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 engine. Edmunds notes the 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." The V-6 feels rumbly and a little weak on the uptake and doesn't have any fuel-efficiency edge on the optional V-8, reviewers note. ConsumerGuide attests that "V8 Dakotas have good power in around-town driving, and adequate highway passing reserves," although the V-6-propelled Dodge Dakotas "are underpowered for anything but daily commuting and light loads." Cars.com appreciates the V-8's power reserves, noting "maximum towing capacity when properly equipped is 7,050 pounds," which is at the top of the Dodge Dakota's class.
The six-cylinder engine comes with either an outdated four-speed automatic or a trucky six-speed manual transmission, while the V-8 teams up with a well-sorted five-speed automatic. Edmunds says "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 feels the "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."
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. 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." The brakes are adequate discs and drums; Car and Driver says "braking performance leaves a lot to be desired."