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The Dodge Dakota looks big. It looks nearly as big and tough as the full-size Dodge Ram. And, in fact, it is big. It's the biggest pickup in the midsize class. It's also available with a V8. And its 7,050-pound maximum towing capacity is the best in the class. You might say Dakota is the midsize pickup with a full-size attitude with muscle to back it up.
It's also an easy truck to live with. Getting in is easy, and the interior is comfortable and convenient, with controls that are easy to reach and operate. The rear doors on Extended Cabs and Crew Cabs open wide, and the Crew Cab can accommodate six people. A new under-seat storage system for Crew Cabs provides useful cargo carrying capacity. The Extended Cab has earned five-star safety ratings in both front and side impact testing by the federal government (NHTSA).
Underway, the Dakota is smooth and quiet. The optional 4.7-liter V8 is improved for 2008, with more power and better fuel economy. It burbles subtly in the background when cruising, but really scoots when the throttle is mashed. It is also flex-fuel capable, meaning it can run on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol. The steering is light for easy maneuverability in crowded parking lots and the Dakota responds quickly on mountain roads and tracks nice and straight on the highway.
For 2008, Dakota gets several significant changes: The 4.7-liter V8 is boosted to 302 horsepower (from 230). The former 260-hp high-output version is no longer available (for obvious reasons).
On the outside, the hood, grille, front fascia, headlights, fenders and rear spoiler have been modified for 2008, and built-in cargo box utility rails have been added. Inside, the instrument panel and center console are new for 2008, Dodge's MyGIG navigation system/radio is newly available with a 20-gigabyte hard drive, heated bench seats are offered, and the Crew Cab body style's rear seats get an underseat, collapsible storage system.
If you want a pickup that's big and brawny, but not as big as a full-size, the Dodge Dakota fits the bill.
Dodge Dakota comes in two body styles: The Extended Cab has small, reverse-opening rear doors to access the rear compartment. It comes with a 6 1/2-foot bed. The Crew Cab has four full-size doors and a 5-foot, 4-inch bed. Each can seat five to six passengers, but back-seat riders will be much more comfortable in the Crew Cab. Both bodies are built on the same 131.1-inch wheelbase.
Six trim levels are available: ST, SXT, SLT, TRX/TRX4, Sport and Laramie. Regardless of trim, however, Extended Cabs come with a front bench seat split 40/20/40; Crew Cabs come with front bucket seats, with the bench seat as an option. Bucket seats are optional.
Traditional part-time 4WD is available for all models. It can be set to 2WD, 4WD Low or 4WD High. The 4WD modes are locked, so the truck shouldn't be driven on dry pavement when in 4WD. A full-time 4WD system with an electronically controlled locking center differential is available on TRX4, Sport and Laramie models. It normally operates in 4WD high that can be driven on dry pavement, and has locking 4WD Low and 4WD High settings.
The standard engine is a 3.7-liter V6. It comes with a six-speed manual transmission. An optional four-speed automatic ($1135) is available. A 4.7-liter V8 engine is available for SLT, Sport and TRX/TRX4 models, and is standard on Laramie. It comes with a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic, though the Laramie is available only with the automatic.
ST Extended Cab ($19,435) and 4x4 ($23,685) and Crew Cab ($22,135) and 4x4 ($25,085) come standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo with audio auxiliary jack, tinted rear windows, front disc/rear drum brakes with rear-wheel anti-lock (ABS), and 16-inch steel wheels. Crew Cabs have split-folding rear seats.
SXT Extended Cab ($20,995) and 4x4 ($25,245) and Crew Cab ($23,640) and 4x4 ($26,590) add power windows, mirrors and locks; remote keyless entry; center console, cruise control; fold-down rear jump seats (Extended Cab); rear exterior cargo lamps; tilt steering; and 16-inch painted aluminum wheels.
SLT Extended Cab ($23,950) and 4x4 ($26,900) and Crew Cab ($26,170) and 4x4 ($29,120) are upgraded with YES Essentials seat fabric (claimed to be stain resistant, odor resistant, and anti-static); Sirius satellite radio with a one-year subscription; security alarm with Sentry Key engine immobilizer; six-way power adjustable driver's seat; overhead console with compass, temperature readout and trip computer; sliding rear window with defrost; Full-Swing rear doors (Extended Cab) that open 170 degrees; color-keyed carpet mats; and fog lights. For 2008, SLTs add utility rails in the bed sides and SLT Crew Cabs get a collapsible storage system under the rear seats.
The off-road-oriented 4x2 TRX Extended Cab ($24,360) and Crew Cab ($26,550) and 4x4TRX4 Extended Cab ($27,545) and Crew Cab ($29,745) add fender flares, tow hooks, off-road tires, a higher axle ratio (3.55 vs 3.21), and other exterior trim cues.
Sport Extended Cab ($25,135) and 4x4 ($28,060) and Crew Cab ($26,565) and 4x4 ($29,475) add to the SLT the four-speed automatic transmission, leather-wrapped steering wheel, unique cloth bucket seats with larger side bolsters, the TRX's 3.55 axle ratio, and 18-inch painted alloy wheels.
Laramie Extended Cab ($26,745) and 4x4 ($29,725) and Crew Cab ($28,150) and 4x4 ($31,100) add to the SLT leather upholstery, steering wheel audio controls, premium 276-watt Alpine audio with MP3 capability and 6CD changer, remote starting, automatic headlamps, auto-dimming rearview mirror, body-color front bumper, and chrome bodyside moldings.
Options include heated seats ($250), four-wheel ABS ($295), various towing packages ($455-$525), premium audio, and chrome wheels in 17-inch and 18-inch diameters. An optional hands-free communications system uses Bluetooth technology to integrate cell phones with the truck's audio system. A sunroof ($850) is available on
Dodge Dakota looks massive and menacing, with a long snout devoted to crush space. Last redesigned for 2005, the Dodge Dakota has been given a facelift for 2008.
The Dakota shares its styling themes with the full-size Dodge Ram and Durango SUV. All three share the retro big-rig grille motif and bulging fenders that have become trademarks of the Dodge Truck brand. Still, Dakota boasts sharper, crisper lines and flatter planes than its relatives; and its grille is laid back, not vertical. The front fender lines are deliberately extended halfway along the length of the door. The rear fenders reflect the fronts with bulges that extend all the way to the rear of the truck. The intersection of the front fenders with the multi-element, twin-lens headlamps and raked grille makes the whole design work beautifully.
Sport models have a body color grille and side trim, TRX models have black fender flares and body trim, and Laramies have chrome trim.
Added for 2008 are built-in utility rails for the cargo box that provide unlimited attachment points for tiedowns. Cargo box top protection is also newly available.
Visual changes for 2008 include a grille that is more integrated into the hood, which also has new character lines. The front fenders also now extend over the headlights and are trimmed with bright surrounds. The changes are subtle, but noticeable.
A coil-over-shock independent front suspension is used on both 2WD and 4WD models, with conventional leaf springs at the rear. All models come with front and rear tow hooks and tie-downs in the bed.
The driver's seat looks good and feels good with its upper and lower support wings and good padding where it counts. Interior room, even for tall drivers is excellent.
Black-on-white gauges are outlined with bright rings, and the central speedometer is about twice as large as the other two gauges. The angular center stack houses the sound system, climate controls and vents. The thick four-spoke steering wheel is home to the cruise control buttons. Brushed metal accents brighten the cockpit, and the whole design works very well in terms of usability, convenience, and reach. The dash and console are dominated by plastic, however, showing the Dakota is built to a price. The materials look good but not great, and interior fit and finish is generally good.
The available MyGIG Infotainment System has an integrated navigation system and 20-gigabytes of hard drive space to hold music, pictures, and navigation map information. It has voice control, and the nav system has real-time traffic. Dodge says the hard drive will hold 1600 songs.
All but base ST Extended Cab models have auxiliary rear doors that swing open 170 degrees. The front doors must be open to open the rears. Crew Cabs feature four regular doors; the rear doors open out to nearly 90 degrees, so ingress and egress is quite easy.
Crew Cab interiors are roomy, with more than 102 cubic feet of passenger space. The rear seats are deliberately stepped up on their bases so rear-seat occupants can see out more easily, and they are split into 60/40 sections. Rear-seat room is generous for family use, with 37 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat.
New for 2008 is a handy under-seat storage system. It includes two milk crate-type bins that are collapsible and removable. Like the Chrysler minivans' new Swivel 'n Go seating system, this storage system is another example of Chrysler Corp. engineers developing a useful feature unique to the class.
We found the Dodge Dakota surprisingly quiet, smooth and civil in its behavior, more like a car than a truck. Thick glass, big mufflers, and generous sound insulation throughout the body and firewall help reduce noise. Still, the Dakota drives bigger than it looks, with a hefty, Ram-like way about it, a nicely muscular street swagger.
The optional V8 is worth every penny, especially with the 2008 upgrade. Power is up this year to 302 horsepower, 31 percent better than last year's base V8, and torque has been increased to 329 pound-feet (a significant increase from the previous 290).
Fuel economy from the V8 is improved for 2008. Two-wheel-drive manual models get 16 mpg City and 22 Highway. Those numbers drop slightly to 15/21 with 4WD and an automatic. When compared to the standard 3.7-liter V6, there is almost no penalty in fuel economy. And in most states, it runs on gasoline or 85-percent ethanol (E85).
The Crew Cab accelerates with uncommon vigor and emits a wonderful exhaust note from its V8. At highway speeds it settles down to a nice background burble in overdrive fifth gear.
The 4.7-liter V8's strong torque means plenty of low-down grunt for pulling payloads of up to 1,520 pounds or towing up to 7,050 pounds.
The V6 feels a bit light on power for this big, heavy pickup. The 3.7-liter V6 is rated 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy ratings range from 15/19 mpg City/Highway with automatic and 4WD to 17/22 mpg with automatic and 2WD.
The automatic transmission has perfectly spaced ratios for trucking, and works without complaint, roughness or harshness, even in high-rpm full-throttle upshifts. With only two occupants and no load, the Dakota really scoots from a stoplight despite the 4800-pound weight of the Crew Cab 4x4. For towing, there's a Tow/Haul setting that alters the shift pattern of the automatic transmission.
We liked the ride and handling, though like all pickup trucks it can get choppy over small, high-intensity bumps and ruts, and it has more body lean than most any car. Dakota's rack-and-pinion power steering is a bit over-assisted for our taste, but the chunky steering wheel feels great in the hands. The Dakota tracks extremely well, responds quickly to inputs, and stays hunkered down when driving quickly on mountain roads. Its 265/70R16 tires gripped corners yet were quiet at highway speeds, adding a measure of plushness to the ride quality that we really appreciated.
The Dakota comes with rear-wheel anti-lock brakes as standard safety equipment, but four-wheel ABS disc/drum brakes are available. We deliberately tried the rear ABS on a straight, flat, dry road for several maximum-g stops with no load and no passengers; it worked well, keeping the unladen, light-in-the-rear pickup straight and bringing the truck to crisp stops four times in a row without locking the rear wheels.
The Dodge Dakota is unique among midsize pickups. Its large size and available rear seat storage system offer plenty of room and utility for a typical family, and its powerful V8 engine makes it quicker and gives it more towing capacity than most competitors. The availability of full-time four-wheel drive and Dodge's new hard drive radio are other plusses that make Dakota worth a look.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw contributed to this report from Dearborn, Michigan, with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.