2015 Ram 1500- The Beast Has Been Tamed

There’s always been that tidbit of manly advice that a guy should have a truck at least once in his life.  The reasons behind it are still unknown.  Maybe it’s too reassure us of our masculinity while dealing with a back-breaking ride.  Or maybe to prove our dominance while peering over every car on the road.  Or maybe this advice was started by someone who was trying to coax their friends into helping them move.  Who knows?  Whatever the reason, trucks are fun.  Memories of learning to drive in my Dad’s 1968 Chevy C10 Pickup always come streaming back when I think of the word “truck.”  Like most pickups at the time, that Chevy was designed for utilitarian purposes.  It was loud, it was minimalist, it guzzled fuel, the steering was about as precise as the trajectory of a North Korean missile, and I swear the suspension was made of masonry bricks.  Although it refused to pamper its passengers, that truck had character and proved its worth as a workhorse.

Almost 50 years after that Chevy rolled off the assembly line, the truck is still an American icon.  Sure, the Camry may be the best-selling passenger car in the US, but the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram 1500 all handily outsell it.  Bottom line; Americans love their pickups.  The Ram is close behind the other two in sales, but that wasn’t always the case.

image9Years ago, Dodge played an overlooked and distant 3rd fiddle.  A dramatic redesign for 1994 pole-vaulted the Ram from being an also-ran to being the most competitive full-size truck at the time.  It’s bulging, semi-truck inspired front fenders, bold cross-hair grille, and brutish stance was unlike anything at the time, and has since influenced the Dodge/Ram image ever since.  A cameo on the movie “Twister” in 1996 as the indestructible storm-chasing vehicle only helped cement the Ram’s badass image.

image19This fourth-generation Ram was introduced for 2009, and still looks fresh seven years later.  The design theme from the 1994 design carries over, but only bigger and badder.  The already large grill is even taller and hunched forwards, the creases of the hood are more defined, and there’s enough chrome to make a 50’s Diner proud.  There’s only so much that designers can do with the three-box shape of a truck, but Ram designers did a fantastic job of making the style aggressive, modern, whilst paying homage to previous Rams and American trucks from a bygone era.

image13The most controversial aspect of the 2009 redesign was the Ram’s suspension.  Up until that point, large trucks had always relied on the leaf-spring setup for the rear.  The basic automotive engineering of the leaf-spring dates back to the Ford Model T.  It’s simple, primitive, and rough-riding, however, it’s very capable of carrying heavy loads.  Dodge’s switch to a coil spring, five-link independent rear suspension had truck traditionalists moaning in angst.  But Dodge engineers did their homework, and the 1500’s payload capacity of 1,662 lbs. and towing ability up to 10,450 lbs. (with the Hemi) remains the same as the last generation, yet falls slightly short of the Chevy and Ford offerings.  For the record, neither GM or Ford have switched from a leaf-spring setup with their recent redesigns.  For passengers, the suspension gives a surprisingly car like, supple ride that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a Lexus.  Bumps are easily absorbed and it’s easy to question “this is a pickup truck?!”  The only tell-tale sign of this being a truck (aside from looking behind the back window at the bed) is that there is still some steering wheel shimmy on rougher roads.

image5The steering itself is still very truck-like.  There’s a loose feeling that is reminiscent of my Dad’s old Chevy, but nowhere near as extreme.  After a while it’s easy to adjust to, but the lack of communication with the road, plus the higher seating position, never inspires confidence around sharp corners.  However, the truck felt grippy enough through curves.  It’s all about keeping things in perspective that this will never handle like a sports car, and it’s not intended to.

image2There are absolutely no complaints about the Ram’s powertrain.  I had the good fortune of getting a 1500 with the optional 5.7 Hemi V8, which is uncommon for rental fleets.  A 3.6 litre V6 is standard and has 90 fewer horsepower.  But the star of the show is the Hemi, and up until now, I’ve never had the good fortune to drive one.  This 5.7 litre is shared with the Chrysler 300C, Dodge Charger R/T, Durango R/T, and Grand Cherokee, and boasts having 395 horsepower.  Compared to earlier 5.7 litres, there was a power boost in 2009 due to added variable valve timing.  Robust is the word for this engine; and it’s among the most powerful cars I’ve ever driven.  Accelerations are downright quick, considering that this is a 4,600 lb. vehicle, and it feels like the hand of God himself has come down through the hood and propelled the truck down the road.  There is plenty of power on tap at anytime and it is possible to do some lengthy burnouts between the ferocity of the engine and lightness of the bed. The grumbling note of the large V8 is just intoxicating, even at idle.  I could listen to a recorded soundtrack of it all day!

Managing all of the sheer strength is a fantastic eight speed automatic designed and built by ZF in Germany.  It’s been engineered to shift in less than 200 milliseconds and the results are fantastic.  Despite the massive gobs of torque being send to the rear differential, shifts are seamless and smooth.  Even under full strain, the transmission never loses composure.  No wonder that it’s also used in a variety of BMW models.  The shifter itself has been a subject of controversy; an electronic twist knob mounted on the dash.  It’s reminiscent of an air conditioning thermostat and does appear a little odd at first.  Plus it doesn’t look nearly as…ahem…..macho…..as a beefy column or console mounted gear selector.  After a few drives and mistakenly reaching for a non-existent column mounted shifter, it was easy to adapt to the knob.  The transmission can be placed in “manumatic” mode and gear changes are controlled by buttons housed beside the cruise image17control on the steering wheel.  It’s a little difficult to decipher shifts without glancing down, and just seems silly on a pickup.  One slick trick of the knob is that the vehicle will place itself into park if it’s turned off while still in gear, preventing rollaways.  But one foreseeable concern is that the knob itself is close to the air conditioning controls and could easily be confused as one if the driver is going by touch alone.

image3Otherwise, the interior is smartly designed and usable.  A/C controls are simple and straightforward dials.  The radio uses Chrysler’s marvelous U-Connect interface.  The responses from the touchscreen are fast, and browsing through menus is a breeze.  The display itself is easy to read and user-friendly.  Personally, I’m not usually a big fan of interactive screens, but U-Connect has a quick learning curve and is just plain logical.

image16The gauges themselves are crisp, clear, easy-to-read at a glance, and look sophisticated.  Sophisticated?  On a Ram?  There’s nothing gimmicky, and they are nicely lit up at night.  The information center in the middle of the cluster has a wealth of information and, like the U-Connect, is easy to learn.

The overall look of the interior is handsome; with big image14vents, handles, and as much open space as Kansas.  Plastic surfaces are hard-to-the-touch overall, but this is a pickup after all, and it’s to be expected.  Door armrests and grip handles did get the soft touch treatment.  Interior noise is almost church-like.  Aside from the rumble under the hood at idle or accelerating, the cabin is a serene place to spend the time.  A touch of tire noise at freeway speeds is the only sound to break the silence, but the 1500 could overall be likened to the Sistine Chapel.

image1Front seat space is commodious with huge hoards of leg room and headroom.  The center console is wide enough to house an entire laptop, a Ram tradition since 1994.  The console itself can flip-up, and double as a seat for a middle passenger.  Unlike with some other large truck makers who are putting center consoles between the front seats, the Ram still has six seater capacity.  That center position is not comfortable, since the middle passenger’s feet will be on the drivetrain hump, forcing their knees to jut up skyward and toward the radio.  But at least the option is there, and American trucks have ALWAYS had the middle seat that everyone wants to avoid sitting in. The seats themselves are comfortable, well-shaped, and there were no aches after a few hours of driving.

image12The back seat on the Quad Cab is….in a word…..tight.  There’s minimal leg room, and the heads of taller passengers will be pressed against the arc of the roof near the back window.  Front passengers may need to pull their seats forward, but with some collaboration, the Quad Cab will work with a cab full of people.  Ram does offer a Crew Cab,  that extends the cab and offers six inches of extra legroom.  The rear sits do flip-up, and there is a plastic shelf that creates a nifty, flat loading floor.

image20True to its name, the Quad Cab has four, independent swinging doors.  With 20.9 inches of ground clearance and a high step-in, entry and exit can be a little difficult for children or older passengers.  There are assist grips to help, but it’s still a climb.  Even yours truly, at 6’4”, had to hoist myself up (which is gratifyingly manly!).  The rear doors are narrow, and not only require a tall step up, but also contorting oneself to fit through the tight opening.  Once again, the Crew Cab solves that issue, but even the Quad Cab sure beats having to climb through the front doors like the trucks of yore.

Visibility is great all around with a commanding view of the road, few blind spots, and sight lines of the body are easy to identify.  Considering its girth, the Ram is a surprisingly easy vehicle to park in tight situations and manages to feel smaller than it is.

image21When it comes to hauling, the bed itself is 6 1/3 feet in length.  Opting for the base single-cab 1500 extends the bed by about two extra feet, making it the better choice for contractors.  The bed is wide and the wheel wells aren’t intrusive, offering over four feet between the wheels.  On the bottom of the bed at each corner are hooks to strap down any cargo.  Although ours did not have it, the 1500 does offer the innovative “Rambox”, an additional storage area within the side fenders for equipment.  The tailgate itself could prove heavy for some folks, and there were no easy step-ups into the bed for shorter owners. Our truck was also equipped with the tow package and all of the wiring was ready to be hooked to a trailer.

image10The EPA rates the 5.7 Litre Hemi at 15mpg in the city, and 22mpg on the highway.  On a flat, 200-mile highway run I managed to squeeze out a respectable 24mpg and in a mix of mountain, highway, and city conditions, we eeked out 21mpg overall even with some spirited driving.  Not bad at all given the Ram’s size and power.

Our test truck had 27k miles at the time of rental.  Despite the abuse rental cars receive, our Ram was as tight as a bank vault.  Nothing rattled, was loose, and there were no mechanical or cosmetic defects.  It’s a testament to how well this truck is made.

image6Like most pickups, there’s countless combinations of trim, bed lengths, cab sizes, and engines to choose from. Prices for the 1500 start at a manageable $26,145 for the workhorse Tradesman and comes standard with 17-inch steel wheels, black bumpers/grille/door handles, a seven-pin wiring harness, a Class IV receiver hitch, automatic headlights, a locking tailgate, a sprayed-in bedliner, vinyl image7floor covering, air-conditioning, a 40/20/40-split front bench seat, vinyl upholstery, a tilt-only steering wheel, cruise control and a six-speaker sound system with auxiliary and USB inputs. Moving up to the Crew Cab automatically pushes the price to $37,260 and into the Big Horn (Lone Star for Texas buyers) package that comes with power windows and door locks, chrome exterior trim, heated mirrors, an overhead console, dual gloveboxes, a 5-inch touchscreen interface, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a power-sliding rear window. Our Bright White Ram’s only stand-alone options were the 5.7 Hemi and mandatory 8-speed automatic, adding $1,650 to the tab.  The total, including destination, comes just shy of a cool $40k at $39,910.  That may be a lot for a truck, but it is competitive with other brands.

image18It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a full-size American truck, and the word for the Ram is “refined.”  Refined?  That’s right.  The 1500 is able to walk a fine line between offering the practicality and capabilities of a truck, whilst pampering its passengers like a car.  There are few compromises, and the Ram is a likeable companion for long trips, hauling, or towing.  If this is your first truck, it’s an easy adjustment from a car.  However, if this is your first truck and you’re wanting a rough-riding Longhorn as a right of passage, this may disappoint.  Kudos to Ram for making a truck with the perfect blend of ruggedness and comfort. 4.0/5.0 boomerangs.

 

 

 

 

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