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A grey 2020 Ram 1500's front grille, which is what the 2021 Ram Dakota's front grille may look like, is shown.

The New 2021 Ram Dakota Prototype Is Revealed: What We Know and What We Don’t

Rumors are flying about the upcoming 2021 Ram Dakota. Fans of the model that stopped production in 2011 might be excited about a new line of Dakotas, but those who loved the old version may be discouraged from learning this will be a mid-size truck with new styling. Thus far, prototypes have been seen and talked about in some circles, and mystery still shrouds the details of what might be sprouting from the heavily-guarded secrecy of the production line. Still, there are a few facts to share in amongst the curious guesses of amateurs and pros alike.

Overview

One thing is absolutely certain: the new Dakota will be a mid-size truck, and this is from the authority of Ram’s CEO. Comparisons to the Jeep Gladiator are being made by various sources. If you’re not familiar with the Jeep Gladiator, this is a sort of crossover between a Jeep and a truck. The back end of the Jeep has a small truck-like bed, towing capability, and cargo capacity of a truck, which is married to the off-road agility of a Jeep Rubicon. Comparing the Dakota to the Gladiator is a tall order, for sure, since the Gladiator has won best-in-class awards for towing and payload, and Jeep is a well-loved brand.

If the Dakota plans to make its mark on the crossover of mid-size truck meshed with off-roading abilities, one possible win could be the pricing. Jeeps are high-priced vehicles, so if the Dakota can manage to come in at the speculated $25,000+ range, then it may be able to compete with a well-loved brand like Jeep. Then again, if it really can’t stand up to the Jeep’s performance, it may not matter.

All the Jeep comparisons could be misleading, however. A mid-size truck generally isn’t so much about off-roading. The real comparisons are more likely to come down to other trucks. Chevy Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, and Ford Ranger are all closer in class to what Ram may be planning to reveal when the time is right. Buyers seeking truck capabilities without the expense of ravenous gas tanks and the higher price tags for the bigger engines and payloads may want something a little different to show up in the field of similarities where mid-size trucks currently live.

A spy shot of a 2021 Ram Dakota is shown driving on a highway.

Engine, Drivetrain, and Frame

A prototype of the 2021 Dakota has been seen, and one curious feature has the attention of truck enthusiasts: roll-over bars extend from the back of the cab to the end of the truck bed. The notion of the bars is that they provide a stiffer structure to the vehicle, making it more akin to an SUV or Jeep frame due to the stability provided by the bars. Also noteworthy is the shorter bed on the new prototype, which echoes the Jeep Gladiator’s appearance.

Though more options could be available, a 3.6-liter V6 engine is most likely to power this truck with the possibility of diesel as well. An 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual seem to be the contenders for transmission options. Like most trucks, the Dakota is expected to come with either rear-wheel drive or as a 4×4. At one time, the plan was to share the steel frame of the Jeep but give the Dakota an independent suspension. Whether or not this is still the case is up in the air. Photos of the prototype indicate the Dakota will sit fairly low, which causes one to ponder how this will fare if it leaves the road, further indicating this is probably not the intended purpose of the vehicle.

Styling and Interior

Some experts suspect the styling to mimic the Ram 1500, though the expected price range may not allow for the same kind of upscale interior. Again, the prototype seen recently had four doors for the extended cab, and it’s still uncertain if the cab or box size will vary if several models appear. Indications that the option of either four- or two-door cabs, and either long or short boxes would be available were once the intention. Plans change with time, so not even this aspect of the new Ram Dakota can be assured. Recalling the Dakota of almost a decade ago, the interior of the cab had comfortable front seats, an in-dash screen, cupholders, and storage cubbies. It stands to reason that such niceties could survive and improve with time.

Any car company in today’s market knows that driver-assisted software and infotainment are must-haves. Looking at the new Ram 1500s, even the least expensive model is a luxury vehicle far more expensive in the projected price than the Dakota. Technology has to be part of the package, and the market will expect a touchscreen with options like navigation, Bluetooth capability, and smartphone connectivity, but will Ram provide these as standard features or as expensive add-ons? Will buyers get heated seats, or will this feature be an option? Only the reveal will tell.

A blue 2011 Dodge Dakota is driving on a highway.

Safety

The addition of rollover bars already points to plans for a sturdy frame, and the suspicion that the Dakota may be built in the same factory as the Jeep is fairly well-known by now. But what about other safety features? Once again, the Ram 1500 is the closest comparison we have for the US market. Features like 360-degree camera views, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, guided parking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-path and trailering detection all come with the Ram 1500. Depending on what goes into the price of the rest of production, the market demands that at least some of these safety features would come standard. The question is whether or not Ram can fit them into the budget.

Aside from the technology, a crew cab can mean the vehicle is intended for family use. At this stage of car production, all vehicles come standard with a curtain of airbags in case of collision. Many vehicles also come standard with latch points or safety harnesses for children in the back seats. A mid-size truck is not meant to be used for heavy-duty work and is more typically purchased for light-duty, the convenience of transporting, or light towing. No doubt, Ram has looked at the intended buyer and thought about what aspects of safety or interior comfort will cause a buyer to lean in the direction of a mid-size pick-up.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that the message being released by Ram’s CEO is that the company knows they need to produce a mid-size truck in order to fill a gap in their market. All the major truck companies have them, and Ram probably realizes they need to be slick about what they deliver in order to stand out from the crowd. One certain aspect of the Ram truck customer is that the buyer base is loyal. Ram trucks have built a brand, their customers love and trust, and it stands to reason that when the new Dakota hits the market, their buyers will be excited. As long as Ram doesn’t get too inventive for their own good, a mid-size truck will most likely be a welcome addition to their current offerings. The rumor mill is grinding fast now that 2020 has arrived, and the potential for the 2021 lines of vehicles is growing closer. Only time will tell what Ram will reveal when they finally unveil the 2021 Ram Dakota.

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