So you want a pickup truck, but you’re not ready, or able, to manage a full-size half-ton monster. Maybe you lack driveway space or the extra cash necessary to purchase a larger truck, or perhaps it’s just too big for you to handle. Well, we’ve got some great news for you! Ram is bringing back the wildly popular mid-size Dakota pickup for 2021, and rumors are swirling that it’s going to be impressive. Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself, where is the Ram dealer near me? We agree!
While the folks at Ram are staying mum about the new Dakota, we expect it will arrive sometime later this year or early in 2021, debuting as a 2022 model. This throwback to a classic that bore the Dodge nameplate in its previous life is the continuation of a trend. We’re seeing more and more manufacturers resurrecting former models. Nowhere is this more evident than the mid-size pickup segment. Ford’s Ranger is already on the market, and that’s the prime potential competitor for this new Ram Dakota.
There is no ‘official’ announcement, so we’re left to speculate on the details. Let’s take a look at some of the Dakota rumors that are swirling around the automotive landscape and try to piece together what we can expect. It’s an exciting time in the automotive industry, and the beneficiary of all this activity is you, the car (and truck) buying consumer.
The Dakota’s History
The Dakota premiered as a Dodge way back in 1986 as a 1987 model and was called a Dodge Dakota until the last two years it was in production, when it became a Ram. The last Dakota rolled off the assembly line in 2011. It occupied a unique spot in the pickup landscape, as it was smaller than the full-size half-ton pickups but bigger than its compact competitors, like the Ranger and the Chevy S-10. For that reason, the Dakota enjoyed robust sales.
The early Dakota was also the only mid-size pickup that was available with a V8 engine. Dodge gave buyers plenty of options as the model years rolled on, including two bed sizes, several additional engines, including a 4-cylinder, and the addition of fuel injection to the standard V6. Buyers could even buy a convertible version in 1989! This unusual body configuration was not popular with only a couple thousand sold, but it spoke to Dodge’s attempt to personalize and customize the vehicle in order for it to maintain a broad appeal.
Other highlights of the Dakota’s model range were the addition of an R/T (short for Road and Track) trim line, which debuted in 1998 and was available until 2003. The R/T turned the Dakota into a street truck with rear wheel drive and a big 5.90-liter V8 engine that put out 250 horsepower. Combined with a special sport suspension, performance exhaust, and special wheels, the Dakota R/T appealed to a niche group of drivers looking for a sporty vehicle but also loved the pickup style.
The third and last generation Dakota saw the removal of a regular cab option, and instead the truck was offered in just a club cab and quad cab configuration. Debuting in 2005, this generation Dakota was offered in three basic models: the ST or base, the SLT, and the top-of-the-line Laramie. In 2011, the Dakota was discontinued, with Chrysler Group citing a lack of demand in the compact and mid-size pickup truck category as the reason.
What The Car Guys Are Saying
Whenever we dig into a rumored vehicle launch, we check multiple sources in order to spot overlaps in what’s being reported. Generally, if more than one journalist is reporting the same rumor, it has a better chance of coming to fruition. It’s with this in mind that our investigation began and what we’ve uncovered has us very excited to see what the team at Ram ends up offering.
It’s noteworthy to take a quick look at the full-size line of Ram pickups. That’s because they were just redesigned in 2019, which means they’re fresh both in exterior style and appearance, with available safety and infotainment technology. We can speculate that Ram will continue the same styling cues on the new Dakota in order to maintain a consistent look across the entire pickup model range. We’ll probably see a similar grille pattern, lots of interior space for front and rear-seat passengers, high technology dash and touchscreen options, and a shorter bed to mitigate for size differences.
Some speculate that the Jeep Gladiator holds some clues. Jeep and Ram are owned by the same parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), and it’s not unusual for these multi-brand conglomerates to share parts and main vehicle components – such as engines – across multiple brands. If this holds true, then it’s likely we can figure out what to expect for powertrain options on the Dakota. We know the Gladiator is available with a 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 engine. It’s a blend of great performance – offering 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque – and fuel economy. On the Gladiator, this engine offers 16 MPG city and 23 MPG highway. It’s definitely not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s something to consider. A diesel engine option is coming for the Gladiator in 2021, which will bump both horsepower and torque, so we’re keeping our eye on that for the Dakota as well.
Rumors are swirling that the Dakota may fall in the $30,000 price range, but because we can’t confirm this, it’s important to remember that at this stage these are only rumors. It’s probably fair to guess that Ram will price the Dakota below the least expensive Ram 1500, which comes in at over $30,000. Vehicles under any nameplate have to make sense from a size and price standpoint. We may see some overlap on the higher end Dakota trim lines and the lower end Ram 1500 trim lines, but the price differential when comparing base models of each should be wide enough to create a clear line of difference.
As far as cab configurations, we don’t think a standard two-seater cab is in the cards. They’re no longer popular because pickup truck drivers want a back seat passenger option. If that’s the case, we should see a small and large cab configuration. If we look at capability, we only have the Gladiator’s numbers to go on. That vehicle is capable of towing up to 8,000 pounds, so maybe that’s a good best-case scenario. The Gladiator is very heavy due to its off-roading capability, so Ram will likely lighten the Dakota to achieve better fuel economy and save manufacturing costs, making the Dakota more affordable.
We may not know everything, but with a few educated guesses we can start to piece together what the new Dakota might look like, how it will fit into the Ram family of trucks, and what we might expect for performance, capability, and price. We certainly think the new Dakota will very effectively compete in the mid-size pickup category. With the Ram name and the benefit of its styling and focus on driver comfort, the latest technology, and towing/hauling capability, our speculations have us feeling impatient to see the real deal.