On the Road: The Dakota didn't qualify for the 2008 Truck of the Year event (its engine, styling, and suspension tweaks were too minor), so we opted to try the midsize at the office. Even a quick glance reveals changes to the pickup: The front end now resembles that of the Nitro, and new, angular creases dominate the fender flares and tailgate. People notice the Detonator Yellow 4x4 on the road and, it turns out, so do bugs. This truck's bright paintwork attracted dozens of gnats each morning.
Off the line, the increased horsepower (up 31 percent from 2007) provides noticeable thrust that wasn't there in previous models (and still isn't there with the 3.7-liter V-6), but even with the additional ponies, the Dakota feels heavy. And anyone who's driven a Dodge/Jeep powered by the 4.7-liter would instantly recognize the V-8's low, howling engine note. Dodge retuned the suspension with an eye toward improving handling, and unfortunately, the ride suffers. The previous Dakota's ride was more biased toward soft on-road manners, but the company went too far in the other direction here.
Dodge improved the interior, adding new storage solutions and nav/audio options, but it's still not best in class. Shockingly, though, the bottom line for this trim level on this truck is $34,360. Yes, that does include a V-8, which no other midsize or compact offers, the very cool TRX4 package, and ours came with skidplates, 3.92 axle, trailer tow package, rubber mats, and heated cloth seats. But for that same money or less, you could get a 4WD Ram 1500 Quad Cab with more interior space, longer bed, and greater towing capacity (and the all-new 2009 will be even better). It must be hard for Dodge to justify investing money on a vehicle in a category where sales have been flat, but it's equally hard to understand why a pickup in this category is so expensive.