Compact and midsize trucks aren't exactly flying off the dealer showroom floor right now. To combat that, Dodge has changed the Dakota's philosophy for 2008 by no longer competing with full-size trucks on every level. The Dakota attempts to carve its own niche by appealing to younger guys with active lifestyles. Dodge added power, refinement, and versatility, and redesigned the exterior and cabin.
Replacing the standard and high-output versions of the old 4.7-liter V-8 is a new 4.7-liter. Its 302 horsepower is 72 greater than the standard version, and its 329 pound-feet of torque is a 13 percent increase. It's also quieter and more refined and even offers five-percent-better fuel economy. The V-8 runs on 87 octane or E85. The manual transmission is no longer available with this engine, though-just a five-speed column-shift automatic. The added horses are certainly welcome in this truck, adding noticeable power off the line. However, it feels like the Dakota also has gained weight, and, while the truck is the only compact/midsize to offer a V-8, its power/weight ratio doesn't feel stellar. The base 3.7-liter V-6 remains basically unchanged, with 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet, backed by a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic. As before, it's a fine engine around town and driving the truck unloaded, but lethargic when used for hard work.
The suspension was revised for the new model as well, with an emphasis placed on handling, in some ways at the expense of the ride. The previous model was floaty, but it did a better job of absorbing bumps and irregularities. The new Dakota is much firmer, and handling has been dramatically improved, but the downside is the loss of the cushier ride it once had. Revisions also mean two- and four-wheel-drive trucks now have the same ride height.
While the truck's ladder frame and fully boxed main rails remain the same for 2008, sheetmetal from the A-pillar forward was revised to make the front end more chiseled, and the hood, grille, front fascia, and headlights now resemble the Nitro's. And each of the six trim levels comes with its own front-end appearance-whether you opt for ST, SXT, SLT, off-road-appearance TRX4, Sport, or Laramie determines the combination of chrome, metal, and color-matched front-fascia pieces. (The more body-color components, the better.) Aerodynamics have been improved in front, and the gaps are tighter. Rear-end changes include the addition of a spoiler. The new look works on this truck, and we wonder why the Nitro received these styling cues before the Dakota. Why didn't Dodge let the established truck lead the new design direction for its compact/midsize vehicle line?