James Riswick, New and Used Car Editor
There are certain things you own that you just shouldn't tell people about, and the 2008 Dodge Dakota is one of them. No, that's not a cheap shot at Dodge's midsize truck. Rather, it's like a beach house or a big-screen TV. If you have one, you will suddenly have friends calling on you for favors every weekend.
Once word is out that you have a pickup truck, friends, family and casual acquaintances will immediately start turning to you for their moving, hauling and towing needs. Sure enough, when news of our time with the 2008 Dodge Dakota Crew Cab Laramie spread, one of our editors was roped into helping his grandmother move. So the Dakota was filled up with 40 years' worth of Grandma's stuff, including a pair of shelving units, a chandelier, 18 plants and a Bang & Olufsen record player.
In other words, as a truck, the Dakota did all that was expected — plus, its innovative under-seat rear storage was an added bonus. When viewed in a broader context, though, the Dakota was less impressive. Even though our Laramie tester featured items nothing else in the class even offers, it was still frightfully expensive given its industrial interior and punishing ride. This truck feels old, even though it's only been around since 2004.
If you're looking for a pickup, there are other choices from Honda, Nissan and Toyota that are cheaper and more refined. Still, the Dakota has its strengths — namely its V8 power (it's the only midsize pickup to offer a V8) and best-in-class towing capacity. If either of these traits is important to you, the 2008 Dodge Dakota may be worth a look.
Since the Dakota is the only midsize pickup to sport a V8, it offers class-leading horsepower and towing capacity. It's got 302 horses under the hood and can tow up to 7,050 pounds when properly equipped, as our Laramie tester was. Not surprisingly, power is quite abundant, pulling hard early and often with an ample 329 pound-feet of torque on tap. At our test track, the 4x4 Dakota went from zero to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. With less equipment and rear-wheel drive, it would have been even quicker.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that best-in-class V8 power comes with pretty terrible gas mileage. EPA estimates are 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 15 mpg combined. Over the course of 1,270 miles in two identical Dakotas, we matched the EPA's combined number, even though a majority of those miles were on the highway. By comparison, the V6-powered Toyota Tacoma provides nearly the same acceleration capabilities with 3 more miles per gallon in the combined cycle — something to consider if only 6,500 pounds of towing capacity is enough.
The Dakota proved to have excellent brakes for a truck, even if it had rear drums and a soft pedal. From 60 mph, the fully loaded Dakota came to a stop in 126 feet — better than many family sedans. The Dakota's steering is pretty inert, though, offering little feedback through turns and a numb on-center feel. Still, there were no spooky moments when one editor got stuck in a biblical thunderstorm — the truck plowed confidently through rain and standing water.
If you've got a bad back, do not buy a 2008 Dodge Dakota Laramie. All body-on-frame pickup trucks with their live rear axles provide a harsh, often crashy ride, but the Dakota is particularly noteworthy for its punishment during highway journeys. Even on relatively glass-smooth highways, every pavement imperfection greets your backside with a solid bump, then a good jiggle — there's no need for a BMI test, since the Dakota will happily point out every bit of fat on your body. We're used to firm rides, but it's the jiggle bit that really gets old after four hours in the saddle.
On the upside, the Dakota's bucket seats are quite comfy, while the driver seat offers a wide range of adjustment. Even the rear seat proved to be comfortable, with a pleasant backrest angle and full headrests.
That comfy backseat bottom features a 60/40 split, and can be raised to provide loads of interior storage. At various points, a weekend's worth of luggage for two, a set of golf clubs and a whole heap of Grandma's stuff fit into the Dakota's aft cabin. Keeping various loose items in place was a pair of milk-cratelike boxes that pop up from the floor beneath the 60/40 bench — a thoughtful touch, to be sure. Another was the tie-down rail system and bedliner that kept things secure during the move.
Inside, the spartan cabin is, for the most part, straightforward. Switchgear is where you'd expect it to be, while the climate controls are a no-brainer. Our test truck's MyGig navigation and audio system was a different story, as it features a smallish screen with frustrating menus — particularly for satellite radio. The "UConnect" Bluetooth connection worked well and was easy to program, although it lacked the typical steering wheel controls.
Design/Fit and Finish
Does anyone really expect a pickup truck to be luxurious? Probably not, but it should offer more than the 2008 Dodge Dakota does. The truck's cabin features innumerable plastic surfaces and switchgear that looks and feels industrial, with an overall quality that rivals lawn furniture. The Nissan Frontier, Honda Ridgeline and Toyota Tacoma put it to shame. Even though our fully loaded test truck offered features that those others do not, it's hard not to think that something with a price tag of $35,760 should be nicer.
Interior design is also pretty industrial, but at least the exterior has that brawny Dodge appearance that gives the Dakota arguably the butchest look in its class. That's gotta count for something, right?
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2008 Dodge Dakota is a good choice for anyone who needs the most towing and hauling possible without stepping up to a full-size model. But its lack of refinement and high price mean there are much better choices available.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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