In the Autoblog Garage: 2008 Dodge Dakota Sport

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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