• Mar 10th 2008 at 11:58AM
  • 31
When we first locked eyes on the 2008 Dodge Dakota at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show, we were breathless. The reason for our inability to process oxygen had everything to do with the ungainly sheet metal that covered the latest iteration of Dodge's midsize truck offering. The new Dakota is boxy with an awkward, Pug-like front end, and the interior is Dodge-tastic.

Not all is wrong with the Dakota, however. It's the largest of the midsize pickups, has the only optional V8 in its class, and thus can out-tow and carry larger loads than its competition. We wanted to see for ourselves if the Ram Lite could overcome its visual shortcomings with affordability and clever packaging, so we took a blacked-out KITT look-a-like version for a week in the Autoblog Garage. Hit the jump to see how the Dakota fared.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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Our 2008 Dakota was a 2WD extended cab Sport model with the available 4.7L V8 and 18-inch black-painted aluminum wheels. It carries a hefty price tag of $27,945, which effectively eliminated our preconception that the Dakota was an inexpensive alternative to the Toyota Tacoma. At the same time, the Sport treatment coupled with the nice-looking jet black 18-inchers made the Dakota look a bit more interesting than what we saw at the Chicago Auto Show.

Each iteration of the Dakota seems to get a bit further away from the design of its big brother, the Dodge Ram, and as the latter is beginning to look more refined with each new redesign, the Dakota becomes rougher around the edges. But whether or not you like the looks of the 2008 Dakota, it definitely holds true to the Dodge design philosophy. The in-your-face cross hair front grille, bulging hood and aggressive body flares on each fender scream, "I'm a guy's truck," even if the all-black exterior of our tester screams, "I like David Hasselfhoff." And the interior of the midsize pickup tells the same story.

The Dakota's insides are very basic, with a straight forward layout displaying few buttons and knobs. We actually appreciated the Dakota's simplicity, as it's easy-to-use controls left our brain to concentrate on the road. Our Sport model also came with very comfortable, well-bolstered bucket seats that reminded us a bit of the butt-holders in the SRT lineup, but just a bit.

The Dakota's interior wasn't without fault, as cheap plastic abounds throughout the dash, center console and doors. While the extended cab doors swung open 170 degrees for easy ingress/egress, a very large subwoofer that came with the six-speaker Alpine audio package occupied all the usable space. The subwoofer would be a cool add-on for those who don't need to stow people or things behind the driver's seat, but the obtrusive bass-maker didn't add significantly to the acoustics in the cabin. Besides, its turquoise casing looks like a Power Mac G3 case mod.

While Dodge boasts best-in-class interior room in the extended cab model with 30 cubic feet of space, we'd suggest to anyone with a family to consider the crew cab with four full doors. The back seats are nearly useless in the extended cab thanks to the utter absence of leg room.

Most people buying a truck in these times of $3 per gallon gasoline are looking for capable towing and a usable pickup bed, and this is where the Dakota excels. The Dakota's standard 6.5-foot bed on extended cab models is the largest in its class, and since it's a midsize truck, getting things in or out of the bed is much easier than with the larger and taller Ram. Dodge also boasts best-in-class towing with a max of 7,050 lbs when your truck is properly configured with the Magnum V8 engine. While we didn't pull anything during our snowy week with the Dakota, the stiff chassis and 302-hp 4.7L V8 left us with little doubt this Dodge is up to the task.

We're not sure if we enjoyed driving the Dakota because power slides are easy with a rear-wheel-drive truck in six inches of snow, but there are a few complaints when behind the wheel. The stiff, fully-boxed chassis teamed with large P265 Goodyear rubber and traction control helps the Dakota stay composed in most any driving condition, but it's still a truck and feels like a truck when hitting potholes, turning too fast or accelerating with some axle hop. Acceleration from the Magnum V8 is very strong, however, even though the Dakota tips the scales at 4,500 lbs.

The five-speed automatic that comes standard with V8 models was a little rough through its shifts. We also noticed that when we weren't opening up the throttle, the five-speed would shift a bit early for our tastes, though we suspect that has a to do with engineers trying to squeeze out better fuel economy. During our week with the Dakota, we achieved 18.5 mpg in mixed driving, which we consider impressive since we spent a lot of time in the snow just spinning the rear wheels.

We've come to the conclusion after a week with the 2008 Dodge Dakota that this truck is like the girl down the street that loves baseball, beer and having a good time, but no makeover in the world could turn her into Cindy Crawford. If you can just get past the looks and the cheap interior, the Dodge Dakota will likely make you happy pickup owner. It has most of the power, size and capability of a full-size pickup, but can cost less less when configured properly, and it'll give you better fuel economy because of its weight advantage. As an added bonus, if you decide to enter into a union with the Dakota, the dowry is already $3,000 in incentives and rebates, and it's likely to go up by summer.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      The new front end is generally hideous, but in all black isn't too bad.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think the reason the price is so high is that Chrysler LLC has that lifetime powertrain warranty to pay for. I don't really like the styling of the exterior or interior, but it is somewhat better looking than the competition.

      On a sidenote, I do like the styling of my 2005 Ram in and out. Why their styling went whack after that year is anyone's guess? New engineers at Daimler Chrysler? The truck has been great to me so I don't see myself buying anything else soon, especially if I don't like the way it looks. And I wouldn't get lifetime powertrain warranty on the diesel anyways.
      • 7 Years Ago
      WHAT is so wrong with the styling?! The Dakota IS Cindy Crawford compared to the Rosie O'Donnell's at the Toyota lot.
      • 7 Years Ago
      We test drove a couple yesterday. They were leftover '07 models... three of them left at this dealership, all heavily discounted plus the $5k rebate, and all equipped basically the same (quad cab, 4.7L V8, auto). We drove the one that we liked, and found power to be lacking... seriously lacking. On a two-lane freeway onramp, we had the thing floored, and it literally took about 30 seconds for it to reach 5,000 rpm before we finally gave up. A Honda Civic GX (one of the slowest vehicles you can buy today) went around us and passed, the driver giving us a dirty look while doing so. After we got back to the lot, we figured that there was something supremely wrong with the truck, and I think the tranny was in 4th or 5th at the time and refused to downshift. And at no time did the engine ever sound like a V8.

      We drove another one, which was much better. The first thing we noticed was that it sounded like a V8. But the V8 didn't wow us at all, and we figured we better be wowed if we're going to get such terrible fuel mileage. We had driven the last generation Tundra less than a year ago and found it to feel much more powerful, and more recently a Silverado with their small V8, which also felt much more powerful. Honestly, it didn't feel much more powerful than V6 trucks we had looked at. The deals were good, but we didn't buy the Dakota. I was selling Dodges when the 4.7L first came out, and I remember them feeling a lot more powerful. Perhaps something was wrong with the second truck we drove as well. Whatever the problems were, we didn't feel comfortable with the thought of owning one, and although the sales staff kept talking up the lifetime powertrain warranty, nobody could show us in writing that these trucks had them... the factory window sticker and warranty manual clearly stated 36 months or 36,000 miles.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Keep in mind that the '07's you drove had the previous generation of the 4.7 V8. The '08's have a serious bump in horsepower and improved fuel economy.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The 07 4.7L was the 235HP version. The 08 4.7L has been bumped to 305HP and even gets a bit better mileage.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I agree with the C mentioned above, we all know that for the majority, quality and price are key points to stimulate their desir to buy, now that you have the gpod quality, why not just lower the price for a little? do not walk the way of Ram.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The interior of my 2006 Mazda-3 is all hard plastic, either black or gray, no soft plastic like my Jetta has. So why is it so bad for this truck to have a hard plastic interior and I don't remember this same complaint when the Mazda-3 is written about? Is it because this is an American truck and not a beloved Japanese car?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Yeah, I hate the Pug-nose styling. I hate it when trucks look like boxes and are not all sleek and sporty like cars...

      Back to reality. Like already said by others, the price is outrageous. I was at a dealership looking for a truck. I had a choice between a $32,000 Dakota Quad cab or a 2007 Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab, with the Cummins and the 8 foot bed. And it was a 6 speed manual, which made me giddy. It was only $35,000 and since the Cummins is a $6,000 option by itself, we can all imagine what I got.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm not a truck person, but if I was, I'd probably pick the 2.3L Ranger/B-Series. No, sorry, that's a lie. I'd probably just rent, which is sad because the reason I wouldn't buy one is because Ranger is badly dated and everything else is just too damn big.

      Fundamentally, it's fine, but some extra saftey features (stability control is a useful thing in a vehicle that tends to roll over more than the average car) would be nice without having to step into wanna-be half-tons like this or the Tacoma.
      • 7 Years Ago
      From the pictures, the truck looks fine. A clean look that's better than any past or current Dodges, I'd say. If the proportions are wrong, you should've used photos that showed that.

      For future reference, trucks are best rated quantitatively....what can it carry, what can it tow, what's the mpg, what's the quarter mile time, etc. Subjective judgements about prettiness are out of place as, like nothing else, truck beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In fact, some of the ugliest are the most gorgeous.

      Show some sophistication and try to get it right next time.

      • 7 Years Ago
      In the last 3 months my local dealer has had 3 Dakotas and over 50 Rams. I would like to see Dodge come out with a smaller/lighter truck. We all do not need a V8 or to pull 7,000 lbs. All I need is a 4-door truck with a 5ft bed to pull a 2,000lb boat and hunting trailers. Most of my driving is urban plus my hunting and fishing trips, they could even make it a 2-mode hybrid and I would buy the first one out.
      • 7 Years Ago
      You forgot to mention the ten percent increase in spending when using "flex fuel".
      i'm sure the milage will improve when the winter blend fuel gets switched for the summer stuff.
        • 7 Years Ago
        hey, just let me know when you find the Jenny McCarthy of trucks- easy on the eyes and can hang with the men.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I will dissent, I don't mind the new styling of this truck at all. It's distinctive and it looks like a real truck which is always a good thing. Now if only they offered the HEMI in it.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I too would have liked a HEMI, but with 300HP/330torque its more than capable.

        I also liked the review, because you got past the looks and plastic and focused on what people will probably use them for, towing/hauling.
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