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Well-Dressed, but Still a Workhorse

2005 Dodge Dakota Laramie 4WD

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page G01

There is a difference between the ruling and working classes. I can explain it in terms of limousines and pickup trucks.

This occurred to me on a return trip from Detroit in the midst of President Bush's second inaugural celebration. I arrived with a bevy of political swells at Reagan National Airport. They were dressed in furs, greeted by coachmen and whisked away by fleets of long, black limousines.

2005 Dodge Dakota Laramie 4WD

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: Car companies are spending too much time trying to design pickups that ride like limos. The Dakota Laramie is a case in point -- a very smooth, car-like ride in a rugged, box-frame truck. I just want a truck to be a truck.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Good marks in all three categories. In fact, the ride is so smooth it's disconcerting. There is a temptation to drive this one as if it were a tight, lightweight sedan. It's not. The Dakota Laramie 4WD weighs 6,010 pounds. It should be driven with caution appropriate to its weight.

Head-turning quotient: Menacing, big bad Dodge truck. It probably would not have cleared inaugural security.

Body style/layout: Front-engine, four-door, four-wheel-drive pickup. It also is available as a rear-wheel-drive model.

Engine/transmission: The tested, base Dakota Laramie engine is a 3.7-liter V-6 that develops 210 horsepower at 5,200 revolutions per minute and 235 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm. It is linked to a standard four-speed automatic transmission. A 230-horsepower V-8 and 250-horsepower V-8 are available.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The Dakota Laramie has seating for five people -- six people with bench seats. Maximum cargo capacity is 37 cubic feet. Towing capacity depends on engine chosen. The fuel tank holds 22 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 16 miles per gallon.

Safety: Dual front air bags, rear anti-lock brakes.

Price: The base price is $28,815. Price as tested is $31,440, including $1,980 in options and a $645 destination charge. Dealer's base price is $26,230. It is $28,618 with options and destination charge. Sources: Dodge and Edmunds.com.

Purse-strings note: It's a buy. Watch the options. Compare with Ford F-150, Chevrolet Colorado.

That's when it hit me: There were no pickup trucks, not a single one, waiting to collect the lovelies descending on our town in celebration of the people's democracy.

That struck me as odd, perhaps because I'd recently spent much time with the 2005 Dodge Dakota Laramie 4WD, a versatile, can-do, four-door, short-bed pickup that is a motorized expression of the American spirit.

You can haul almost anything in the Dakota Laramie, including five people, their furs and their designer luggage. And, depending on your viewpoint on power and its applications, the truck is impressive -- even with its base 3.7-liter, 210-horsepower, V-6 engine.

But it's a pickup truck, a four-wheel-drive pickup truck at that. By implication, that means it's supposed to sweat, grunt, toil, get dirty. All over the country, such labor is honored. The people and machines involved in those endeavors are seen as engaging in "real work," which is to be distinguished, for example, from sitting in a comfortable office pushing paper or policy.

Maybe that's why there were no pickup trucks pressed into livery service on the day I landed at Reagan. There were lots of people in Western wear -- expensive Western wear. But they must have been going to a costume party, because they all got into limousines.

Could it be that fur coats and pickup trucks don't mix? That is an interesting environmental and political question. Should we kill animals for their pelts and burn the fossil fuels left by their predecessors? Should we take more care to preserve natural resources?

Who are the best stewards of the land -- the pickup truck people who often work it, or the black limousine people who work the halls of Congress, the White House and the regulatory agencies in pursuit of the next policy or rule that will do the greatest public good?

I decided to put the questions to the test of empirical observation.

People were getting into the limousines in twos and threes, although those rolling leviathans easily could have held double the number of passengers. It was a statement of physical entitlement: They wanted their space inside and outside their vehicles, which is a consumptive approach to reality.

Of course, the same thing can be said of truck people, especially those pilots of bigger-than-life sport-utility models. But pickup trucks are noble.

It matters not how you dress them up -- and the Dakota Laramie, with its leather upholstery, six-way power seats and various entertainment systems, is well dressed -- pickup trucks ultimately are designed to do work, real work. They can be used to party, as evidenced by their popularity in the parking lots of football fields. But they are capable of doing so much more.

Put another way: No one calls on a limousine in an emergency, when there is heavy lifting or towing to be done. Limousines are for show. The red carpet for the show almost always is carried to the scene in a truck.

Thus, although pickup trucks barely get the same mileage as a stretch limousine -- I averaged 16 miles per gallon in the Dakota Laramie -- they are not nearly as wasteful. They work for their gasoline and diesel. And they don't waste much time, or fuel, idling.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company