By KBB.com Editors
Fresh from a complete remake last year, the mid-size Dodge Dakota can no longer be tagged as a "mini-Ram". Dakota buyers disdain today's bulked-up full-sized pickups and demand a leaner exterior. With little compromise in interior room or workhorse ability, the Dakota delivers a trimmer package that makes it easier to negotiate congested city traffic and crowded parking lots. Yet the Dakota remains roomier and more potent than its smaller competitors. The Dakota comes in four distinct trim levels. Each is available with either aft-hinged rear doors – called Extended Cab – or the four conventional doors of the Crew Cab. Most are available with rear-, conventional four-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive. Standard is a capable 210-horsepower V6, while an impressive 302-horsepower V8 is available.You'll Like This Car If...
Of less-than-full-size pickups, the 2009 Dakota offers the most power and the largest interior. Real truck folks will love the new removable storage bins that stow under the Crew Cab's rear seat.You May Not Like This Car If...
The Dakota is not a "little" pickup. It's about as big as some full-sized pickups once were. Unlike some other smaller pickups, the Dakota does not offer a budget version with a four-cylinder engine or a regular cab.What's New for 2009
Two new names, Big Horn and Lone Star, replace the SXT trims, while the SLT, Sport and TRX 4x2 are dropped. New standard features include a tilt steering wheel on ST trims, while cloth bucket seats and 18-inch aluminum wheels are made standard on all Laramie models.Driving It Driving Impressions
In comparing the 2009 Dakota to a typical sedan, a sophisticated driver may notice a small amount of rear-axle ride harshness over uneven pavement. Others may feel the Dakota rides as well as most cars. And, with a few hundred pounds loaded in the cargo box, there will be little difference between a current sedan and the Dakota. Steering and braking are predictable in response and feel, and the Dakota owner will likely have no complaints about how it rides smoothly down the road and handles responsively around corners. The optional V8 makes easy the sometimes challenging task of passing slow-moving traffic on rural two-lane highways.Favorite Features
Available V8 Engine
We really like the Dakota's 302-horsepower V8. But most will be more than satisfied with the standard and more practical 210-horsepower V6.
Ride and Handling
The Dakota's ride comfort, even when it's unloaded, is more than capable for a truck and, perhaps surprisingly, essentially as good as many cars.
If you're moving from, say, a fairly recent sedan to a pickup, you'll be hard pressed to find deficiencies in the Dakota. The black-on-white instrument panel is easy to read, although the plastics that make up much of the interior feel hard and somewhat low-budget. Clever storage devices, such as the Crate 'N Go under-seat storage system and the center console modular cup holder inserts designed to accommodate iPods or cell phones, abound throughout the Dakota's roomy cabin (30-cubic feet inside the Extended Cab and 37.1 cubic-feet in the Crew Cab).Exterior
No longer will the observant confuse a Dakota with a Ram. Forward of the front-door hinge, the 2009 Dakota is completely different than either its predecessor or its bigger sibling. While maintaining the aggressive styling that has become a Dodge trademark, the 2009 Dakota is angular where its previous generation was rounded. Unique to this class, the Dakota Extended Cab features "Full Swing" rear doors that open nearly 170-degrees. A dual-position tail gate can be secured in mid-position to act as a support for extra long cargo extending beyond the Dakota's six-foot six-inch bed.Notable Standard Equipment
The 2009 Dakota is available in four trim levels and two body styles: The Extended Cab, which has rear-hinged aft doors, and the Crew Cab, which has four conventional doors. All but the TRX4 are available in rear- or four-wheel drive. The ST comes standard with a 210-horsepower V6 coupled to a six-speed manual transmission. Big Horn and Lone Star standard equipment includes 17-inch aluminum wheels, cruise control and power windows. The TRX4 has four-wheel drive, additional skid plate protection, off-road wheel and tire setup, a sliding rear window and SIRIUS Satellite Radio standard, while the potent V8 is an option. The luxury-minded Laramie has a chromed grille, power seats, premium audio, remote start and chrome rear bumper.Notable Optional Equipment
The top option on the 2009 Dakota is the V8 engine. Two versions of four-wheel-drive are available: The first is a more-traditional system with high- and low-range gear ratios. The other offers full-time four-wheel drive, making the Dakota the only smaller pickup to offer this option. The available communication system features, among many other things, a voice-activated navigation system and a 20-gigabyte hard drive to which you can load music, photos and movies (the latter won't play while the truck is in motion). The available cargo box rail with movable tie-down cleats will come in handy when friends need help moving.Under the Hood
Just to put the 2009 Dakota's optional 302-horspower 4.7-liter V8 in perspective, compared to the previous generation (which was also 4.7-liters) it turns out almost a third more horsepower and, with 329 lb.-ft., 13 percent more torque. On top of that, the new V8 gets better fuel mileage and will operate on E85 ethanol-based fuel. The V8 comes fitted only with a five-speed automatic. While it's easy to become infatuated with the Dakota's optional V8, the standard 3.7-liter V6 will provide a rewarding, long-term relationship for most. With 210 horsepower and 235 lb.-ft. of torque, it should easily deal with most light-to-moderate trailer-towing and load-hauling duty.
210 horsepower @ 5200 rpm
235 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/20 (manual, 2WD), 15/20 (automatic, 2WD), 15/19 (manual, 4WD), 14/18 (automatic, 4WD)
302 horsepower @ 5650 rpm
329 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3950 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 14/19 (2WD, gasoline), 9/13 (4WD, E85), 14/19 (4WD, gasoline), 9/12 (4WD, E85)
The lowest-priced Dakota, the ST Extended Cab with rear-wheel drive and a 210-horsepower V6, has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of just over $21,500, and the ST Crew Cab starts at almost $24,500. Each of the other Dakota trim levels increases in steady increments. A fully-optioned Laramie Crew Cab, complete with the 302-horsepower V8, tops out close to $37,000. The Dakota compares very favorably to similarly-equipped versions of the Toyota Tacoma, although its resale values fall far short of the Toyota. A V6 Tacoma Access Cab starts at about $25,000. Be sure to check Fair Purchase Prices to see what buyers are actually paying in your area.