Lee Teschler

Our test vehicle carried the traditional style 4WD, which must be manually switched on and should be switched off for dry roads. We got a chance to test it out in the first major snowfall of the season. The pickup performed admirably and moved confidently in slippery conditions that kept other vehicles moving at a crawl.

The truck, which shares its frame with the Durango SUV, gets power from a 3.7-liter V6 putting out 230 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque, plenty of oomph for day-to-day use. Buyers who intend to do a lot of trailering and pulling might consider springing for a V8, however. (DaimlerChrysler's popular Hemi is not available on this model.)

The V6 version, though, handles well for a compact pickup. There is a little bounce over potholes when the truck is not carrying a load in the bed, but it wasn't objectionable or excessive. The rack-and-pinion steering is adequate and responds well to driver inputs. Braking, handled by discs in front and drums in back, seemed OK. ABS is standard on the rear and is an option for the front discs.

Considering this is a workaday truck, we had no gripes with the simple controls. The cab is roomy enough for taller people and quiet. The fourspeed automatic transmission, a $1,095 option, uses a shifter on the steering column rather than on the floor. A knob on the dash switches between two and fourwheel drive.

Another point in the truck's favor is its appearance. The crosshair grille in front, combined with sharp angular lines on the fenders, makes the Dakota look distinctive and tough. Potential buyers should also note that the Dakota now comes only as a quad cab or a club-cab version with two rearopening clamshell doors. The bed on the Quad Cab truck is 5-ft, 4-in. long with 45.2 in. between wheel wells. Indentations on the wheel wells and box panel let you add boards to make a dual deck, for carrying full-width loads (i.e., 4 8s).

The Dakota sports other standard features that include a 136-A alternator, a rear 60/40 folding seat, fog lamps, power mirrors, and a 12-V power outlet in the console. Our review vehicle carried a $595 interior package that covers a six-way power driver's seat and cloth split-bench front seats with storage in the center console. The rear sliding-window was optional ($140) as was a special clear-coat paint job ($150). The total with destination charge came to $28,640. All in all, it's a nice looking truck that does what it is designed to do.