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  • 2005 Truck Comparisons: Road Test: 2005 Dodge Dakota and 2005 Nissan Frontier

2005 Truck Comparisons: Road Test: 2005 Dodge Dakota and 2005 Nissan Frontier

Double Play: Midsize pickups get bigger, bolder, and more powerful

Mark Williams
May 6, 2004
If you haven't heard by now, there's a midsize-pickup eruption going on. There used to be a choice of either compact or full-size pickup trucks. Then along came the Dodge Dakota--clearly bigger than the Toyotas, Nissans, S-10s, and Rangers, but without the elbow room of the Silverado, F-150, or Rams. Turns out quite a few people didn't need a full-size, and since the introduction of the midsize, just about every manufacturer is trying to make its compacts bigger. Even though the Toyota Tacoma is slated for its bigger/better redesign for 2005 (see "News"), the new Dakota and Frontier are out first. We thought it might be interesting to look at these two side by side; while not technically comparing them in a head-to-head road test, showing them together might provide some benefits.
Photo 2/10   |   Quite a departure from previous models, Dodge has gone upscale with the new Dakota gauge cluster and center stack. Almost too stylish?
For 2005, the Dakota continues to be the only vehicle in its class to offer a V-8 engine, the result of which is class-leading towing and carrying capacity. The 4.7-liter SOHC engine is a good engine and is also used in the full-size Ram and Grand Cherokee. The Dakota's standard engine is the versatile 3.7-liter 12-valve V-6, rated at 210 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 235 pound-feet of torque at 3600. Many of the same development and design technologies on this year's new Dodge Durango also have made their way into the new Dakota. A stiffer and stronger hydroformed and welded steel frame acts as the foundation for a lengthened, widened pickup. The result is a more muscular midsize capable of towing 7000 pounds and offering an 11,500 pound Gross Combined Weight Rating--the best in its class to date.
Photo 3/10   |   Nissan goes in a different direction, attempting to perfect the "too many gauges in too small a space" philosophy.
The new Frontier will offer a punched-out Nissan 350Z motor, now at 4.0 liters. The 24-valve DOHC V-6 will likely make more than 250 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. The base engine for King Cab Frontiers will be a 2.5-liter 16-valve I-4 with over 160 horsepower. As to hauling power, utilizing basically the same frame as the Titan (with a few modifications to reduce its size), the result is an exceptionally stiff, rigid frame that allows Nissan to comfortably increase the truck's wheelbase by 10 inches, but at the same time increase by a significant margin towing and payload capacity. Although numbers haven't been finalized, we expect the truck's competence to be limited by a V-6 powerplant, rather than the capacities of the frame. We figure maximum towing to rate around 6000, with the combined (loaded truck + max trailer = GCWR) number being in the 10,000-pound range.
Naturally, both trucks want to make a bigger, bolder statement (in fact, it's cliche for manufacturers to say they want their trucks to make a brash statement). Whether they do or not will always be up to interpretation, but we can see some specific styling cues that deserve attention. The most obvious styling cue for Dodge has been and will continue to be the wide-mouth grille. Designers are pushing carved angles and more stamped billet-looking forms for the new Dodge, but we'd be surprised if this is something they'll stick with for long unless sales show a considerable surge. We'd expect a more Ram-like Dakota to follow for the next midmodel freshening.
Photo 4/10   |   With the Ram being such a tall full-size pickup truck, there's plenty of room for the Dakota to offer a big stance (and a large interior), without the full-size altitude.
Frontier body styling is definitely headed into mini-Titan territory, with the bed and front grille areas the most obviously derivative, but we like the improved wheel fender flares as they've been softened a bit. The overall effect still offers a rugged 4x4 appearance, but without the previous chiseled feel. Both designs do a good job projecting a muscular, robust flavor, while still retaining softer aerodynamics for a modern interpretation.
Photo 5/10   |   Smoother and more molded lines seem to be the theme for the Frontier. Going big was not only necessary, but will continue to add to Nissan's growing pickup-truck credibility.
As for innovations, both vehicles come to the table with smart improvements off a familiar plan. The Dodge Quad Cab has four front-hinged doors, but improvements have been made in how wide the front and rear doors open. In fact, because the front doors have been modified to open more than 80 degrees, it makes the rear doors (still opening a full 90 degrees) feel like they open even further than before. In addition, Dodge has improved storage by designing the rear seats to flip rearward against the seatbacks to create a cavernous pass-through rear-storage area.
Photo 6/10   |   Nissan's HVAC system, although simplified, relies heavily on old-school plastic buttons.
Like the Titan, most of the Frontier's innovations are in the bed. Expect many of the same options and unique features available for the Titan bed to make their way into the small pickup; spray-in factory bedliners, a Utili-Track cargo hauling rail system, bed racks, and more will be offered for the Frontier as well. Storage and cargo flexibility are key elements of both new pickups. Although sales numbers for this segment have been flat for several years, you'd never know it by how much money is being invested on smaller pickups. Expect to hear a great deal more as Dodge, Nissan, and Toyota put the finishing touches on their midsize pickups and other untraditional small-pickup players (Kia, Mitsubishi, and Honda) get ready to bring their vehicles to the party.
Photo 7/10   |   The bulging rear fenders and strong bumper line are clear attempts at lining the Dakota with the bigger Ram and it works. We like the dual-stack taillights and large Ram's head. The Frontier rear end also borrows from the bigger Titan, but suffers from a drooping bumper. It's worth noting the first-generation Frontier was the first to have the signature Nissan tailgate release.
Photo 10/10   |   There's no mistaking the Dodge grille--it's massive and looks intimidating in the rearview mirror. We're told only the Laramie package will have chrome. The ST and SLT packages will be either body-color or black.
 {{{2005 Dodge Dakota}}}{{{2005 Nissan Frontier}}}
Location of final assembly Warren, MichiganSmyrna, Tennessee
Body style Crew cab pickup Crew cab pickup
EPA size class{{{Pickup}}}Pickup
Base engine3.7L 210-hp SOHC V-62.5L 170-hp DOHC I-4
Largest opt engine{{{90}}}-deg V-8, alum heads60-deg V-6, all alum
Bore x stroke, in3.66 x 3.403.76 x 3.40
Displacement, ci/L287/4.7242/4.0
Horsepower, hp230250
Torque, lb-ft290270
Transmission type5-speed auto6-speed manual
6thN/A 0.79
Axle ratio 3.92:14.36:1
Final drive ratio2.63:13.44:1
Recommended fuelPremium unleadedPremium unleaded
Wheelbase, in131.3 125.9
Length, in 218.8205.5
Width, in71.772.8
Height, in68.7 70.1
Club/Crew bed size LxWxD, in64.9x59.6x17.6 58.6x61.4x17.9
Base curb weight, lb44004250
Payload capacity, lb17001350
GVWR, lb62005500
GCWR, lb11,500 10,000
Towing capacity, lb70005500
Fuel capacity, gal22.0 20.0
Suspension, f/rIFS, double A-arm, coilover springs/live axle, leaf springsIFS, double A-arm, coilover springs/live axle, leaf springs
Steering typePower assist rack and pinionPower assist rack and pinion
Brakes, f/rVented discs/drums, 4WALFour-wheel vented discs, 4WAL
Base price (est)$23,000$20,000