2008 Dodge Dakota Performance
Despite the Dakota's several powertrain combinations, it ranks near the bottom of its class for performance. Many agree the only engine worth having is the Dakota's optional 302-horsepower V8 engine, which gets a power upgrade for 2008. And though its refined suspension and large towing capacity are impressive, the Dakota's restrictive bed size and very basic braking system leave much to be desired.
Even so, Truck Trend writes, "The Dakota continues to be the only vehicle in its class to offer a V-8 engine, the result of which is class-leading towing and carrying capacity."
Acceleration and Power
Every Dakota trim except the Laramie comes standard with a 3.7-liter MagnumV6 engine that makes 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. While auto reviewers concede that the V6 is adequate for daily driving, many agree that it isn't strong enough to replace a heavy-duty workhorse. According to Consumer Guide, the V6 engine is "underpowered for anything but daily commuting and light loads." Cars.com asserts that the "V-6 Dakota is overtaxed -- short on power and sluggish for passing and merging." The adds that "it's obvious why a V-8 is offered when passing or climbing steep inclines. With the 3.7 there was lots of downshifting to pass or crawl up those inclines."
The top-of-the-line Laramie comes with a 4.7-liter V8 Flexible Fuel Vehicle engine (optional for the other trims) that gets a power upgrade for 2008. Last year's 235 horsepower has increased to 302, while torque has increased to 329 pound-feet. Despite mixed feelings on last year's V8, the new offering is well liked. BusinessWeek calls the new engine "a big plus," noting, "The V8 engine makes the Dakota quick, especially considering a Laramie four-by-four with a crew cab weighs more than 4,800 lb." Kelley Blue Book adds, "The optional V8 makes easy the sometimes challenging task of passing slow-moving traffic on rural two-lane highways." Car and Driver says the engine has best-in-class power numbers that "far eclipse those of any engine available in the mid-size class. And true to form, thrust is produced quickly and calmly." Motor Trend is one of the few to offer criticism, commenting, "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."
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Dodge Dakota 2WD trim level with the V6 engine and manual transmission maintains a fuel economy of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. With the V8, it makes 14/19 city/highway. The Dakota 4WD trim level similarly makes 15/19 city/highway with the manual V6 and 14/19 with the V8. The new V8 can run on E85 fuel, but BusinessWeek's reviewer says, "that's not much of a selling point in my view" because the E85 can take a toll on fuel economy.
The V6 engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. While Motor Trend notes "the manual tranny makes the most of the V-6," says, "We liked the feel and operation of the six-speed manual, despite a bit of hunting and pecking for the right notch at times." Cars.com adds, "Dodge's manual gearbox is pickup-truck typical with its slightly mushy feel, but it works with a well-behaved, easy-engaging clutch." A four-speed automatic transmission is optional. The V8 engine comes only with a five-speed automatic.
While the Arizona Republic complains of the four-speed automatic transmission shifts being "unacceptably clunky," most others disagree. The says the optional five-speed automatic transmission's "smoothness in shifting, coupled with its hefty engine" make the Dakota "an almost ideal vehicle for any potential trucker whose needs require strength, but not necessarily the bulk of larger trucks such as the Ram series." Motor Trend adds, "The automatic is responsive and refined, shifting gears with little fanfare."
Handling and Braking
The 2008 Dodge Dakota has good road dynamics, but this year's redesign may have had negative impacts. The Dakota features front independent suspension and live axle rear suspension. "Dodge rejiggered the Dakota's suspension system as part of the redesign, and the '08 Dakota really does drive like a car," says BusinessWeek. "It doesn't handle especially well -- throw it hard into a curve and it rolls and feels as if it might tip over -- but boy is the ride smooth, both on the highway and in town." Kelley Blue Book says, "The Dakota's ride comfort, even when it's unloaded, is more than capable for a truck and, perhaps surprisingly, essentially as good as many cars."
Though the new Dakota offers a plush ride, it suffers in other areas, most notably its power rack-and-pinion steering. Car and Driver says, "The steering has become almost dangerously spongy." But Kelley Blue Book describes the steering as "predictable in response and feel." Cars.com commends the steering for its "light effort," but also says "there's not much feedback from the wheel." Car and Driver also finds the Dakota's front disc brakes and rear anti-lock drum brakes "nearly as imprecise" as the steering. Cars.com, however, finds that "the driver enjoys natural brake pedal effort that's very progressive. Well done, Dodge."
The Dakota comes with rear-wheel drive, but two versions of four-wheel drive are optional. The part-time system is standard on all 4WD models and features 4LOCK and 4LO modes. An available full-time system includes these modes plus an all-wheel-drive mode.
The Dodge Dakota ST 4x2 Crew Cab maintains a payload capacity of 1,630 pounds. Maximum capacity can increase to 1,710 pounds depending on trim level.
While both Crew and Extended Cab trim levels maintain a wall-to-wall truck bed width of 59.6 inches (wheelwell to wheelwell is 45.2 inches), the Crew Cab's bed is 65.3 inches long and the Extended Cab's bed is 79.2 inches long. Though the Extended Cab's length is best in its class (according to Dodge), BusinessWeek says the Crew Cab's bed is "a mere 65 inches, 8.5 inches shorter than the longest bed in the crew cab Tacoma." The Dakota's 17.7-inch bed height, however, allows owners to "load from the side with ease," according to Kelley Blue Book.
The Dodge Dakota ST 4x2 Crew Cab maintains a standard towing capacity of 3,150 pounds. Depending on trim level, towing capacities can range up to 7,050 pounds -- a figure that is "tops in its class," says BusinessWeek, adding, "The Tacoma is No. 2 at a maximum of 6,500 lb., followed by the Ranger at 6,000 lb. and Chevy Colorado at 4,000 lb."