First Drive: 2008 Dodge Dakota
Midsize midlife crisis
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?
Staying consistent with the youth-minded attitude of the new Dakota, the interior also received a redesign as well as some new features that appeal to the under-30 crowd (or those who still feel that age). Most trim levels offer variations on the same theme with differing levels of luxury, but the Sport model adds seats with excellent bolstering. These are the most supportive seats of the group, the ones to get. Yes, the cabin is still swimming in cheap, hard plastic-the Dakota seems forever destined to that fate. However, the materials do look better now, fit and finish has improved, and more features have been added, including a new storage area above the glovebox, and an all-new I.P. The center stack was completely transformed: A new optional navigation system takes center stage in a clean, well-organized layout. Also available are Sirius Satellite Radio and the MyGIG system, which includes a 20GB hard drive that can be used to hold music or photos (although, as is the case with most music-storage systems, only some of that space is actually useable).
The cabin was made more versatile on two fronts: with electronics and storage. The stereo now includes a handy aux jack, allowing you to plug in any MP3 player. Also, the new center console includes an innovative tilt-out front panel where you can store that MP3 player or a cell-phone, and its own dedicated power port is within easy reach in the console. Dodge also integrated a new storage system available in Crew Cab models. When the rear seats are folded in Extended Cabs, 30 cubic feet of room is available, and there are six storage hooks. In Crew Cabs, though, the new cargo-management system, hidden under the rear seats, consists of two pop-up, removable bins (one smaller than the other) that make it easy to tote smaller items. When open, they look a lot like black milk crates with the Dodge logo on the walls. The bed also was made more versatile, with the addition of a utility rail system, and towing capacity continues to be best in class at 7050 pounds.
Going on sale next month, the Dakota continues to offer a lot of value. Prices start at $20,080 for the Extended Cab and $22,780 for the Crew Cab, meaning you can buy 302 horsepower for less than $23 grand. It's probably not enough to revitalize a slow segment, but it's the best in its class for power, space, and towing capacity, and that's a good start.
|2008 Dodge Dakota|
|Base price||$20,080 (Extended Cab); $22,780 (Crew Cab)|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, RWD/4WD, 5/6-pass, 2+2/4-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-speed automatic, 5-speed automatic|
|Curb weight||4300-4800 lb (est)|
|Length x width x height||218.8 x 71.7 x 68.7 in (est)|
|0-60 mph||8.4-10.3 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||15-17/18-21 mpg (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||August|