Powering the new truck are three engines, two of which (the 3.7-liter V-6 and the 4.7-liter V-8) were carried over from last year. However, new for 2005 is a high-output 4.7-liter V-8, with 250-plus horsepower, more than 300 pound-feet of torque, and a growling rumble that'll make you want to risk getting a few speeding tickets. While these specs come close to the 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 engine in the Dakota R/T (2003 was its last year), this new H.O. motor won't be available with a manual transmission, unlike that previous model's. (Perhaps a Hemi SRT or R/T version, complete with manual, is in the Dakota's future?) The new Getrag six-speed manual shifter is available with the V-6 or the standard-output V-8. A four-speed automatic is optional with the V-6, and the well-used 5-45RFE five-speed automatic is an option on the standard 4.7-liter V-8. The five-speed auto is the only transmission available for the high-output V-8.

Safety features include a new advanced airbag system, optional side-curtain airbags that can protect both rows of seats, optional four-wheel ABS (rear-wheel is standard), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, and front disc brakes.

Just like its older brother and SUV cousin, the truck's exterior was designed to look tougher and more distinctive than the previous generation. Its fender flares are more aggressive and front fascia more chiseled. As with the Durango, an airdam was added below the front fascia to enhance the front end's new look, while reducing airflow under the truck to lower drag.

The interior received a makeover as well. It was given a clean, simple layout, with improved seat, door, and console materials, and a new, easier-to-read instrument panel. Thicker front glass and new door seals have greatly reduced noise in the cabin, and just enough engine noise comes through. With the new interior comes a new line of stereos, including optional Sirius satellite radio, six-disc in-dash CD changer, and integrated UConnect handsfree communication.

Dodge had to walk a careful line with the new Dakota--the company wanted to make the truck bigger, faster, and more comfortable, but had to be sure the new truck didn't step on the Ram 1500's toes. The manufacturer succeeded in making the Dakota a viable option for two different buyers: those who need more than a compact, and those who want a tow vehicle that's smaller than a full-size. As to price and value, Dodge is offering V-8 power for under $20,000--and no other truck builder can say that.