Dodge's 2008 Dakota adds several important improvements during its latest refresh, but keeps the same foundation. Replacing the standard and high-output versions of the old 4.7-liter V-8 is a new 4.7-liter with 302 horsepower (up 72) and 329 pound-feet of torque (up 43). It's also quieter and more refined and offers five-percent-better fuel economy. The added horses are certainly welcome, contributing noticeable power off the line; however, it feels like the Dakota has gained weight, and, while the truck is the only non-full-size to offer a V-8, its power/weight ratio isn't stellar. We didn't get the opportunity to tow, but Dodge engineers tell us that because of the new 4.7-liter's improved performance and efficiency, the engine runs at lower temps when towing. The base 3.7-liter V-6 remains basically unchanged: fine around town and unloaded; lethargic when used for hard work.

The suspension also was revised for the new model. When considering what to do, Dakota engineers took everything off the truck and started fresh, using old-school trial-and-error. When they were done, they'd increased coil spring rates by 15-20 percent, reduced the front anti-roll bar to 30mm (from 34), and removed the rear anti-roll bar entirely. 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 improved dramatically, but the trade-off, as you might expect, is less cushion.

Sheetmetal from the A_pillar forward was revised to make the front end more chiseled, and it now resembles the Dodge Nitro midsize SUV. The new look works on this truck, but why didn't the Dakota receive these styling cues before the Nitro? Why didn't Dodge let the established truck lead the new design direction for its compact/midsize vehicle line?

While the cabin is still swimming in hard plastic, the materials look better, fit and finish has improved, and more features are added, including a new storage area above the glovebox and an all-new instrument panel. The cabin also now includes a new center console with a tilt-out front panel where you can store an MP3 player or cell-phone, with its own power port. Dodge also integrated a new storage system available in Crew Cab models (Club Cab and Quad Cab names disappear for 2008). The system, revealed when the rear seats are folded up, uses two pop-up removable bins for toting smaller items. In addition, there's also a utility rail system in the Dakota's bed for all sorts of dealer-sold accessories as well as sturdy tiedowns. Of note for those who have a toy to haul, towing capacity, while still best in its class, is down 100 pounds from 2007, to 7050.

Prices start at $20,080 for the Extended Cab and $22,780 for the Crew Cab, and you can buy 302 horsepower for less than $25 grand. It's probably not enough to revitalize a slow segment, but the new Dakota will give you the most power, space, and towing capacity in the class. And that's a good start.


2008 Dodge Dakota
Base price range $20,080-$22,780
Price as tested $32,800 (est)
Layout Front engine, RWD/4WD, 5/6-pass, 4-door pickup
Engines 3.7L/210-hp/235-lb-ft SOHC 12-valve V-6; 4.7L/302-hp/329-lb-ft SOHC 16-valve V-8
Transmissions 6-speed manual, 4- or 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase, in 131.3
Length x width x height, in 218.8 x 71.7 x 68.7 (est)
Curb weight, lb 4300-4800 (est)
GVWR, lb 6010
Payload capacity, lb 1600
Max towing capacity, lb 7050
0-60 mph, sec 8.4-10.3 (TT est)
EPA fuel econ, city/hwy, mpg 15-17/18-21 (est)
CO2 emissions, lb/mile 1.04-1.20
On sale Currently