- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2008

If you’re looking for a powerful midsize pickup, then consider the Dodge Dakota. It’s the only pickup in its segment with a V-8 and has a 7,050-towing capability.

The tested truck was the 2008 Dodge Dakota Crew Cab Laramie 4x4. It seats five people comfortably with four-door access and lots of interior room at more than 37 cubic feet. In addition to the Crew Cab, and Extended Cab is offered, which has the largest and longest cargo bed in its class at 6-foot-6-inch.

Dakota is a handsome pickup with a newly styled hood, grille, front fascia, headlamps and rear spoiler. Even the rear tailgate has a mounted spoiler. The 2008 Dodge has built-in cargo-box utility rails, plus there are protective surfaces on top of the cargo box sides.

The interior got my attention. This pickup has an attractive instrument panel and center console topped with eye-catching finishes.

Dodge makes functional use of every inch of space, such as with a storage bin above the glove box. Cupholders are in the center console with modular inserts and pullout bin for electronics. It also has one-touch-down power windows and a remote start key. And I’m sure the heated seats will be appreciated in winter.

Under the hood is a 4.7-liter V-8 engine that produces 302 horsepower, 329 pounds-feet of torque and is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission. The EPA mileage rating is only 14 city and 19 highway.

The Dodge people informed me that the 2008 V-8 has segment-leading horsepower and torque - and is more powerful than the previous 4.7-liter High Output engine.

The reason I could feel the engine smoothness at idle is that it’s enhanced with a new valve-lash adjuster. It also has electronic throttle control. Dodge says the refinement is the result of improvements to the induction system, a lightweight piston-rod assembly and reduced accessory-drive noise through lower accessory-drive speed.

Dakota is equipped with a transfer case featuring two-wheel and four-wheel drive with locked High and Low ranges.

All this is built on a ladder-type frame, with hydroformed main rails fully boxed for strength and rigidity. The 2008 truck has an independent front suspension with coil-over shock absorbers. So much for what Dodge says; all I can say is that it has very comfortable ride and handles easily.

The Dakota Laramie Crew Cab has a base price of $31,100 and is the top-line model in a six-trim lineup. Optional equipment on the tester brought the bottom line to $35,710. One feature that is included as standard on the Laramie is Sirius Satellite.

Yet my main concern with any vehicle I drive is its safety features. This truck doesn’t do too badly in this area either. It has all the expected areas covered with such features as multi-stage airbags, anti-lock brake system, brake/park interlock, child-protection rear doors, constant force retractors, crumple zones, and electronic brake force distribution.

It also has an energy-absorbing steering column, enhanced accident response system, head restraints, height-adjustable seat belts, and interior head impact protection. In a nutshell, it has every area of safety covered.

The government safety rating gives Dakota five-stars for frontal and passenger crash testing, but has yet to be rated for side-impact crash testing. For rollover, it got four stars, which is good for a pickup truck.

If you’re in the market for a midsize pickup truck that’s versatile for work and daily driving comfort, then add the Dakota to your test-drive list.

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