The Dodge Dakota is no poseur: it's a workhorse, inside and out. The mid-sized pickup truck has an extended cargo bed with adjustable tie-downs, designed to secure oversized cargo. Stain-resistant upholstery, a two-speed transfer case for off-road driving, and trail rated tires will appeal to people who work hard, play hard, and get dirty in the process.
The test truck is the SLT grade, one of six available trim levels, with a 3.7-liter V6 engine and six-speed manual transmission. The V6 is the smaller of two available powerplants: Dodge also offers a 4.7-liter V8 that's flex fuel compatible. While it's no hot rod, the 210-horsepower V6 has enough torque (235 foot-pounds) to haul or tow big loads. A two-speed transfer case and special off-road tires make the Dakota capable of crawling over extremely uneven terrain.
The overdrive gears in the manual transmission give the Dakota pretty good fuel economy considering its size: about 17 miles-per-gallon for combined highway and city driving. But buyers considering the manual transmission should remember that truck clutches are not like car clutches. Be prepared for a fairly stiff pedal and long throw, with a long shift column on the center console. Commuters should think seriously about upgrading to the optional four-speed automatic transmission.
Power rack-and-pinion steering makes the Dakota easy to maneuver, despite its relatively large footprint. There are some slight blind spots to the rear caused by wide C pillars in the extended cab: it took some getting used to backing into parking spots. I didn't have problems with visibility while maneuvering through traffic.
Eighteen-inch wheels are standard on the test truck: an upgrade from sixteen-inch rims on the base model. The Dakota comes with a full-sized spare tire: a must for people who plan to use the truck off road.
The gearbox works well for those who don't mind standing on the clutch in traffic. There is no obvious gear lash, and all of the gears are easy to find. I didn't use sixth gear much around town, but it helped stretch the fuel economy on a longer highway trips. Redundant cruise control buttons on the steering wheel are easy to engage and disengage.
Four channel antilock brakes coupled with an anti-spin rear axle differential prevent the back end from breaking loose on wet roads. The chassis feel well balanced, even when the cargo bed is empty. The brakes are firm and linear without being grabby.