Could the Ram 700 Foreshadow Something Smaller for North America?

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Americans love their pickups but the segment’s sizing has adopted the same methodologies favored by the McNugget industry. Medium-sized trucks are now supersized, leaving full-sized pickups in danger of developing their own gravitational fields. However, it wasn’t all that long ago when the North American market was awash with compact pickups like the original Ford Ranger, Chevrolet S-10, and numerous Japanese alternatives  including the legendary Toyota Hilux (which we just called “the Pickup”). Dodge even had the Dakota for customers who liked D.I.Y. projects but wanted something a little larger and more capable of hauling the necessary materials in a single trip.

Back then, the competition was incredibly fierce. But club cabs gradually evolved into crew cabs and, before anybody knew what happened, every single pickup left on the market had become monstrously large. Though it wasn’t like that everywhere in the world. Plenty of markets still appreciate the handyman’s pickup and Latin America is about to receive an updated one from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It’s called the 2021 Ram 700 and serves as the spiritual successor of the Ram 50/Mitsubishi Mighty Maxx.

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While Jeep’s Gladiator does battle on what remains of the midsize pickup segment until the real Dakota returns, the Ram 700 carries on Chrysler’s legacy of badge engineered micro trucks. It’s based on the (updated for 2020) Fiat Strada and looks decidedly better in its new duds.

On Wednesday, the automaker revealed the 700 for 14 Latin American markets (including Mexico). While FCA expanding its availability south of the border means little for us right now, rumors have been swirling that Ram has been considering getting a small truck onto the North American market for some time. That may end with the assumed 2022 Ram Dakota being slotted in as a middleweight. But the compact pickup segment is basically wide open and ready to serve the automaker that gets there first.

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The Ram 700 would likely need to undergo a few changes were it to be exported here from Brazil, however. Most trims utilize a 1.4-liter inline-four engine that makes a rather sad 84 horsepower and 87 pound-feet of torque. But a 1.3-liter turbo (98 hp/94 lb-ft) is available on the Laramie trim, though it’s likewise front-wheel drive and comes standard with a manual transmission.

None of those should be deal-breakers for someone seeking a budget-conscious work vehicle designed to be used and abused for small-to-medium duty projects. Payloads of “up to” 1,600 lbs are more than enough to haul some lumber, auto parts, or that new dishwasher. But we know some people will be looking at those specs and decide nothing less than 290 hp with 3,000 lbs of payload will suffice  thus forcing themselves into a full-sized truck.

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Of course, anyone interested in towing something larger than a bunch of balloons probably should consider the upgrade. The Ram 700 can only pull about 900 pounds of mass behind itself.

That taken into account, our only serious concern is the size of the bed. While Ram automatically provides the bedliner, it has decided to make all upper-level trims crew cabs by default. That leaves customers with 24.4 cubic feet of cargo volume, whereas the base cabin offers 40.3 cubic feet, and places them into an unwinnable decision. Do they halve their bed size to accommodate five passengers or stick or get the regular cab and hope they get more business than new friends?

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[Images: FCA]

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