The trend is clear: Nobody wants to make a compact pickup anymore. The 2005 model year seems to mark the death of the compact and renaissance of the midsize. Previous Dakotas have been ahead of the curve, always larger than their competitors. Not surprisingly, the new Dakota stays ahead of the game as well.

Dodge started with a strong foundation, giving the Dakota a new, fully boxed, hydroformed frame, similar to those found under the new Ram and Durango. The chassis change improved the truck's stiffness and strength; it has eight times more torsional rigidity and twice the bending stiffness. The new frame, in conjunction with the octagonal front rail tips carried over from the 2004 model, is specifically designed to make the pickup safer in frontal, offset-frontal, and high-speed rear-impact collisions. While the overall length for Club Cab and Quad Cab models is up more than three inches, wheelbase lengths for the two models will (practically) remain the same at 131 inches. The regular cab version of the Dakota won't return for 2005.

Front and rear suspensions were upgraded and greatly improve ride and handling during loaded and empty driving. When it's just you and the highway, the Dakota takes turns with gusto and keeps secure grip with the road. Towing or hauling heavy loads, this midsize has the confidence of a full-size, if not the payload capacity. The live-axle, leaf-spring combination in the rear uses a two-stage spring setup and stabilizer bar, while the front end uses the Durango's taller upper control arm and coil-over springs. Even though the spring rates were chosen to optimize the ride, the Dakota now has an 11,700-pound GCWR (gross combined weight rating).

Dakota drivelines are available in two-wheel-drive configurations or with a choice of four-wheel-drive systems. A part-time system with a separate low-range gear is the base 4WD option, with a full-time 4WD system (also with a low-range gear) offered on SLT and Laramie trim levels. Both have a 2.72:1 electronically controlled low-range transfer case, but the full-time system has a planetary locking differential with a 48/52 torque split.

Payload capacity, towing capacity, GVWR, and GCWR were all increased, and the numbers beat everything in its class. Because both models share frames, the Club Cab comes solely with a 6-foot-6-inch bed and the Quad Cab receives a 5-foot-4-inch bed.