Real men drive pickup trucks (we can meet out back and discuss it gentlemanly-like, if you want, but the fact remains and I'm sticking to my guns). The problem is that many real men also have families-wives, a kid or two, maybe a dog (a manly dog, of course...say a German Shepherd or redbone), and pickups and families do not always make the best combination.

Well, now they do-providing that you've got your eye on the 2000 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab.

The hottest trend in the pickup truck market today is four-door cabs built on, or close to, standard production platforms. Not so long ago extended cab pickups were built for consumers who wanted a truck's utilitarian assets but required extra storage or seating in the cab area. That worked fine for a while, but in the spirit of refinement and increased consumer appeal, that storage area grew larger and a rear "suicide" door was added on one side to aid in passenger ingress/egress. Good, but not great, and still a bit cramped in spite of the much-lauded behind-the-seat room.

Then along come the SUVs, offering unbeatable passenger accommodations, yet more than a little shy when it's time to haul greasy engine blocks to the machine shop.

"No," says the significant other, "You're not putting that thing in there!"

Dodge's latest offering in the pickup truck world changes all of that. The new Dakota Quad Cab offers honest-to-goodness, no compromises family seating, ample cargo hauling capacity in back, and all the gusto you could want to get them there and back again. People, Payload, and Power. These are the operative words for the most innovative pickup we've seen since the new Ram rolled into the showrooms a few years ago.

The number one detraction of a pickup truck destined for family use has always been its people-carrying capacity. While attempts have been made to correct this problem (crew cab models aside), few have offered more than a compromise. The Dakota Quad Cab, however, is the first pickup in the compact class to deliver full front and rear six-passenger seating. The 40/20/40 front seat arrangement offers superior hip and shoulder room for its class thanks to being the largest and widest truck in the compact segment. Of equal importance is the rear seating.

We spent considerable time in the back of this Dakota, and can honestly say that rear seating is on par with most SUVs-and definitely better than anything you'll find in a full-size car. Three adults can sit comfortably in back, and with the full-sized front-hinged doors, wide rear-door openings and full roll-down windows, back seat occupants no longer have to feel like second-class citizens. As an added bonus, the rear seats fold up and away to reveal a full floor-to-ceiling storage area, eliminating another traditional pickup truck drawback; Have to bring home a large TV and it's raining outside? No problem!

In sum, you won't find any family member complaining about riding in back, and the large and versatile rear cargo area delivers the sort of capacity and security heretofore absent in compact class pickups.

Naturally, since the Dakota Quad Cab retains the same dimensions (215-inch overall length and 131-inch wheelbase) as the Dakota Club Cab, something had to give in order to accommodate the extra 15 inches of cab space on the new Quad. That came by trimming the box to five feet, three inches, which is still larger than any other four-door compact pickup. Add a Mopar bed extender, and consumers gain an effective bed length of six feet, nine inches-plenty for just about any equipment and materials hauling you would have to do.

We've already mentioned the superior interior cargo area of the Quad Cab. When combined with the ample box dimensions and optional bed extender, this new kid on the block is up to everything from the family vacation to a summer parts-hunting weekend. In all, the truck delivers 1,450 pounds of payload capacity, with 6,350 pounds of trailer towing capability.