Driving Northwest: A look at the new Dodge Ram 1500

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by TOM VOELK / KING5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on December 3, 2009 at 12:25 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 1 at 9:39 AM

The most popular vehicles in America are not cars, they’re pickups. Ford F150 and Chevy Silverado have the #1 and 2 slots nailed down. Taking the bronze in truck sales is… no, not Toyota Tundra.  It’s Dodge Ram. Their new model keeps the aggressive look but adds sophistication, if not subtlety. There’s enough chrome on my test rig to cover a football field.

Pickup owners can be fiercely brand loyal animals. They proudly wear T-shirts, have Calvin window decals peeing on logos, maybe even a tattoo. In short, it’s tough to sell a Ford or Dodge to a Chevy guy. Never hurts to try though and Dodge is serious about gaining market share. Ram starts at $22,400.

The one Dodge has dropped off is a smidge nicer. It’s a very well equipped high-end Laramie Quad Cab. This one goes for, hang on to your hard hats folks, $47,305. It doesn’t stop there, a Ram can be gussied up north of 50 grand if a buyer has no willpower (or shortage of cash). No doubt this is the boss’ truck, not the help’s.

Time to spring some controversy on you. 

Ram is the only full sized pickup to use a coil spring multilink suspension. It’s a 5-link system with a solid rear axle. The advantage over leaf springs that the others use - Ride quality. It’s much easier to tune a coil than a leaf and Ram benefits with a more buttoned down feel with less freeway hop.  It’s very noticeable, especially with an empty bed. Blindfolded, you will not mistake this for a Lexus. Come on people, it’s a truck. But hop from a Tundra to a Ram and you’ll appreciate the difference. With a fully boxed hydroformed frame, the Dodge is vault solid. Creaks and squeaks? None.

The drawback? It’s not quite as capable as the others. Kinda. Sorta. 2010 Ram 1500s have a 1,900 pound maximum payload. Maximum towing is 10,450 pounds. Overall, these are a little less than the other brands though the 1500 is hardly a sissy. Remember, the humongous asterisk all these figures come with can barely be carried by any truck. Pickups are notorious when it comes to the blizzard of choices a buyer faces. Choose equipment that’s different from the optimized setup specifically selected for bragging rights and those max figures will often times drop.

It all comes down to this- A shopper needs to size up their needs and buy the truck that works best for the task intended.  Do your homework. When you have a specific truck selected, look at its specific capabilities. Growing up, we used our pickup every weekend while we built the family cabin. It was often times full of building material, but seldom taxed to its true ability.  Americans living in a Costco world tend to overbuy everything, vehicles included. Oops, I’m getting preachy. Ram 1500 is a great real-world set up.  There’s always the heavy duty versions if your jobs call for more. 

Does that thing have a Hemi?

Yup. In the Laramie’s case it’s standard. The torquey 5.7-liter V8 pumps out 390 horsepower and 407 ft/lbs of torque. It moves this large rig with authority and sounds appropriate doing it. For better fuel economy half the cylinders shut down during highway cruising. The tranny is a 5-speed with manual control. My tester has the optional electric shift-on-demand transfer case for its 4-wheel drive system. The EPA rates this particular powertrain at 13 city, 18 highway. Competitive in class though not exactly Prius territory. Just try hauling load of lumber in a hybrid. 

With 4WD it’s quite a hop up into the Ram without the optional running boards.  I highly recommend them. My petite wife never reads my pieces so it’s safe to say it’s slightly entertaining watch her struggle to get up and in. That said, even she can get comfortable behind the tilt wheel due to the adjustable pedals.

Nice view way up here.

The detailed cabin with a stitched instrument panel is a welcome change from spartan Dodges of the past. Better in fact than some cars. There’s no doubt what you’re driving, there are RAM logos all over. After a tough day on the construction site nicely sculpted seats that are heated and vented are much appreciated. Take off those work gloves, the steering wheel is heated too. You could lose them one of the many storage spots, there are cubbies everywhere. There’s a 115 volt electrical outlet too. Hooking up a trailer on your own? My loaded vehicle has camera mounted on the tailgate handle. It’s a huge help when both lining up the hitch and making sure you don’t back over the Honda Civic hiding behind you.

The touch screen navigation works well and upgraded Alpine stereo sounds good. You’ll want to plug in your iPod or rip music to the hard drive, SIRIUS satellite radio has a grainy digital sound.  It’s a pet peeve of mine. I learned to drive in my Dad’s pickup and I never dreamed way back then that they’d have, and I kid you not, satellite TV. Right now it’s the 3 channel SIRIUS Backseat TV. Soon a system with more selections called FLO will be available. Those in front can watch on the nav screen too, IF Ram is in park.

 To keep cargo dry and secure, the Quad Cab rig I’m driving has enough room to stash a big screen TV in the back seat when the cushions are flipped up and the floor platform is folded into place.  With this cab there’s just enough room in the back for 3 average sized adults. If you haul gravel AND car pool regularly, check out the roomier Crew Cab.

The tailgate is easily handled, not too heavy. Ram can be had with 5’7”, 6’ and 8’ beds depending on which of the 3 cabs selected. All the requisite tie downs and useful slots are here, others can be ordered.  A handy optional bed divider not only sections off various spaces, it can cap off an open tailgate to extend the bed by 2 feet.  There are dual sockets for tow lights.

This rig can be had with unique RamBox lockable storage in the box side that can hold muddy shovels or 240 cans of soda with ice (there’s a drain, in the bottom). Drink that in while you figure all your friends will be hitting you up to help them move stuff on the weekends. At the very least you’ll be popular with the tailgate crowd.

Don’t like large vehicles? The Ram isn’t for you bud.

The Ram 1500 is a big rig and drives as such. If you’re among the few that are not brand loyal (or even if you are), it would be wise to truck on down to a Dodge dealer for a long hard look. The few neutral buyers out there may find it tough deciding between Ford, Dodge and Chevy these days. That’s how strong competition is. As a nation we seem to be moving toward more fuel efficient vehicles. But as long as there are projects to be done, pickups will be popular. Even without the fancy Laramie trim, Ram 1500 deserves to be more so.

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