It really wasn't that long ago that the Dodge Dakota was considered a groundbreaker, a real leader in what evolved into the midsize truck category. And in the better-be-looking-over-your-shoulder world that is the auto industry, you knew the competition would take notes and make a charge sooner than later.
Well, the charge has been formidable over the years and the once-great Dakota is now, relatively speaking, just another player. With nary a choice between a big, bruising full-size pickup or the small and oft-feathery compact, if you did not need all the size of the big box, it was easy to fall in love with the original Dakota for its more manageable size and, later, its optional V-8 power.
For pickup owners, size matters. But so do towing, power and torque. Dakota still leads the pack in towing capacity at a maximum of 5,000 pounds. If you are looking to use your Dakota as a full-time work truck this is probably where the Dakota is best suited, especially the base ST. There are not a lot of creature comforts to be found in the base ST. And this is how a work truck should be (but I sure did miss the bells and whistles).
I do like the exterior changes made a couple years ago. The more streamlined fender flares feel more proportionate to this smaller pickup. The grille is still all Dodge and the ribbed hood treatment adds some attitude to the exterior. The base ST rides on 16-inch steel wheels. This Dakota is not an over-the-top attitude adjuster like its big brother Ram. But then again, that's why I think it works for me.
The Dodge Dakota is available with an extended or crew cab body style, each with only one bed size.
Available trim levels are ST, Big Horn, TRX4 and Laramie. I tested the base ST that started at $25,260.
Inside the Dakota you will find that "work ethic" treatment in all its hard plastic pain and suffering. I know there are price points to be met, but nobody can fill a cabin with so many rigid plastic surfaces and think it will go unnoticed - especially when those mounting the midsize charge are delivering softer-touch surfaces.
The basic analog gauges and sweeping dash treatment was likable and provided good visibility Sightlines and mirrors are easily adjusted and a standard tilt steering wheel was appreciated. While this is not the full-size Ram pickup, you do still need to account for the long bed.
Seats are firm but comfortable, though they did start to annoy after one three-hour cruise. Buttons and knobs are within easy reach and the standard audio system was adequate with in-dash CD/MP3 player. Rear seats offer decent legroom for passengers as well as a 60-40 split.
Under the hood, my base Dakota had the standard 3.7-liter V-6. Producing 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque, this is the only engine available for the base ST. If you want the V-8 you will have to jump to one of the higher trim levels.