2008 Dodge Dakota Extended Cab SLT 4×4Posted on December 26th, 2007
Large-scale utility in a mid-sized truck
By Nina Russin
The Dodge Dakota is no poseur: it’s a workhorse, inside and out. The mid-sized pickup truck has an extended cargo bed with adjustable tie-downs, designed to secure oversized cargo. Stain resistant upholstery, a two-speed transfer case for off-road driving, and trail rated tires will appeal to people who work hard, play hard, and get dirty in the process.
The test truck is the SLT grade, one of six available trim levels, with a 3.7-liter V6 engine and six-speed manual transmission. The V6 is the smaller of two available powerplants: Dodge also offers a 4.7-liter V8 that’s flex fuel compatible. While its no hot rod, the 210-horsepower V6 has enough torque (235 foot-pounds) to haul or tow big loads. A two-speed transfer case and special off-road tires make the Dakota capable of crawling over extremely uneven terrain.
The overdrive gears in the manual transmission give the Dakota pretty good fuel economy considering its size: about 17 miles-per-gallon for combined highway and city driving. But buyers considering the manual transmission should remember that truck clutches are not like car clutches. Be prepared for a fairly stiff pedal and long throw, with a long shift column on the center console. Commuters should think seriously about upgrading to the optional four-speed automatic transmission.
Power rack-and-pinion steering makes the Dakota easy to maneuver, despite its relatively large footprint. There are some slight blind spots to the rear caused by wide C pillars in the extended cab: it took some getting used to backing into parking spots. I didn’t have problems with visibility while maneuvering through traffic.
Eighteen-inch wheels are standard on the test truck: an upgrade from sixteen-inch rims on the base model. The Dakota comes with a full-sized spare tire: a must for people who plan to use the truck off road.
The gearbox works well for those who don’t mind standing on the clutch in traffic. There is no obvious gear lash, and all of the gears are easy to find. I didn’t use sixth gear much around town, but it helped stretch the fuel economy on a longer highway trips. Redundant cruise control buttons on the steering wheel are easy to engage and disengage.
Four channel antilock brakes coupled with an anti-spin rear axle differential prevent the back end from breaking loose on wet roads. The chassis feel well balanced, even when the cargo bed is empty. The brakes are firm and linear without being grabby.
Yes essentials stain resistant fabric is standard on the SLT grade. Not only does it stay clean, but it’s odor resistant as well. If you’re the type who plays hard and sweats a lot, the benefits of that are huge. A six-way power driver’s seat and tilt steering column make it easy for drivers of all sizes to find a comfortable position. Heated front seats are standard on the test truck.
Dodge designers do a great job of placing user-friendly storage compartments around the cabin. Both of the front doors have deep map pockets. There are two large cupholders in the center console, as well as a deep bin with a small removable shelf for electronic devices. A storage shelf above the glove box is segmented as well, so cell phones and PDAs won’t slide around.
All of the controls on the center stack are easy to reach and figure out. There’s a 12-volt power point for plugging in a phone recharger just to the right of the temperature controls. Audiophiles will appreciate standard Sirius satellite radio: the sound system is MP3 compatible.
An overhead console incorporates a temperature display, compass and trip meter. Audio information is displayed on a small screen in the center stack.
While the rear doors swing open to 170-degrees, they’re not very practical. Since both front and rear doors open at the B pillar, the front doors must be completely open to reach the rear door latches. It’s hard to find that kind of space between two tightly parked cars.
The extended cab has second-row seating for two, but I wouldn’t want to ride back there for more than a short drive. The straight seatbacks feel unnatural, and there’s almost no leg and hip room. The seat cushions flip up and out of the way to create some valuable interior storage space. The space isn’t large enough to put a bicycle in, but it works well for groceries and luggage. There are also six grocery bag hooks across the back of the passenger cabin.
Enormous cargo bed
The Dakota’s biggest asset is its cargo bed: six and a half feet in length. Available utility rails and tie-downs (not on the test car) make it possible to secure items so they don’t shift around. Another great feature is the standard two-position tailgate. It can move to the middle of the cargo bed to support extra wide or long cargo laid on top of the wheel wells.
Antilock brakes, front air bags, knee bolsters and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard equipment on all Dakota trucks. A security package on the test car adds side curtain airbags, and upgrades the antilock brakes to a four-channel system.
Base price on the four-wheel drive Dakota SLT is $26,900, putting it well within the limits of our best value category. As pickup truck prices climb well over the $30,000 mark, the Dakota is a good option for value-conscious shoppers. While it may not have the payload capacity of a full-sized truck, it 1530 pound rating should accommodate most weekend warriors.
Buyers with active lifestyles will appreciate the versatile interior and off-road capability. Those who want a less expensive option should consider the base ST grade extended cab, that starts at $20,080 for the 4×2 model. There is also a crew cab for those who want true five-passenger capability.
Likes: A practical interior with stain and odor resistant upholstery, power heated seats and satellite radio. Dodge does a great job of incorporating useful storage bins on the inside, and a larger-than-life cargo bed in back.
Dislikes: Standard manual transmission will not be practical for most urban commuters.
Model: Dakota Extended Cab SLT 4×4
Base price: $26,900
As tested: $30,500
Horsepower: 210 Hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 235 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Optional
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 15/19 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $645 destination charge.
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