It’s always nice when a road test can be done in nice sunny weather. Not only do you get the best pictures, but you can explore a vehicle’s performance. When the vehicle being tested is more about real world utility though, perhaps a bit of inclement weather is just what’s needed to show the real world character of the vehicle. We’re driving a 2008 Dodge Dakota SXT this week and as luck would have it, old man winter decided to deal an early dose of the white stuff.
Our extended cab tester model comes with utility and cargo packages, which means it has all the goodies needed to make this a solid work truck, with extra seating in the back for the kiddies. Even with flex fuel capability, the 4.7 L V8 puts a whopping 302 horsepower through a 5 speed automatic transmission. That 5 speed is a good thing, as this truck is tow ready with a 3.92 rear end with limited slip. I shudder to think what fuel economy would be like with an old school 3 speed! As it sits, the Dakota is rated to tow 7,100 pounds, making it a perfect choice for the club racer or contractor who doesn’t want a full size truck.
Over the past 3 days, southern Ontario has had a real roller coaster of weather, from sunny and warm on Tuesday, torrential rain yesterday and snowy today. With those changes, it has been interesting to note that the extended cab Dakota is a distinctly different vehicle in each set of conditions.
On a dry day, the Dakota is calm and reserved on the road. Not overly exciting, but firm enough to feel a bit sporty and remind the driver that this is a work truck. Press on the loud pedal however and Mr. Hyde makes an appearance. The gentle V8 rumble turns to an aggressive snarl as the truck lunges ahead at the urging of those 302 ponies. With gas prices reaching $1.07 (roughly $4.28 a gallon) a liter here in Ontario this week, I only introduced myself to Mr. Hyde a couple of times, instead preferring to drive like a little old man with the cruise control set to 100 kmh.
With the monsoon we had yesterday, a totally different side of the Dakota became evident. What do you get when you combine 302 horsepower, a limited slip rear differential, an empty pick up truck and rain drenched rural roads at just above freezing? You get a giant rear wheel drive rally car! More than a few driving enthusiasts will take issue with me for this, I’m sure, but the average consumer would benefit greatly from the addition of traction control on this beast. Otherwise, the drive was just grand given the conditions.
Having spent the drive home last night honing my oversteer reactions, I wasn’t looking forward to a drive into the city on ice covered snow this morning. I needn’t have worried. I engaged 4 hi before pulling out of the driveway and was pleasantly surprised. With power split front to back, the Dakota moved off smartly, without any issues. Before I hit the main roads, a quick brake check showed that the truck actually bites well and the abs is unobtrusive. The long wheelbase ensured that even without snow tires, the Dakota tracks well through the snow and isn’t fazed by lane changes on the snow rutted highway.
Other reviewers seem to have offered mixed reviews of the 08 Dakota’s on road performance. Some call it mushy and lacking precision, while others feel the the suspension changes Dodge has made the truck far more refined and comfortable. From my view, the extended cab is aimed more at the single guy with toys or a contractor than as a dual purpose family vehicle. On the road, it is comfortable enough, yet there is no forgetting it’s a work truck. The incredible drivetrain offers enough oomph to be just as happy when driven in a spirited manner as it is towing a boat.