After it competed in last year's Truck of the Year, the newly redesigned Dodge Dakota begged for a closer look, so we welcomed a 2005 Dakota Quad Cab 4x4 Laramie into our family of long-term vehicles. There's value in testing trucks and SUVs over longer periods of time to report on how they last when treated more like daily drivers and multitasking problem-solvers. Good thing the four-wheel-drive system we ordered had an all-wheel-drive setting--severely flooded streets and highways had to be navigated just to get home. Thank you, upper-level, low-pressure winter storm.

Starting price for our new Dodge Laramie came in at $29,190, but with a few options, the as-tested price is just under $35,000. Specific options include the skidplate group ($170), trailer-tow group ($525), four-wheel ABS ($495), side airbags ($495), five-speed automatic transmission ($75), electronic full-time 4WD transfer case ($395), 3.92:1 axle ratio ($40), limited-slip differential axle ($295), 4.7-liter Magnum V-8 ($785), rear manual sliding rear window ($140), heated front seats ($250), Sirius Satellite Radio ($195), auto-dimming rearview mirror ($275), P265/65R17 on/off-road tires ($125), 17x8.0-inch aluminum chrome-clad wheels ($595), and an under-rail box liner ($245). Add in the destination charge ($645) for a grand total of $34,935.

There are currently 2444 miles on the odometer, and baseline instrumented testing has yet to be done on this fresh new beast. You'll see the test results in an upcoming report.

Notes in the logbook show positive initial impressions. The overall size and driver room is the main topic of conversation, especially when compared with the Tacoma and Frontier. However, taller staff members have commented on a somewhat painful issue: More than one person has bounced his head off the airbag cover on the B-pillar when checking for traffic over his left shoulder. Engine performance is beginning to loosen up, but we're still boggled by a five-speed transmission that doesn't allow the driver to shift into each gear with the column shifter. What's the point of offering only 1, 2, and D? Likewise, the Dakota should get better fuel economy after its break-in period. More to come.