I’ve never quite understood the fascination with pickup trucks. But there is no denying the style’s popularity, especially among men. Look around, plenty of big and small trucks abound, including the ever-popular Dodge Ram and Dodge Dakota.
When regularly faced with full-sized chores, a full-size pickup is ideal. Small trucks later came along for those who still enjoyed the versatility provided by a pickup, yet preferred a vehicle that wasn’t a headache to maneuver and park.
What has changed gradually is the emergence of mid-size trucks. And in the mid-1980s, Dodge was the first to design — a a new brand of pickup — the Dakota. It was introduced to admirably fill the gap between big and small. It could still carry a decent-size load, while also providing more refined ride than its heftier, older relative, the Dodge Ram.
Dodge remains innovative in the mid-size truck class, becoming the first manufacturer to put a powerful V8 engine in a smaller truck. The V8 was part of the makeup for my week with the 2008 Dodge Dakota TRX4, which featured four-wheel drive, an extended cab, and goes for $27,545.
I could have done without the longer cab, which has abed that measures 6½ feet in length. It reminded me too much of why big trucks are annoying for every day driving. Backing up, parking and simply getting around in small areas must be done with great caution.
Still, it’s not like this Dakota was huge and that cumbersome. Among the competition that includes the acclaimed Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier and Honda Ridgeline, the Dakota matches up very well. It rides smoothly for a truck and the road noise was surprisingly minimal even during rapid acceleration in freeway situations.
The handling won’t remind anyone of a classy sedan, but it’s not sloppy like many trucks and the Dakota only jiggles on uneven surfaces. However, the Dakota is not your ideal durable and tough off-road warrior so it’s wise to mostly keep it on the pavement.
Despite the off-road inadequacies, the Dakota still maintains plenty of versatility. It possesses some rugged qualities, thanks to its powerful 4.7 liter, V8 makeup that features 290 horsepower and allows the pickup to haul a maximum load of 7,050 pounds.
The standard Dakota is a lot less muscular 3.7-liter, V6 with 210 horsepower. The standard third generation Dakota has a tougher time keeping up with the competition that offers a more fuel-efficient V-6. Both the V6 and V8 Dakota get practically the same gas mileage at 14-19 mpg.
Still, the Dakota wins over buyers for its versatility and spacious cabin, which provides considerable leg and head room. The backseat is lacking in space, but will seat three people. Another plus is an abundance of storage space in the center console, doors and dash.
The 2008 Dakotas look much the same as last year’s models since a major redesign has not been done since 2005.
FAST FACTS: 2008 Dodge Dakota
Power — 4.7-liter, V8, 290 horsepower; Mileage Estimates — 14 mpg (city) 19 mpg (highway); Standard Features — Four-wheel drive; anti-lock brakes; utility rails; CD/MP3 player, satellite radio; rear sliding window; skid plates; full-size spare tire; tow hooks; fog lamps; keyless entry; power windows, locks, mirrors.