2008 Dodge Dakota Review

2008 Dodge Dakota - Truck tough.


2008 Ddoge DakotaPROS
Bigger than your average compact, Smaller than a full-size truck, Reasonable ride

Too noisy, Plastic interior

Don't be fooled, there's no such thing as a compact pickup truck. Trucks like the Chevy Luv just don't exist any more. The compact pickup has grown up in both size and price and become a multi-use vehicle. Doubling as a daily commuter and a weekend hauler.

The Dakota was the first compact to break with tradition when it was introduced way back in 1987. Larger than a traditional compact pickup and smaller than a full-size, Dodge called it a midsize. Since that time each automaker has been playing catch up, introducing larger and larger compact trucks.

For 2008 Dodge gives Dakota more power and fresh interior and exterior styling. The Dakota comes in two body styles. Extended cabs have 6.5-foot cargo beds, rear-hinged back doors and seats for up to five on a front bench seat and two rear jump seats. Quad Cab has a 5.3-foot bed and conventional back doors. Also called a crew cab, the Quad Cabs can seat up to six on two bench seats. Dimensionally, Dakota is larger than any other "compact" pickup, besting Chevy Colorado, Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier, and Toyota Tacoma in both overall length and interior measurements.

Dakota's standard engine is a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6. Optional is a 302-horsepower, 4.7-liter V8. It has been redesigned to produce 42 more horsepower than last year. While the V8 comes standard with a five-speed automatic transmission, the V6 comes with either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

Vehicle Tested

2008 Dodge Dakota Extended Cab SLT 4WDBase Price: $26,900
As-Tested Price: $29,210
Built in USA. 


Split Front Bench Seat
Premium Sound System

Engine: SOHC 3.7-liter V6
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive Wheels: four-wheel drive

Dakota is available with rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive. Though the all-wheel-drive system can be left on all the time, the four-wheel-drive system should not be left engaged on dry pavement. Both the AWD and 4WD systems have low-range for severe off-road use.

Standard safety features include front air bags and rear antilock brakes. Also available are side-curtain airbags that cover both seating rows and four-wheel antilock brakes.

Available options include leather upholstery, sunroof, UConnect Bluetooth cell-phone connection and a TRX4 Off-Road Group, which brings limited slip differential, front and rear antilock brakes, heavy-duty engine and transmission cooling, heavy-duty battery, skid plates, heavy-duty rear shock absorbers, and 265/70R16 on/off-road white-letter tires.

Mitsubishi sells a version of the Dakota called the Raider. Both are built in the United States.

Get Up and Go
Whether mated to the six-speed manual or four-speed automatic, the V6 engine provides adequate performance. Acceleration from a stop is strong enough to keep up with traffic, but passing response is mediocre. With a full load in the bed or four passengers, acceleration is blunted somewhat, but the V6 has enough torque to handle most jobs.

2008 Dodge DakotaIf you need more power or want to tow a trailer, perhaps the new V8 would make more sense. It's a powerhouse and when properly equipped it allows Dakota to tow up to 7150 pounds.

The six-speed manual transmission is typical truck fare, meaning long throws and a heavy clutch. The five-speed automatic on V8 models shifts smoothly and downshifts promptly.

The difference in fuel economy between the V6 and V8 is slight, with the V6 being rated at 15/19 mpg and the V8 garnering 14/19. In real-world driving, the V6 is likely to be substantially more efficient than the V8, returning between 17-19 mpg while the V8 is pressed to average better than 15 mpg. Thankfully, Dodge claims that both engines will run fine on regular-grade gasoline.

On the Road
Make no mistake, Dakota is a truck. No amount of suspension tuning can hide the fact that there's a solid rear axle underneath a bed with a maximum payload rating north of 1600 pounds. Still, Dakota has more ride composure than you might expect. Sure, off-road models have a bouncy ride, but more pedestrian Quad Cabs actually emulate the composure of a large sedan on most surfaces. There's a bit of hopping when rounding bumpy corners, but overall the ride is smoother than you might expect.

Sadly, the steering is sloppy and slow and there's too much body lean in quick lane changes. Combined the two quell any enthusiastic driver ambitions. The standard rear-only antilock brakes might be fine in warm climates, but anyone in Chicagoland would be wise to pop for the all-wheel ABS.

On the highway, Dakota suffers from too much wind and road noise, though it is not any worse than other pickup trucks. Both engines are well muted when cruising and impart an impressive growl in hard acceleration.

NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2008 Dodge Dakota

Front Impact, Driver  5 stars
Front Impact, Passenger 5 stars
Side Impact, Driver 5 stars
Side Impact, Rear Passenger 5 stars
Rollover Resistance 4 stars

Behind the Wheel
Dakota's new interior is more angular and open than the previous model. Radio and climate controls are placed high in the center stack and easily accessible for both driver and passenger. Gauges are legible and clearly marked. Interior materials are truck tough but not all that impressive.

Front seat passengers are treated ample head and leg room. The seats are flat and offer only modest comfort. Outward visibility is good and step-in height is reasonable--even on 4WD models.

Extended cab models have small jump seats that are only useful for children. Even then, the front seats have to be moved forward to provide adequate leg room. The rear half doors swing open 170-degrees to allow better access and the seats flip up to increase cargo area. Crew cab models have a real back seat that offers adult-size head and leg room. The bench seat can accommodate three adults if necessary.

The large center console bin is impressively large, but the small glove box is a minus. Crew cab models have a unique under-floor storage box.

Bottom Line
Crew Cab or not, Dakota is a truck and should be used like a truck. The midsize idea makes a lot of sense for many buyers because it's rare that you need the full capacity of a full-size truck, so why would you want to haul around all of that extra bulk and mass all the time?

When compared to other compact trucks Dakota is obviously larger. This is both good and bad. The larger size makes it less maneuverable for daily commuting but also better suited to work and carrying passengers. The available all-wheel drive is a huge plus in this class as is the powerful V8. Shop smart though, don't buy more truck than you need.

Specifications, 2008 Dodge Dakota

Extended Cab Pickup



Wheelbase, in. 


Size, liters/cu. in. 

3.7 / 226

Length, in. 


Horsepower @ rpm 

210 @ 5200

Width, in. 


Torque (lb-ft) @ rpm 

235 @ 4000

Height, in.



6-speed manual

Weight, lbs. 


EPA Estimates, mpg

15 city / 19 highway

Maximum Payload, lbs. 


Fuel Capacity, gals. 


Manufacturer's Warranty

Seating Capacity



3 years / 36,000 miles

Front Head Room, in. 




Front Leg Room, in. 



5 years / 100,000 miles

Second-Row Head Room, in. 


Free Roadside Assistance 

3 years / 36,000 miles

Second-Row Leg Room, in. 


Free Scheduled Maintenance


Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.