Thanks to a more powerful V-8 option introduced last year, along with other perky V-6 and V-8 engines, the 2009 Dodge Dakota has impressive performance. However, the Dakota doesn't delight reviewers nearly as much in other aspects of its performance.
Reviewers at Edmunds report that the 2009 Dodge Dakota is available with either a "base 3.7-liter V6 with 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque" or an optional "4.7-liter V8 that generates 302 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque." ConsumerGuide attests that "V8 Dakotas have good power in around-town driving, and adequate highway passing reserves," although the V-6-powered Dodge Dakotas "are underpowered for anything but daily commuting and light loads." Automotive.com is a bit easier on the V-6, calling it "a bit light on power," but they add that "the optional V8 is worth every penny." Cars.com appreciates the V-8's power reserves, noting that "maximum towing capacity when properly equipped is 7,050 pounds," which is at the top of the Dodge Dakota's class.
There are three possible transmissions for the 2009 Dodge Dakota, all of which fare well with reviewers. Edmunds says that "the V6 is coupled to a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, while the V8 drives through a modern five-speed automatic." Cars.com reviewers claim that "the V-6 and manual transmission make a nice pair in the Dakota," and despite the "longish throws," the clutch "engages smoothly and is quickly mastered." Automotive.com adds that "the automatic transmission has perfectly spaced ratios for trucking, and works without complaint, roughness or harshness, even in high-rpm full-throttle upshifts." The only major powertrain change for 2009, according to ConsumerGuide, is that the Dodge Dakota "loses its all-wheel-drive option," leaving consumers with the choice of either four- or front-wheel-drive.
EPA estimates for trucks and SUVs are always a bit depressing, but the 2009 Dodge Dakota isn't the worst of the bunch. According to the EPA, a 2WD Dodge Dakota with the six-speed manual should get 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, while the four-speed auto returns a 15/20 mpg rating and the five-speed sits at 14/19 mpg.
As for handling, the Dakota feels marginally more responsive than a full-size crew cab truck. The rack-and-pinion steering has a quick-ratio setup and needs only 3.18 turns to go from lock to lock. This means that when you turn the wheel, there's action on the asphalt, but the suspension floats a lot, so you'll never mistake this for a Miata or a Corvette. Cars.com reports that the Dodge Dakota "steers with light effort thanks to the highly boosted steering system," but "there's not much feedback from the wheel." Car and Driver notes that, due to some chassis revisions, "the ride indeed has become fantastically plush, but as you might imagine, turning response has slowed in equal measure." ConsumerGuide agrees, praising the "smooth and composed" ride but knocking the Dodge Dakota for its "body lean." While the 2009 Dodge Dakota has some worthwhile attributes in the performance category, Car and Driver says that "braking performance leaves a lot to be desired."