question that will undoubtedly be asked will be answered with a "Yep." A HEMI-powered SRT 8 is bound to arrive.) So the other guys have 0. Dodge offers two. (The standard engine is a 3.7-liter V6.

Greater power. And a bigger size. The '04 Dakota is long, but the '05 is longer: 218.8 in. (3.7 in. longer). There's 45.2 in. of space between the wheel wells in the bed, which is said to be more than that provided by the competition. The "regular" cab for the '05 Dakota is actually club cab. And the only other cab provides even bigger rear doors: a quad cab. The interior volumes for the club and quad, 55.3 ft3 and 55.8 ft3, respectively, are said to be the biggest in the category. People use these trucks to tow, so there's 7,150 lb. of towing capability, which is said to be best in class. You get the picture.