When the Dodge Dakota debuted in 1987, it bridged the gap between compact and full-size pickups. The midsize pickup was born, and since then, other car companies have followed suit. Over time, consumer tastes have become more refined, with shoppers expecting more from pickup trucks than just pure utility. In recent years, however, the Dakota has lagged behind the competition in that regard.
Dodge hopes to remedy some of that with the 2010 Dakota. Previous models suffered from a harsh highway ride that transmitted every road imperfection to the passengers' posteriors. This year, refinement comes in the form of revised shock absorbers and springs to deliver a more compliant ride.
Fortunately for the Dakota, some of its best attributes return unchanged. Topping that list is the Dakota's class-leading towing capacity, which tops out at 7,200 pounds thanks to a brawny V8. Also receiving high marks are the pickup's innovative rear under-seat storage bins and comfortable seating. But there are still some downsides to the Dakota, notably its cut-rate interior. Even by pickup truck standards, the cabin is woefully behind the times and saddled with plenty of cheap plastics and flimsy switchgear.
As a workhorse, though, the 2010 Dodge Dakota still stands tall. Only the Chevy Colorado and its GMC Canyon twin come close, but they still lack the Dakota's towing and hauling capabilities. On the other hand, when it comes to interior refinement, the Dakota is bringing up the rear behind the likes of the Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. Unless your truck will be pulling a trailer for the majority of its miles, we think you'd be happier in any of the alternatives.
The 2010 Dodge Dakota is a midsize pickup truck that is available in either extended or crew cab body styles, each of which has only one bed size. Four trim levels are offered, from the base ST to the Big Horn (known as Lone Star in Texas), TRX4 and Laramie trim levels. The TRX4 and Laramie models are only available as crew cabs.
Standard features for the ST include 16-inch steel wheels, a dual-position tailgate, foglights, air-conditioning, front bucket seats, a front center console, two rear folding seats (extended cab only), a rear under-seat storage system (crew cab only), cloth upholstery, a tilt steering wheel and a CD player stereo. The Big Horn adds 17-inch alloy wheels, body-colored bumpers and front fascia, full power accessories and cruise control. Big Horn options include full-swing rear doors, a sliding rear window, utility bed rails, a power driver seat, remote engine start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and an upgraded six-speaker Alpine stereo with a six-CD changer and satellite radio.
These items are standard on the TRX4, along with 16-inch alloy wheels, off-road tires, skid plates, an anti-slip differential, a trip computer and special front seats with bigger side bolsters. The Laramie also adds the Big Horn's optional items plus 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior accents, automatic headlights, a bedliner (optional on the Big Horn and TRX4), heated front seats and leather upholstery. Larger outside heated mirrors and rear window defrosters are available on all Dakotas except for the ST.
The Big Horn and Laramie extended cabs can be equipped with a front bench seat in place of the standard buckets. Optional on the Laramie and TRX4 are Bluetooth and a navigation system that includes digital music storage and a touchscreen stereo interface.
In general, pickup trucks aren't expected to have high-quality interiors, but even by this low benchmark, the 2010 Dodge Dakota disappoints. However, we do like the bigger Ram 1500's cabin, and with any luck, some of those features will trickle down to the smaller Dakota. Until then, buyers will have to contend with a cheap, industrial cabin feel, with surfaces and switchgear made out of low-budget plastics.
On the upside, the Dakota's interior design is mostly straightforward. Switchgear is where you'd expect it to be, while the climate controls and the standard stereo are easy to use. The Laramie's optional audio and navigation touchscreen is a different story, as its smallish screen and frustrating menus make simple tasks difficult.
The standard bench seats are very comfortable, while the available power seats offer a wealth of adjustability. The crew cab's comfy backseat bottom features a 60/40 split, and when raised provides a flat loading surface. In all but the ST, that surface features a pair of milk-cratelike boxes that pop up to hold various loose items -- a thoughtful and useful touch.
A 3.7-liter V6 is standard on every 2010 Dodge Dakota, producing 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission available with this engine. Rear-wheel drive is standard on all Dakotas, with four-wheel drive being optional (standard on the TRX4). Fuel economy registers an EPA-estimated 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined for rear-drive models, while four-wheel-drive mileage drops slightly to 14/15/18 mpg. When properly equipped, maximum towing capacity with the V6 is 4,950 pounds.
Optional on all but the base ST is a 4.7-liter V8 that produces 302 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard. In performance testing, a 4WD Dakota Laramie crew cab with the V8 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. Estimated fuel economy with the V8 and 2WD is 14/19/15 mpg. Opting for 4WD drops those numbers by 1 mpg. When properly equipped, a V8 Dakota can tow 7,200 pounds.
With the standard V6 under the hood, power delivery is merely adequate and feels rather anemic compared to V6-powered models from Nissan and Toyota. For those with frequent towing or hauling needs, the bigger V8 is the only engine that should be considered. The previous year's suspension delivered a harsh ride and the steering had a numb and lifeless feel, though in off-road conditions, the Dakota soldiered on unabated. The 2010 Dodge Dakota looks to remedy its on-road woes with upgraded springs and shock absorbers, but we have yet to put the new suspension through its paces. With any luck, on-road comfort will improve while the off-road abilities remain.
Rear-wheel antilock brakes are standard, while an optional Safety Group provides four-wheel ABS and full-length side curtain airbags. In government frontal crash tests, both the extended- and crew-cab Dakotas earned a perfect five stars for driver and front passenger protection.
In side-impact tests, the Dakota crew cab without side curtain airbags earned five stars for the protection of both front and rear passengers. The Dakota scored a second-best "Acceptable" rating in frontal-offset crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the IIHS's side-impact test, a crew cab without side airbags received the second-worst rating of "Marginal."
The 2010 Dodge Dakota gains revised suspension tuning for an improved ride and better handling. Other changes for 2010 include the discontinuation of the six-speed manual transmission and the reduced availability of the TRX4 and Laramie models to just the crew cab body style.