A weekend driving this mid-size pickup reminded me how much I miss owning such a handy workhorse. In stark contrast to the F-150, Sierra, and Ram monster trucks, the Dakota is significantly more manageable, fuel efficient, and socially acceptable. After taking a 350-mile round trip on Saturday, my Sunday assignment was pulling a trailer weighing at least twice the rated tow rating. A lack of grades, high temperatures, and traffic helped accomplish that ambitious chore without difficulty, although I don’t recommend it for towing novices. With ample room for five, four doors for convenient access, and a 64-inch-long bed, this Dakota is the ideal suburban-lifestyle support vehicle. A longer bed, 4×4 driveline, and V-8 are not on my list of essentials. So before you follow the herd with a too-big truck, take a serious look at this highly practical alternative.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
I was pleasantly surprised by the power of Chrysler’s aging 3.7-liter V-6 in the Dakota. Like Don, I appreciate the Dakota’s size advantage over the behemoth full-size trucks we usually see. I’d actually like to see the Dakota shrink a little more so it’s even with the Ford Ranger or the compact pickups of the 1980s. A turbo four-cylinder would make an ideal powerplant.
I’d trade the crew-cab configuration of our test truck for a slightly longer bed. The biggest improvement Ram could make to the Dakota is a more realistic sticker price. The mid-size pickup segment is a joke right now because it costs less to buy a comparable half-ton full-size truck by the time you make a deal with a salesperson.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the Dakota’s successor, all seemingly tied to the idea of a smaller, unibody pickup. A fine notion, I suppose, but Dodge/Ram already has the makings of a solid mid-size truck with the current Dakota — they just need to actually do something with it.
I understand it’s hard to justify pouring money into a truck that’s far outsold by its big brother, but it does seem a little ironic that the full-size Ram raises the bar for refinement in pickup trucks while the smaller Dakota lags nearly a decade behind. Apart from a mild cosmetic overhaul two years ago, the Dakota is almost as DaimlerChrysler launched it back in 2005. Which is to say it’s an adequate vehicle, at best-the V-6 is remarkably strong, but the four-speed’s manners are a little abrupt, the steering a bit twitchy at highway speeds.
Would a new, niche-forming small truck do wonders for the Ram brand? Perhaps, but if money’s too tight to execute an ambitious program like that, the advances pioneered with the Ram (notably a classy interior and a ride quality that’s literally carlike) should be shared with the Dakota.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
It’s not often that antiques pass through our office, but the 2010 Dodge Dakota is one of the, uh, most seasoned vehicles on the market today. The interior materials and designs are very familiar — and stale — to me (note the ancient HVAC and power-seat controls), as I test-drove for Chrysler sporadically from 1999 through 2003 and spent long hours in prototypes of this Dakota’s SUV sibling, the Durango.
Old doesn’t always mean bad, though. I was impressed with the ride quality, especially for such a large “mid-size” pickup. Acceleration isn’t terribly slow for a V-6 in a 4400-pound truck, either, although passing maneuvers need to be planned carefully. Still, the Dodge (not yet branded “Ram” for whatever reason) easily handled my many intermediate-strength hauling challenges over my weekend with the truck.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
For someone like me, who only infrequently drives a pickup and rarely needs to use one for hauling or towing, a vehicle like the Dakota has several advantages over a full-size pickup. It’s easier to maneuver around town and in tight parking situations, consumes less fuel, and is easier to get into and out of, all while still being able to carry four adults. But aside from those practical advantages, the Dakota simply doesn’t feel like a $30,000 vehicle when you get inside. The interior is rather dated, although at least it has a decent media center. All you need to do is look at sales figures to see that the Dakota hasn’t exactly been flying out of dealer lots — for every Dakota the company sells, it moves 13 full-size Rams.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
2010 Dodge Dakota Laramie Crew Cab 4×2
Base price (with destination): $30,920
Price as tested: $34,085
3.7-liter V-6 engine
4-speed automatic transmission
Front disc brakes; rear drum brakes
Rear sliding window
Remote start system
Tire pressure monitoring system
Audio jack input
Sirius satellite radio
6 Alpine speakers
Heated front seats
Rear 60/40 split seats
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Steering wheel-mounted audio controls
Trailer tow wiring with 4-pin connector
Options on this vehicle:
Media center 730N CD/DVD/HDD/NAV Radio — $1445
30GB hard drive
6.5-inch touch screen
GPS navigation system
Sirius satellite radio
Auto-dimming rear view mirror
Uconnect with voice command
Extra security package — $640
Side curtain front and rear airbags
Trailer tow group — $525
Heavy duty service group
Heavy duty engine cooling
Auxiliary transmission oil cooler
Class IV hitch
7-pin wiring harness
18 x 8.0-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels — $400
265/60R18 Off-road tires — $100
Engine block heater — $35
Fixed rear window with defroster — $20
Key options not on vehicle:
4×4 drive — $4250
4.7-liter V-8 engine — $985
5-speed automatic transmission — $75
15 / 20 / 17 mpg
Size: 3.7L V-6
Horsepower: 210 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 235 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Curb weight: 4407 lb
Wheels/tires: 18 x 8.0-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels
265/60R18 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A all-season tires