On The Road
We spent most of our time in a Dakota Sport Crew Cab 4x2 V-8 with the short 3.92:1 rear axle ratio. In theory, it would be the fastest in the Dakota range. The truck did know how to move out, especially when we loaded the torque converter and sidestepped the brake pedal. Since Dodge figures your right foot is the world's best traction control, it's totally up to you to control wheelspin. Tires...stoke 'em and smoke 'em. The new 4.7L certainly delivers a lot more power than before.
The tires on our Sport were P265/65R18s combo on/off-road tires mounted on 18-inch aluminum rims. While the setup is good for a stock truck, this will be one of the first changes you'll want to make, so your truck doesn't get mistaken for just another work truck.
While the engine benefits from fully modern technology, the brakes are pure old- school: discs in front, drums in the rear, with rear-wheel-only ABS. Four-wheel ABS is optional. Ours didn't have the four-wheel system, and when a monsoon-like storm blew in during our testdrive, we tested the binders. As you'd expect, the rear wheel kept spinning and the truck went straight, but we couldn't turn away even if God himself were on the road ahead of us. If you can spend the extra dough, go for the full ABS-it's worth it.
As for handling, the Dakota certainly felt more responsive than a fullsize crew cab truck. The rackand- pinion steering is a quick-ratio and needs only 3.18 turns to go from lock to lock. This means that when you turn the wheel, things happen at the asphalt. While we didn't try autocrossing the midsize Dodge, it didn't mind being bent into a quick corner, but you'll never mistake this for a Miata or a Corvette. After all, a Dakota like our tester tips the scales at a fullsize truck weight of 4,500 pounds.
The best part of the new Dakota, after the extra V-8 power, is its interior. The new two-tone look works, as do the instruments that resemble the white-face gauges you'd find in a Viper. The voice-activated nAV operated flawlessly, and the Bluetooth phone feature linked on the first try.
Wrapping It Up
If you're looking for new wheels but want something different and don't see yourself needing to tow more than 7,000 pounds or regularly carry tons of materials in the bed, the '08 Dakota is worth a look. Its new looks stand out, and with pricing starting at just a little more than $20k for an ST Extended Cab to just a little more than $30k for a Sport like the one we drove, the truck offers a good value in a unique package.
If you're looking to modify the truck, pick your options carefully so that you don't buy things you don't need. Especially if your truck is going to be primarily for show, our recommendation is to go with a V-6 Extended Cab with the six-speed manual as your starting place, because it's cheap, reliable, and ready to become your slammed and stylized masterpiece.