Road Test: 2008 Dodge Dakota Club Cab 4x4 V8
By: Katrina Ramser Posted: 03-11-08 23:37 PT
© 2008

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Never mind the new look if you don't care for it. The 2008 Dodge Dakota has a V8. We've been told our entire lives it's what's inside that counts.

Longtime Dodge fans, repeat this adage above so as not to miss what the new Dakota can do. With a 31 percent increase in horsepower and a 13 percent increase in torque, it's still the only vehicle offering an eight cylinder engine in the compact/mid-size truck segment. So yes, the looks could grow on you.

The Dakota also offers the largest crew and extended cabs, 6-foot-6-inches of bed, plus a towing capacity of 7,050 pounds. This beats the closest competitors by several inches to over 500-pounds (Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier can each tow up to 6,500-pounds when properly equipped).

But I'm just buttering loyalists up so as not to take offence the squared face-lift of the Dakota reflects a desire to capture new, or younger group of Dodge fans that might look elsewhere for a compact vehicle able to meet their active, outdoor needs. It's a crowd that is attracted to the fresh look of the Nitro. Dodge's words, not mine.

Business Week voted the Dakota America's Best Small Pickup for 2008, but it hasn't won any additional automotive beauty pageants for its bold changes; just in-house accolades from its creator for having the best standard payload in its class.

Also expect interior upgrades for the 2008 model, including a new instrument panel, center console, and the much talked about, and very cool, Crate 'N Go removable storage option under the rear seats.

I tested a 2008 Dodge Dakota TRX4 with an Extended Cab and the 302-horsepower 4.7-liter V8 with 329 lb-ft of torque. Make no mistake the efficient small pickup is a diminishing breed with the Dakota's 14- city/19-highway driving. It has FFV (Fuel Flexible Vehicle) and ethanol (E85) options, but that isn't much of a carbon-neutral plug anymore.

Gas stats are roughly what you'll find with the Nissan Frontier's 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V6. Having just previously tested the Frontier, it was on my mind to carefully compare it with the Dakota.

The Frontier's comfortable second row seating, 6.1-feet bed length (with a factory spray-in bed liner), and responsive acceleration had dazzled me. Would I feel the Dakota, at a total vehicle price of $32,510, would be a better buy than the Frontier's cost of $31,660?

I gave the Dakota a fair chance to pull ahead by testing it in the snowy mountains of the Tahoe Sierras.

The Dakota is built on a fully boxed ladder-type frame created for a smoother, quieter ride. Combined with the independent front suspension and coil-over shock absorbers, the ride does give the Dakota a carlike feel, but the live rear axle does causes jounce over rough terrain, especially on the pock-ridden Highway 80 that sees its fair share of tire-chain abuse.

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