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Back for another model year while it awaits a date with the retirement home, the Dodge Dakota--Chrysler's mid-size pickup truck--returns for the 2011 model year with very few changes.
The changes are so few, in fact, while the big Ram pickup gets its own brand, the Dakota doesn't follow suit. However, the changes are important ones: side curtain airbags and anti-lock brakes now are standard on all versions.
In other respects, the Dakota's the same truck that was revamped in 2008 with an angular look and a new interior. It's still available with either a six-cylinder or an eight-cylinder engine, a manual or an automatic transmission, and with a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive.The Dakota takes on the styling of basic work trucks, and gets it right, down to the industrial-grade interior. Square-jawed and box-tailed, the Dodge mid-size pickup grew plainer and more cheap-looking in the 2008 redo. It's relentlessly Spartan inside, with black plastic barely parting the way for big, white-face gauges, a vintage-looking green-LCD audio display, and Playskool-sized climate-control knobs.
The Dakota has more power on tap than poise. There's almost no reason to stand for the standard 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6. Rumbly and a little weak, the six has no better gas mileage than the optional 302-hp, 4.7-liter V-8--and the six is paired with an outdated four-speed automatic or a trucky six-speed manual transmission. The V-8 is a far better choice, what with its identical 15/20 mpg fuel economy (14/18 mpg with four-wheel drive) and its superior five-speed automatic. Handling, braking and steering are adequate, if a little floaty.
Bigger than the Ford Ranger and GMC Canyon/Chevrolet Colorado, the Dakota stacks up against the Nissan Frontier, the Toyota Tacoma, and the Honda Ridgeline. At times, the 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.
Two body styles include an extended cab with a cargo area behind rear-hinged rear doors, and a true four-door Crew Cab. An available Crate 'N Go system has custom removable containers that fit under the rear seat for holding gear. 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.
The Dakota's safety score should rise this year because of the addition of standard curtain airbags and anti-lock brakes. However, neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has released their new ratings.
The Dakota could be a fair choice for small businesses, but the Nissan Frontier offers better packaging and better powertrains. If you're still undecided, get an in-depth look at the Dodge truck in our most recent full review of the Dodge Dakota.