2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4x4
2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4×4. Click image to enlarge

Competitors

Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chevrolet Colorado
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 GMC Canyon
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Honda Ridgeline
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Toyota Tacoma
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Nissan Frontier

Manufacturer’s web site

Dodge Canada

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2008 Dodge Dakota

Oshawa, Ontario – Back in 1994, I bought my only brand-new vehicle, a full-size, V8-powered pickup truck. I still have it, and haven’t replaced it for a number of reasons, including that most full-size trucks have grown so large that it’s tough to haul my vertically-challenged carcass into them, and compacts don’t offer the towing capacity that I sometimes need. For those in similar situations, the solution is a midsize pickup.

Dodge says it invented the segment back with its inaugural 1987 Dakota, and for 2008 there are several changes, including new front sheet metal, a mid-range SXT trim line, several new option packages, and some new designations: the previous Club Cab is renamed the Extended Cab, while the Quad Cab becomes the Crew Cab.

As in 2007, the engine choices are a 3.7-litre V6 with six-speed manual or four-speed automatic, and my SXT 4×4’s 4.7-litre V8 with five-speed automatic (the V8 and automatic transmission price separately in Chrysler’s accounting, but the bigger engine doesn’t come with a manual gearbox). The previous model offered two 4.7-litre V8 versions, with a high-output variety that made 260 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. The single eight-banger of 2008 produces 302 horses and 329 lb-ft of torque, and it’s also E85-capable, if you’re able to find that ethanol-enhanced juice at your local pump.

2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4x4
2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4×4. Click image to enlarge

Nothing’s free, though, and those horses like their hay: to the truck’s published fuel economy of 15.6 L/100 km in the city and 10.8 L/100 km on the highway, I managed only 15.4 L/100 km in combined driving. But to its credit, the V8 gives the Dakota considerable pulling power; the Extended Cab can tow a maximum of 3,221 kg (7,100 lbs), while the Crew Cab manages 3,175 kg (7,000 lbs), which out-grunts any of the compacts.

That engine also makes the Dakota fun to drive; it’s quick, nimble and has very accurate steering, and there’s just enough throaty rumble out of this otherwise fairly quiet pickup to let everyone know what’s under the hood. Overall, my tester felt very tight, without a squeak or rattle anywhere.

Even so, the interior could be better. The all-new 2009 Dodge Ram unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show looks like the designers are finally paying attention to the interior, but the Dakota has yet to benefit from that. The dash is a wide expanse of rock-hard plastic that looks very dated, and I found a lot of flashing and sharp edges, along with some very poor panel fit, including an unacceptably wide gap where the A-pillar cover met the dash cover. When this is the stuff the driver always sees, it needs to be much better.

2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4x4
2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4x4
2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4×4. Click image to enlarge

That said, I like the simplicity of the Dakota’s controls; I’ve never understood why anyone thinks complicated buttons in a moving vehicle are a good idea. The heater and stereo controls are large and easy to use; only the transfer case dial is poorly situated, very low and stuck under a ledge so you have to bend down to read it. The centre console contains numerous open cubbies, and two of the cupholders can be removed for easy cleaning, or to turn the space into yet another storage area. I’d also like to see the inside door handles redesigned: they’re set into large concave depressions so you can get your hand behind them, but they’re right at the bottom of them, so you end up pulling the handles open with your fingertips.

The front seats are comfortable, but shorter drivers – especially women – need to realize that smaller trucks aren’t necessarily downsized proportionately. The Dakota is made for long-legged drivers, and while my 5-foot-9 husband fit perfectly, I couldn’t find a comfortable seating positioning for my 5-foot-4 frame, even with my tester’s optional power seat. I would have benefited from power-adjustable pedals, but they’re not offered.

I also realized that the truck’s intended use is an important consideration in choosing cab configuration. My Extended Cab had small, rear-hinged back doors that could only be opened or closed if the front doors were opened, unlike the Crew Cab, which has four conventional, independently-opening doors. Using the truck as a “big car”, as many buyers do, I went to the grocery store and put my purchases on the floor behind the seat; loading the truck became a complicated ballet of squeezing between the triangle of the truck’s front and rear doors, and the car in the next parking spot. Consider how you’ll use the truck before you decide on the cab you want.

2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4x4
2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4x4
2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended-Cab 4×4. Click image to enlarge

There are rear seats, but they’re just flat cushions that will probably spend most of their time folded up against the back of the cab. Consider them as emergency seating only; even children won’t be comfortable in them. Hooks on the cab back can be used to hold plastic bags.

Extended Cab models have a 6-foot-5 box, to the Crew Cab’s 5-foot-5 bed. My tester had an optional bed rail system, with movable cleats for tying down loads. The dual-position tailgate can be set halfway, so that items such as eight-foot boards can be safely carried, and an accessory bed extender is available that allows utilization of the fully-open tailgate.

Standard features on all models include air conditioning, rear-wheel ABS, carpets, fog lamps, tire pressure monitoring warning and variable intermittent wipers; the SXT adds power windows, mirrors and locks with keyless entry, cruise control, alloy wheels, floor console, and tilt steering wheel. Available options, depending on the model, include YES Essentials stain-resistant fabric or leather upholstery, MyGIG hard-drive music system, four-wheel ABS, curtain airbags, anti-spin differential and a premium stereo that includes a subwoofer box behind the seat.

Perhaps more than any other segment, truck buyers tend to be loyal to their brands, sometimes almost religiously so. The Dakota will resonate with Dodge buyers for that reason, but it also needs to be assessed against other nameplates on its own merits. There are better-looking trucks, and certainly trucks with far nicer interiors, but the Dakota stands alone in its size, its V8 powerplant and its segment-leading towing capacity. If a full-size is too big and a compact’s too small, midsize may be just right.

Pricing: 2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended Cab 4×4

Base price: $30,795
Options: $4,185 (V8 engine, $820; automatic transmission, $1,365; premium seats, $350; utility group including trailer tow group and heavy-duty service group, $1,150; cargo convenience group of bedliner and utility rails, $500)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,200
Price as tested: $36,280
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications

  • Specifications: 2008 Dodge Dakota

    Competitors

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chevrolet Colorado
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 GMC Canyon
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Honda Ridgeline
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Toyota Tacoma
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Nissan Frontier

    Manufacturer’s web site

  • Dodge Canada

    Crash test results

  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
  • Jil McIntosh is a freelance writer and Assistant Editor for www.Autos.ca

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