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1997 Dodge Dakota

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1997 Dodge Dakota Review

The most powerful compact truck on the road.

Reviewed by Automotive on


Receiving a major makeover for the new model year, the 1997 Dodge Dakota gets almost entirely redesigned from the ground up. The capable engines, workhorse transmissions, and optional four-wheel drive remain, but that is it. Inside and out, the current Dakota starts all new. Dodge continues to be the only company to give small truck buyers the option for an engine comparable to full-size pickups.

On the outside, the 1997 Dodge Dakota mimics its bigger brother, the Dodge Ram. On the inside, the Dakota continues to please manual laborers while providing comforts that make it usable for families and daily driving. The biggest error on the new Dakota concerns the second seat and the extended cab option.

The Range

Body Styles: pickup truck
Engines: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 3.9-liter V-6, 5.2-liter V-8
Transmissions: four-speed automatic, five-speed manual
Models: Dodge Dakota, Dodge Dakota Extended Cab, Dodge Dakota Sport, Dodge Dakota Extended Cab, Dodge Dakota SLT, Dodge Dakota SLT Extended Cab

What's New

Aside from the powertrains, everything on the 1997 Dodge Dakota is new. A radical redesign of the 10-year-old truck updates the midsize workhorse and turns it into a miniature Dodge Ram. The update has given the Dakota the most maneuverability and roomiest cab in the midsize truck class.


The outside of the 1997 Dodge Dakota looks similar to the styling of the current generation of the Dodge Ram in order to create brand cohesiveness. The front end of the Dakota is not a fluid with the rest of the body as on the Ram. The front grille does not look as though it integrates with the rest of the body. The truck bed seems big, not that much smaller than the bed of a full-size truck. The wheel flares look noticeable, but blend in with the rest of the body.


Where the exterior and the performance of the 1997 Dodge Dakota have been improved, the interior has some difficulties. It still accommodates those who work in construction sites and fields, with everything able to be done wearing work gloves and boots. The front seats feel comfortable and roomy. The console offers plenty of room for beverages and other objects. The main issue with the interior comes with the rear bench seat that faces forward and provides very little legroom. Dodge also fails to give the Dakota a third-door option, so getting in and out of the back seat can be difficult. Visibility from inside of the cabin is not bad, with modest pillars and large rear-view mirrors.

Performance & Handling

The variety of engine, transmission, and drive options gives the Dakota plenty of variations. The 5.2-liter V-8 puts out a solid 300 lb-ft of torque. Coupled with four-wheel drive and the five-speed manual, this makes the 1997 Dodge Dakota a great option for contractors and others who need great payload capabilities. This combination allows the Dakota to outperform and outhaul some full-size pickup trucks. However, it gets terrible fuel economy. The V-6 proves powerful enough for most applications, while the 2.5-liter four-cylinder seems slightly underpowered and not useful for anything more than light-duty work. The four-speed automatic transmission feels sluggish, but the five-speed manual proves rugged and precise. The suspension feels solid, slightly stiff, but appropriate for hauling and work sites. Handling is precise, and braking is decent.


The 1997 Dodge Dakota comes equipped with dual front airbags. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes remain optional on all models and almost necessary. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration awards the Dakota four out of five stars in driver and passenger front-impact safety.

EPA Fuel Economy

Dodge Dakota 2WD, 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder, manual: 18/23 mpg city/highway
Dodge Dakota 2WD, 3.9-liter V-6, automatic: 15/19 mpg city/highway
Dodge Dakota 2WD, 3.9-liter V-6, manual: 15/20 mpg city/highway
Dodge Dakota 2WD, 5.2-liter V-8, automatic: 12/17 mpg city/highway
Dodge Dakota 2WD, 5.2-liter V-8, manual: 13/19 mpg city/highway
Dodge Dakota 4WD, 3.9-liter V-6, automatic: 14/17 mpg city/highway
Dodge Dakota 4WD, 3.9-liter V-6, manual: 14/17 mpg city/highway
Dodge Dakota 4WD, 5.2-liter V-8, automatic: 12/16 mpg city/highway
Dodge Dakota 4WD, 5.2-liter V-8, manual: 12/17 mpg city/highway

You'll Like

  • Plenty of engine and transmission choices
  • Wonderful new styling inside and out
  • Good performance and handling

You Won't Like

  • No third door
  • Poor fuel economy for a small pickup

Sum Up

The most powerful compact truck on the road.

If You Like This Vehicle

  • Toyota Tacoma
  • GMC Sonoma
  • Ford Ranger

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