If you're looking for a new truck and have the customizing jones going on, think about Dodge's new '08 Dakota. You might be surprised at what you find in this heavily improved truck. From the angle of driving something different, with the Dakota, you're already out in front. With the littler Ram, you're a lot less likely to see yourself coming and going-Dodge sells six times as many fullsize Rams as Dakotas. And compared to the numbers Chevy and Ford sell, the Dakota comes out seeming like a limited-production vehicle, which is not a bad starting point for somebody wanting to have a ride that stands out in a crowd.

The Basics
The Dodge folks unveiled the '08 Dakota back in February, 2007, at the Chicago Auto Show, but they didn't let us behind the wheel until late this summer. here's what you'll find if you stop by a Dodge dealership. First off, here's the model lineup: There are two body styles, Extended Cab and Crew Cab, and six trim levels, ST, SXT, SLT, TRX/TRX4, Sport, and Laramie.

Outside, inside, and under the hood, every model shows significant changes, but it's not an all-new truck. The first thing you'll notice is the more angular styling that begins a newly styled grille, front fascia, rectangular headlamps, a bulged hood, and dropped fenders. The front-end design improves aerodynamics and features better fit and gap management. The new fenders dramatically change the truck's profile, which now includes a rear spoiler, another true aero aid. It's a bolder look that makes a great starting point for something custom.

Bed lengths are 6.6 feet for the Extended Cab, and a shorter 5.3 feet for the four-door Crew Cab because both ride on the same 131.3-inch wheelbase. helping the cargo boxes become even more useful, built-in utility rails make managing cargo or installing box options easier.

Inside, there are more major changes, including a new instrument panel, center console and accent finishes, plus a new interior storage option. Getting in is easier because the Extended Cab's available Full Swing rear access doors open nearly 170 degrees-almost flat against the bed. Seating for five is standard, and with the rear seats folded, there's as much as 30 cubic feet of storage space.

The larger Crew Cab offers even more room, another 7-1/2 cubic feet. Besides delivering extra legroom, thanks to the stretched cab length, Dodge designed a new under-therear- seat storage system. This system includes a unique, collapsible and removable cargo management system that enables gear to be organized and contained in the truck, so it doesn't roll around, and then taken anywhere in those containers. They look and function like well-designed milk crates- really practical.

An all-new center console incorporates cupholders with modular inserts and a pull-out bin specifically designed to hold electronics, such as an MP3 player, which may be plugged into any of the '07 Dodge Dakota's audio systems, a cell phone, or a PDA. An additional 12-volt outlet is also provided.

The instrument panel is also new, and the materials look good. Gauges are easy to read, and as you'll be seeing from most manufacturers, a tire inflation pressure monitor is standard. (You can thank everybody who doesn't know how to use a standard tire gauge for this equipment. The federal government wants you to have properly inflated tires so your truck doesn't roll over when your under-inflated tire flops off the rim as you swerve to miss Bambi.)

On top of the expected audio systems you'd expect from a manufacturer, Chrysler is rolling out its hardened, industrial-strength music hard-drive system called Mygig.