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On Sunday, February 4, 2007, Dodge unveiled a new Dakota, hoping to reverse falling sales.Both the price and capability bumped up even closer against the Ram 1500; it now had built-in cargo-box utility rails, heated bench seats, best-in-class towing (up to 7,050 pounds), the largest and longest standard bed in the class, and a 60 horsepower upgrade for the V8 engine - along with better gas mileage. (How’d they do that?)
Sales had started to fall when the 2005 Dakotas came out, and their poor reception no doubt resulted in an emergency refresh for 2008. However, despite some improvements — particularly in the power of the V8 — the Dakota fell even further. It wasn’t helped by discounting on the Ram 1500, rising gasoline prices in 2007, the 2007-2008 market fall, and the 2008 recession.
The Dodge Dakota Laramie had a chromed grille, the TRX had wheel bulges, and the Sport had a monochromatic look, to separate the trims. The truck was still awkward from some angles, with its side bulges up front, but the designers tried to make it look cleaner.
The interior had some clever new features: an open shelf above the glove compartment, a phone shelf folding from the console, and underseat storage with removable bins (so you could dedicate particular bins for various trips). The bed was updated for the SLT and above, with a top protector and gate that could be locked in the halfway-down position.
The Dakota classes were SXT, SLT, Sport, TRX, and Laramie, each with their own grille; engines were the 3.7 V6 and the related, 302 horsepower, flex-fuel 4.7 V8. Dodge Dakota had both part-time and full-time four wheel drive available.
There were also new headlamps with accent rings, a new fascia, hood, grille, and fender, and new TRX “sticker package.” The interior gained more storage, the center console was updated, the rear seat was made collapsible, new sport seats became available, MyGIG was added as an option, and a foldout electronics organizer was added.
The 302 horsepower 4.7 V8 gained in fuel economy, power, and torque, which went up to 320 lb.-ft.; it could run on E85 ethanol. The company had changed the induction system, lightened the piston/rod assembly, cut the accessory drive speed, and added a new valve-lash adjuster system. It metered fuel more precisely through “throttle by wire,” too.
The biggest changes were made by adopting key lessons from the Hemi; there were new heads with better flow, dual spark plugs per cylinder, increased compression, and a new combustion system.
The standard engine remained the 3.7 V6 with 210 horsepower and 235 lb.-ft. of torque, with a six-speed manual (or four speed automatic, standard on Laramie, optional on others). V8s came with the manual or a Chrysler-engineered 545RFE five-speed automatic.
Two transfer cases for four wheel drive were sold, one part time and one full time, with locked high and low ranges for both; it was the only pickup in its class with full-time four wheel drive, not to mention a remote starter.
The 2008 Dodge Dakota was, like the 2005, underpinned by a hydroformed, fully boxed ladder-type frame, with an independent front suspension and coil-over shock absorbers. It continued to have the highest midsized pickup tow ratings, up to 7,050 pounds.
The 2008 Dodge Dakota’s front end was more aerodynamic, with better fit and gap management. A new tailgate spoiler smoothed air flow. Buyers could pick the Extended or Crew Cab; there were no regular two-door cabs.
Inside, the instrument panel, center console, accent finishes, and some interior storage choices were new, but cost reductions were apparent outside of the gauges.
The traditional column shifter allowed drivers to stay in first or second for hills, and had a GM-style tow/haul button at the end. Cruise buttons remained on the steering wheel, with headlights on the dashboard. The four wheel drive control was an easily turned knob. Gauges were clear and easy to read, with black-on-white lettering, and a perfectly smooth indigo-green backlight: a speedometer, tachometer, temperature, and fuel reading.
The Extended Cab had optional “Full Swing™” rear doors, which opened by nearly 170 degrees. The Crew Cab had best-in-class room (37.1 cubic feet) and seating for up to six. A rear under-seat storage system was new for the Dodge Dakota.
The center console had a pull-out bin for iPods and phones, with an extra power outlet. Satellite radio and DVD navigation were available; the top system had a 508 watt stereo. The MyGIG option was a stereo with a built in 30-gigabyte hard drive for music storage, which could be fed from CDs, DVDs, or a USB port.
The base seat fabric was “YES Essentials™,” designed to be resistant to stains and odors, but rather stiff; heated bench seats were available, along with a 40/20/40 split-bench front seat with a folding center armrest. The 2008 Dodge Dakota Extended Cab is available with 40/40 rear-folding seats, while Crew Cab models have a standard 60/40 split-folding rear seat.
Advance multi-stage driver and front passenger air bags were standard, and supplemental side-curtain air bags were optional.
When we tested the Dodge Dakota, we found it to be priced closely to the bigger Ram, but a little easier on gas, easier to swing around corners, and a lot easier to park. Our well-equipped SLT 4x4 ran to $29,765 plus options (a base model with rear drive was $20,080); it included tire pressure monitors, box rails, tow wiring, anti-spin differential, cruise, shift-on-the-fly four wheel drive, remote power locks, power windows and mirrors, fog lights, garage door opener, satellite/CD stereo, air, tilt wheel, six-way power driver’s seat, trip computer, and the rear sliding window.
That said, with options, the Dakota could outprice a similar Ram. Our test truck ended up at $35,130, with special paint, automatic, 3.92:1 axle ratio, bedliner, MyGIG, UConnect, premium sound group, V8, heated front seats, side airbags, antilock brakes, and trailer towing.
All Dakotas were made in Warren, Michigan.
In 2009, the Dodge Dakota gained was replaced by the more evocative Big Horn and Lone Star; the slow-selling SLT, Sport, and TRX 4x2 trim levels were all dropped. White, blue, and tan paint was added.
The Big Horn and Lone Star had standard underseat crate storage, 18 inch wheels, and the V8 engine, unlike the old SXT; tilt wheel was standard, cloth bucket seats were standard on the Laramie, and bolstered bucket seats were added to the TRX4.
The 2010 Dodge Dakota got more substantive changes, with new front shock modules and rear spring assemblies improving the ride and handling. Bright White replaced Stone White, Flame Red replaced Detonator Yellow, and Mango Tango replaced Sunburst Orange.
The 2011 Dodge Dakota added standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes and side curtain airbags on all models; there were four new colors (deep cherry red, deep forest green, white gold) but auto-dimming mirrors were no longer available. Most sales went to the Big Horn / Lone Star package. The Media Center 730N and UConnect Phone with Voice Command was dropped.
1987-96 Dodge Dakota • 1997-2004 • 2005-07 • 2008-11 • Future Dakota • Forums
Reviews: Dakota Sport (2000) • Dodge Dakota (2006) • 2008
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