When it debuted two decades ago, the Dodge Dakota's "in-between" dimensions conveniently straddled the traditional compact and full-size pickup truck segments. The truck's popular alternative midsize configuration has continued through successive generations. And this tradition, along with the truck's solid performance, respectable utility and handsome good looks, has made it a popular choice for pickup truck consumers.
Now in its third generation, the 2008 Dodge Dakota continues the trend of being a midsize offering. And this year, Dodge has made a number of upgrades to make the truck more appealing. Most significant is its revised 4.7-liter V8. Offering better fuel economy, power and torque than the previous 4.7-liter engine, the new version is rated at 302 hp, a 31 percent increase, and 329 pound-feet of torque, a 13 percent increase. Dodge says additional refinements have reduced engine noise and made the engine smoother.
There are exterior and interior changes as well. Outside, there's a new front fascia, hood, grille, headlights and fenders. In back, the cargo box features enhanced utility through a new integrated rail tie-down system and protective surface along its top edge. Inside, the Dakota's cabin has been ergonomically enhanced and is more appealing than before with a new instrument panel, center console and cosmetic accents, along with handy new interior storage features. Chrysler's MyGIG multimedia system, which includes a hard-drive-based navigation system that can store digital music files, is another new addition this year.
These new additions, especially the new V8, are certainly worth noting. The 2008 Dodge Dakota is designed for drivers who use their truck daily for work, commuting or occasional towing duty, but don't need a full-size truck's extra hauling capacity, ungainly size and expense. For this it works well and is a top choice among domestic entries. However, although Dodge has somewhat addressed our earlier concerns about fuel economy and cabin design/quality, it remains a pricey choice that still doesn't quite measure up to the class-leading Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma in terms of refinement or available body styles. Be sure to check them out as well before committing to this truck.
The 2008 Dodge Dakota midsize pickup truck is available in two body styles and seven total trim levels -- ST, SXT and SLT models, plus add-on TRX, Sport, Laramie and Big Horn/Lone Star packages. The extended Club Cab body features rear access doors and a 6.5-foot bed. The more spacious Quad Cab crew cab has four full-size doors, room for six people and a 5.3-foot cargo bed.
The basic ST comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, cloth seats, air-conditioning, a CD player and folding 60/40-split rear seats in the Quad Cab. Stepping up to the midlevel SXT is a better choice for most buyers as it also includes alloy wheels, full power accessories, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel and rear jump seats in the Club Cab, and is more upgradeable with additional convenience and utility features. The top-of-the-line Dakota SLT provides foglamps, power front seats and satellite radio with the option to add V8 power, 18-inch chromed alloy wheels, heated front seats, the MyGIG infotainment system and a premium sound group with six-disc CD changer, remote audio controls and remote starting.
The TRX trim is very similar to the SLT but gives 2WD models the look and feel of an off-road truck, while 4WD TRX4s have functional upgrades like an off-road suspension, skid plates and a shorter rear-axle ratio. The Sport adds 18-inch painted wheels, a shorter rear-axle ratio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and unique two-tone bolstered cloth bucket seats; the Dakota Laramie adds a V8 engine, automatic headlights, chrome exterior trim, leather-trimmed bucket seats and premium audio. There's also a new Big Horn (called Lone Star in the great state of Texas) trim; it's like the SXT but with additional exterior styling details.
The Dakota offers a clean and attractive interior design with simple, easy-to-reach controls and ample storage. The revised instrument panel features a handy new storage bin over the glovebox and stylish touches like aluminum trim and white-faced gauges, but overall materials quality remains unimpressive when compared to the segment leaders. A new rear under-seat storage system in the Dakota Crew Cab includes a handy collapsible and removable cargo management system for loose gear. The Dakota's cabin is quite roomy, but even so we strongly recommend moving up to the Quad Cab if you regularly carry four or more adults.
The 2008 Dodge Dakota offers two engine options: the base 3.7-liter V6 with 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque, and this year's upgraded 4.7-liter V8 that generates 302 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque. The V6 is coupled to a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, while the V8 drives through a modern five-speed automatic. Standard 2WD and part-time 4WD configurations are available, as is a full-time 4WD setup. Maximum towing capacity is best-in-class at up to 7,050 pounds when properly equipped.
The Dakota's V6 offers adequate power, but the new V8 is the engine you want if you have frequent towing or hauling in mind -- or even if you simply want to best the powerful V6s from Nissan and Toyota. The 2008 Dodge Dakota offers a smooth, quiet ride at any speed, and its cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise. A coil-over front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering give this truck a nimble, carlike feel when cornering, and body roll is minimal even around tight turns. The Dakota even maintains its composure on harsher terrain thanks to its well-calibrated suspension and a stiff hydro-formed frame.
Rear-wheel antilock brakes are standard on the Dodge Dakota; an optional Safety Group provides four-wheel ABS and full-length side curtain airbags. In government frontal crash tests, the extended-cab truck earned a perfect five stars for driver and front-passenger protection. (The crew cab Dakota is unrated.) In side-impact tests, the crew cab earned five stars for the protection of both front and rear passengers; the extended-cab pickup earned five stars for front occupants only. The Dakota scored a second-best "Acceptable" rating in frontal-offset crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The 2008 Dodge Dakota has a revised V8 engine this year. The optional 4.7-liter V8 now makes 302 horsepower and is said to be more fuel-efficient as well. On the inside, the Dakota receives a redesigned instrument panel, additional storage compartments, heated bench seats and the MyGIG multimedia system that includes a hard-drive-based navigation system. Other changes this year include new built-in cargo box utility rails, freshened front-end styling and a new limited lifetime powertrain warranty. There's also a new Big Horn trim (called the Lone Star in Texas) for 2008.