- Big enough for most truck tasks
- Powerful V-8 as frugal as the V-6
- Cargo-friendly cabin with wide-opening doors
- Unsettled handling
- Anti-lock brakes optional on base truck
- Poor crash-test scores
The 2010 Dodge Dakota could be a fine full-size pickup alternative, but its lack of standard safety gear, sloppy handling, and low-grade fit and finish knock it out of contention.
The 2010 Dodge Dakota is a survivor. In 2009, the Chrysler Group filed for bankruptcy, and few expected the aging Dakota to make it through the proceedings. It's still here-for a couple more years, at least. The Dakota returns mostly unchanged from 2009, after a thorough revamp in 2008. It's offered in extended and crew cab models, with a choice of six- or eight-cylinder engines, manual or automatic transmissions, and rear- or four-wheel drive. With a base price of $22,755, the Dakota is a good deal larger than the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins and the aged Ford Ranger. It competes more directly with the Nissan Frontier, the Toyota Tacoma, and the Honda Ridgeline. Some versions overlap full-size pickups with price tags above $33,000.
The 2010 Dodge Dakota aims for a tough styling take on basic work trucks, and it succeeds-but it's a little institutional. The Dakota wears the same angular look it's borne for the past decade, with the boxier shapes fitted to it in 2008. Square-jawed even from the back, this latest Dodge truck bucked the usual trend and grew plainer and more cheap-looking when it was last revamped. The wide crosshair grille instantly telegraphs "Dodge" to truck buyers, and the Dakota's flat panels and mid-size dimensions give it some of the big-boy stance of the larger, more lavish Ram trucks-as do the hulking fenders. There's a slight wing on the rear end for minor aerodynamic improvement, but it's the equivalent of an extra eyelash on the Ironman. Humble on the outside, the Dakota is relentlessly Spartan inside, with a sea of black plastic pieces barely taking a commercial break to expose big, white-face gauges, an Eighties-vintage green-LCD audio display, and friendly, old-school climate-control knobs.
The 2010 Dakota performs acceptably, with more power than poise. It's one of just two mid-size pickups that can be ordered with a V-8 engine (GM sells the other), and as such it's a rare breed. Other than price, in fact, there's almost no reason to stick with the standard 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6. It's rumbly and a little weak on the uptake and doesn't have any fuel-efficiency edge on the optional 302-hp, 4.7-liter V-8. The six-cylinder engine comes with either an outdated four-speed automatic or a trucky six-speed manual transmission, while the V-8 teams up with a well-sorted five-speed automatic. With either engine and any transmission, the rear-drive editions of the 2010 Dakota scores 15/20 mpg EPA gas-mileage numbers, regardless of body style. Four-wheel-drive Dakotas slip further behind the competition at 14/18 mpg-mostly because both the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier still offer four-cylinder engines. Handling is perhaps a bit better than you would expect, thanks to a quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering setup, but the suspension is prone to excessive floating. However, given the truck's weight (more than 4,500 pounds), you can't expect it to handle like a sports sedan. The brakes are adequate discs and drums.
The 2010 Dodge Dakota feels like a full-size pickup, though with a wheelbase of 131.3 inches, it's still a notch smaller than the true Rams and Titans of the realm. There's a two-passenger Extended Cab, with a comfortable pair of front seats, a small cargo area behind them accessible through rear access doors, and an optional and uncomfortable jump seat for five-person emergencies. There's also a six-passenger Crew Cab with four doors and two rows of seats. The Crew Cab's rear seats fold up to create storage space, a helpful option since the seats themselves have nearly vertical backrests and aren't comfortable for more than an hour of driving. Upgraded seats are fitted to the top two Dakota models. The best features of the Dakota's cab are the Crate 'N Go system, which features custom removable containers that fit under the rear seat, allowing gear to be organized and contained within the truck without rolling around, and a useful and space-efficient center console, which incorporates cup holders with modular inserts and a pull-out bin specifically designed to hold electronics such as an MP3 player (which may be plugged into any of the Dodge Dakota's audio systems), cell phone, or PDA. In back, the Dakota offers a 6.6-foot bed on extended cab trucks and a 5.3-foot bed on the Crew Cab, and both have built-in utility rails. Quality should be closely inspected by prospective buyers; the Dakota's fit and finish improved in 2008, but the interior feels low-grade, and the Dakota's repair history has been spotty.
The 2010 Dakota fails to improve on one of the worst safety scores handed out by TheCarConnection.com. The Dakota performs well in crash tests done at NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), earning five-star ratings for front and side impact protection. The insurance industry-funded IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), though, puts the Dakota's performance on extended-cab trucks at only "acceptable" for frontal impacts, and doesn't rate its side-impact performance. Crew Cab Dakotas earn a "good" rating for frontal impact protection, but only a "marginal" rating for side impacts. The scores are low-and the base Dakota omits many safety features found on almost every other new vehicle sold in America. The base Dakota has dual front airbags and rear-wheel anti-lock brakes-but no four-wheel anti-lock braking, no side airbags, and no curtain airbags, even at its $22,000 base price.
Standard features on the 2010 Dodge Dakota are few at the low end of the price spectrum, but the expensive versions fare better than most mid-size trucks. Base 2010 Dakota pickups have cloth upholstery; air conditioning; a CD player; cargo-bed utility rails; and on Crew Cabs, split-folding 60/40 rear seats. Higher trim levels add on standard cruise control; off-road trim; automatic headlamps; leather seating; and premium audio with Sirius service. A navigation system with a music hard drive, dubbed MyGIG, is an option on some Dakotas, as are real-time traffic, an iPod adapter, and Bluetooth connectivity.