Dodge Cracked the code on the midsize truck in 1987 with the first Dakota. Its calling card was the availability of a V-8 in a category largely populated by big fours and V-6s. Dodge’s first Dakota was boxy, like the full-size Rams of the day, but the second gen picked up cues from the late-1990s Ram.
For 2005, the third-gen Dakota gained creased sheetmetal, an oversize grille, and a spruced-up interior riding on a new chassis featuring boxed frame members and a revised front suspension for 2WD and 4WD models (replacing different 2WD/4WD configurations that had repeated ball-joint trouble in the previous Dakota and Durango).
Buyers of the previous Dakota cited the availability of a V-8 as a key feature, so the latest trucks employ the same set of engines. A 3.7-liter SOHC V-6 is standard, hooked to a four-speed automatic or six-speed manual. Its 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque aren’t quite enough to make the heavier Dakota feel sprightly. The V-6 also doesn’t have a significant fuel economy advantage -- in some cases, none at all -- over the V-8s.
So the majority of the Dakotas were sold with one of two versions of the 4.7-liter SOHC V-8. The standard engine is a 230-horsepower model with 290 pound-feet of torque -- it can be mated to a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual -- while the High Output version puts out 260 horsepower, 310 pound-feet. This engine requires premium fuel and can be had only with the five-speed automatic. Dakota fans lamenting the demise of the 5.9-liter R/T were thrilled when Dodge introduced an uprated 4.7 in the 2008 model year (along with a front-sheetmetal refresh) that boasted 302 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque.
Downstream from any of these engines would be either a standard rear-drive system (a limited-slip differential was available) or one of two 4WD setups -- a traditional part-time with low-range or a full-time system.