2010 Dodge Dakota

The last 10 years brought marked advances in power, handling, safety and creature comforts to the half-ton truck. Apparently no one told the Dakota, which is still partying like it’s 1999. Jeff asked me not to use the term “piece of shit truck” in a review, but what he didn’t realize is that I meant it as a compliment. The Dakota feels like it’s from 10 years ago, but for a lot of truck buyers, that’s good thing.

Exterior Riverbed (4)

Dodge lent us a 4×4 extended cab Dakota Big Horn powered by a 302hp 4.7L V8. Our tester benefited from the much-needed facelift applied back in ’08, remedying the unfortunate “fat lip” look from ’04 that followed the handsome late ’90s styling. It came in a shade of blue perfect to run alongside Red and White, sporting 18″ wheels. Wrapped in 265/60 R18 Goodyears, the 18″ wheels look proportionally appropriate in the wheel wells; without reading the sidewalls, you might guess they were 16″s. The sticker read $34k, but based on current incentives, you’d be likely to grab one for under 30.

Exterior Riverbed (10)

I was expecting a 302 horsepower truck with a 3.92:1 limited slip rear differential to have more kick off the line. It handled rolling acceleration (like an on-ramp) just fine, but not so much from a stop. Then, while driving with the windows down and the stereo off, I realized the Goodyear RSAs don’t make much noise when they spin. Sorry Officer.

Dashboard (5)Dashboard (4)

Before doing my homework, I was under the impression that the 4.7L V8 in the Dakota was just a smaller version of the 5.7L HEMI. Not so. It’s actually a unique overhead cam architecture. It’s paired with Dodge’s 545RFE 5-speed auto, in which both 4th and 5th are overdrive (.75:1 and .67:1, respectively). The tall overdrive is great for freeway cruising, but given it’s small displacement and OHC design, the motor really needs to rev when it’s time to pass or climb. Unfortunately, the column shifter only offers “D”, “Tow/Haul” and “2” when it comes to forward motion. As such, long climbs require precise throttle pedal control to keep it in 3rd or 4th. The cop-edition Charger’s stalk-mounted autoshifter would be a welcome addition for picking a gear and holding it.

Exterior Riverbed (13)Exterior Riverbed (12)

When taken down a bumpy dirt road, the Dakota’s rear end hopped and jittered all over the place. In short, it rode like a truck. Whether in four wheel drive or two, the tires were constantly hunting for grip in loose dirt. Back on pavement it still hopped and jittered, just like any other truck from 10 years ago. Like all trucks sprung stiffly enough for real work (this Dakota will tow nearly 7,000lbs), it would benefit greatly from about 200 pounds dropped in the bed. With future pickups we’ll do our best to find some excuse to load them up, but due to scheduling issues, the heaviest load I subjected the Dakota’s bed to was a 40lb bag of dog food (which, for the record, it handled without issue).

Rear Seat Space (7)Rear Seat Space (2)

The Dakota continues the midsize truck tradition of laughably uncomfortable and cramped rear seats. Think of them as people carriers of last resort in a trunk that’s really there to hold miscellaneous gear. A real and true gripe about the backseat space: the floor’s not flat, but a split level that leaves a uselessly small plateau at each level. This is a problem if you’d like to be able to stack things without them spilling or if you’re Buddy the dog. Unless an extra 14″ of bed is critical, we strongly recommend the crew cab version with it’s 5’4″ bed.

Drivers SeatCenter Console (4)Center Console (1)

Things get better in the front seats. The driver’s seat was the most comfortable budget cloth seat I’ve been in in some time. The stereo does a great job adapting to The Modern World while still being just a stereo. It’s got satellite radio, a 6-disc changer and an aux jack, but no giant screen or combo nav/HVAC nonsense to mess with. It can be cranked to make-your-ears-bleed loud and still deliver dang good sound quality thanks to tweeters on the A-pillars and what look like subs in the rear doors.

InteriorDashboard (1)

In place of a large glove box, Dodge offers the passenger a large bin for miscellanea. This is a nice touch when your significant other wants to do her makeup on the way to Monster Jam. No eyeliner pencils rolling down the defroster vents. Below the dash, there’s a voluminous center console and a host of cup holders and bins. If you’re running out of places to put things in the Dakota, you’ve got a hoarding disorder. We’d be remiss in our duties as automotive journalists if we didn’t point out that the quality of the plastic bits that make up these storage cubbies is decidedly behind industry standards for “good enough”. It’s one thing to use cheaper, harder materials; it’s another to leave massive, scratch-your-hand-big seams on every parting line.


Not long ago, we hooned the crap out of evaluated the Infiniti FX50, coming away with nothing but praise for it’s handling, power and road manners, but had a hard time recommending it as an actual purchase, given what else you could get for the money. The 2010 Dakota is the opposite. It’s a dated truck with a mediocre interior and lousy handling, but it’s very high on the my list of potential purchases. Why? Because it’s a basic truck that’ll fit in a parking space, tow a car or bounce its way down a trail, no problem; exactly what I need.
Check out the rest of our pictures here, or click through to see them on flickr.

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  1. CaptainZeroCool Avatar

    And to think they only sold a little over 10,000 units last year…

  2. tonyola Avatar

    It's a little hard to justify a new Dakota when for around the same money, you can get a decently-equipped Ford F150 4×4 Supercab. The only advantage to the Dakota I can see is that it's slightly smaller. That is offset by the fact it's from the New New Hanging-On-By-Fingernails Chrysler with all of the implied quality issues and long-tern scariness. Wouldn't you rather have the Ford?

  3. Alff Avatar

    25 years ago, a good thing. 10? Not so much.

  4. lilwillie Avatar

    The answer to the question no one asked. They can't pull a real load, they can't haul a real load. It isn't really a work truck and it get terrible mileage compared to larger trucks.
    I've never been a fan of the midsize trucks. Either make it a small utility truck like the early S-10's and Rangers or make it a real truck like a 2500HD. This half ass truck market just makes for people pissing and moaning they get crappy mileage while replacing transmissions every 50K because they tried to haul a load intended for a real truck.
    Now, just make it a 2wd performance truck for people, that I can get on board with. At least it knows then what it is trying to do.

    1. boxdin Avatar

      My reg cab short bed V8 5sp Dakota fits in garage w motorcycles in front of it, gets 20mpg in town, 23 hwy, has a 9.25 rear w posi, hauls an honest 2100 lbs in the bed; (GVW 5900 minus 3800 weight shown on title) which is more than some 3/4 ton trucks, has 4 wheel large disc brakes, and when its empty it drives like a sports car on challenging roads. It has a 5th wheel hitch and has hauled a 21ft Shadow Cruiser 5th wheel weighing 3500 lbs with ease at 80 mph. I can't think of a better truck for my needs, but all needs are different which is what you don't get.
      Only drawback is it holds two people only, which is fine w the Wife & I.

  5. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    Honestly, I'd probably rather have the Dodge. Where I am, having a full-size drivetrain in a smaller package is a real plus. My ownership experiences with trucks have been Dodge = Chevy >> Ford.

  6. Maymar Avatar

    In what's probably a rather telling sign, Chrysler didn't bother to bring a Dakota to several of the Canadian auto shows, and admitted since there's really no price or fuel economy advantage over the Ram, most people aren't interested in it. And yet, I like it. A lot. Except being narrower, it's about the size of my '90 F-150, which was more than big enough for me (granted, given my needs, an old VW Caddy is a little big). I dig the earlier years of this generation with the six speed, since it's about as close to perfect for my needs as I can expect.

  7. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    A confession: my sister had a 1st generation crew-cab with the 4.7. It was black, with custom wheels and bitchin' exhaust.
    It was probably the 2nd best truck my family ever had. I was very sad when she sold it, because I was trying to find some way to rationalize buying it myself.

  8. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    The argument you're making, I usually apply to half-tons. Basically, if you need to do lots of real hauling, you should be using a 3/4 ton b/c your 1/2 ton's gonna crap out on you.
    But…if you need to do V8-grade hauling every once and a while (like, say, the frequency of LeMons races in California), but still live in a town in which the ever-growing fullsize is a tight squeeze (like, say, LA), it's a pretty decent option. Namely, 1/2 ton drivetrain in a smaller-than-half-ton package.
    Of course, if you live somewhere where there's no size penalty, then yeah, the full-size is definitely a better value in terms of pounds of truck/dollar.

  9. ptschett Avatar

    A few thoughts from a current Dakota owner:
    -The Dakota's chassis and powertrain engineering wouldn't look out of place in the construction equipment engineering departments I've worked in. It has more steel in it than it needs, but that was probably cheaper than designing to a smaller safety factor. Also they used proven parts from the corporate bin that might be heavier than strictly needed but shouldn't cause downtime in the lighter application. (Does a Dakota really need the NP231HD transfer case or Mopar 9.25" rear axle? Probably not, but that's what it got.)
    -The 4.7 is supposed to be the last engine that began as an AMC project. That gets it a few points in my book.
    -"Goodyear" is the important factor in the lack of traction, IMO. My '05 Dakota's Wrangler RT/S's were crap. When they were only half worn out I went for some Firestone Destination A/T's, and now that the Firestones are due for replacement I still feel like I get around better than I ever did on the Goodyears, on-highway or not.
    -That rear cab floor is irritating. The upper tier is a steel structure where the jack lives in an odd little pocket under the right rear seat, and on mine there's an electronic module of some kind toward the middle. I end up leaving the seats down figuring that if something's too big, heavy or messy to put on the seat then it belongs in the box anyway. (I can see how that's hard to do with the dog, though.)

    1. boxdin Avatar

      The last tough Dakota was the 2004 models. For 05 it was far more mitsubushi and has a much different chassis. A identical Mitsu truck was added for 05 also, that should tell you guys lots. I really use my 2004 to haul heavy loads & trailers from time to time. Its the strongest mid size truck there ever was, and Dodge/Ram were wrong to dump it.

  10. lilwillie Avatar

    I usually apply it to the 1/2 tons also. They really aren't "trucks" like a truck from the past. The ride has been softened to make for a family using it as a daily driver. I think we both think a real truck begins at 3/4 ton.
    I can see the guys wanting it for the occasional hauling. A boat, small trailer, small race car. But I know they never stop there, they think they have a truck, and suddenly I see a Bobcat being hauled by it and just shake my head.
    Still. For the Dakota, and what it can do, your money is better spent on a true 1/2 IMO. Of course they've almost made the Dakota a true 1/2 ton…

  11. Jim Brennan Avatar
    Jim Brennan

    I've never been a fan of this generation of Dakota. However, I did a posting on one of the hottest editions of the previous generation, the Dakota 5.9 R/T. Read the article here:http://blog.cardomain.com/2010/02/04/cardomain-ob
    <img src="http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/3/2886/3104/32214051791_large.jpg&quot; alt="" />

  12. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    More like newer half-tons are closer to 3/4s in terms of size and weight and engine power…but not transmission or axle beef.
    Blows my mind to see Chevies with nearly 400hp 6.0L engines and a 10-bolt rearend. Stupid 10 bolt.
    I'd still prefer the mid-size to a full-size half ton for what I'd do with it, but for most people in most places, you're probably more right than I am. Sales numbers reflect this.

  13. Maymar Avatar

    Not to be a buzzkill, but that engine didn't come out until '99, so I doubt there's any AMC relation (that would have been cooler though). On the other hand, it's sort of cool to know these are a little overbuilt.

  14. ChuckyShamrok Avatar

    2000, my 99' Dakota has the old LA block 318

  15. Maymar Avatar

    Yeah, but they started it out in the 2nd gen Grand Cherokee, which came out in '99.

  16. ChuckyShamrok Avatar

    My father SWEARS by Dakotas. When he was still working his first pickup he bought was a GMC S15, He hated that and constantly had problems with it. After than he bought a first Gen Dakota, which is now owned by a fire department the next city over and we still see it around. He has bought two Dakotas since. I bought the second gen off him. Love the truck. It has 203,500 miles on it and completely original drivetrain and looks like it has less than half that millage. It fits pretty well in more built up areas. My father worked in Boston, and I drive into and park in Boston quite often, and it's never been a problem parking the truck in the city. It was abused and treated like a real truck hauling tools around, bouncing down dirt roads, Pulling tractors out of mud and stumps out of the ground and still runs strong, gets terrible gas millage though. and with the 5.2 in it, it hauls ass when compared other non Hi-Po trucks. Also, interior wise, I find the interior in my truck is much nicer and roomier than my friend's 2010 Corolla (What can I say, he's not a car person)

  17. ptschett Avatar

    Yeah it's hard to believe since the engine came out so long after the merger. Here's the sources I'm going by:
    Bob Sheaves on Allpar (a former Chrysler engineer)
    another engineer (unnamed)

  18. ZomBee Racer Avatar

    Nice writeup man! I got me one of them, a red 98 club. It's one of about 500 clubs/1,500 total that year. Got my first (and second) speeding ticket in the thing, which is a whole 'nother story in itself. Thanks for making my day!

  19. dakota :-( Avatar
    dakota 🙁

    I am glad it gets bad gas mileage like a full size truck, but all the smallness of a compact truck! best of both worlds!

  20. pats91 Avatar

    No kidding.
    My 06 V6 2WDcrewcab Dakota has all the power of a 4 cylinder with the fuel mileage of a V8. Thank god it's a company vehicle and they pay for the gas. Mine has averaged about 17.3 over its 97k miles, only gets about 1.5 mpg better than the 5.4 powered 2000 F-150 7700 it replaced.
    The smaller size does make parking easier, especially in more urban areas. Even with four full doors, forget hauling 4 adults in this truck.
    Like ptschett, getting rid of the OEM goodyears made the the truck better in every situation, especially in the rain.

  21. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    Re: Mileage. Got 17.6 while making no effort whatsoever to conserve fuel.

  22. acollins Avatar

    The new dakota is not one of the best trucks in the market right now. In fairness to dodge though, it has benefited a lot from the refresh in that it looks like a proper pickup now.