As many of you might know, Dodge products have been kind of yucky and disappointing (i.e. Dodge Caliber). To use better vocabulary, they are lacking a certain sophistication, and not up to expectations.
The trucks made by Dodge weren’t very good, and people bought them because they were cheap. From the late 1960s to the late 1990s, Dodge’s trucks were kept afloat by government fleet sales. In 1994, Dodge came out with a game-changer. The new Ram 1500/2500/3500 were revolutionary – they had enough power to send a big rig running, and they were at the top of their class in terms of towing. Further, their design was top-notch. And, they sent Chevy/GMC and Ford back to the drawing board.
The generation that debuted for the 2001 model year was something of a joke. It wasn’t comfortable, the only “real” power for the 1500 came in the form of an outdated 5.7 liter Hemi V8, and the 2500 got its power from a 5.9 liter Cummins diesel that had been in service since 1990. It was slow, and outdated. Dodge was a joke. Again. This was during the time of the race to see which half-ton could tow the most with the most power. Then, the economy tanked.
Dodge came out with the current generation of the Ram 1500/2500/3500 in the darkest days of the recession. That was back in 2008, and the Ram was expensive ( yet very nice). As all truck owners know, there is no truck that is the magic truck that changes everything. Sometimes, we have to suck it up and buy the truck that works for us, not the masses.
Well, Ford has been going the way of smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, Chevy/GMC is coming out with a new line of trucks next year, and Ram is leaning towards more efficient engines and eight-speed transmissions. The old 3.7-liter V6 that used to serve duty in everything from most Jeeps to all the Ram products except the 2500/3500. So that engine was a disaster – it was slow, it had very little power, and it sounded like a diesel. Now, the new Pentastar V6 displaces 3.6 liters, and has 42% more power than the old engine. Plus, it offers 13% more torque. Oh, and it’s mated to the excellent new 8-speed ZF automatic that has been beefed up a bit for towing duty. Yahoo.
The historic 5.7-liter Hemi V8 has been around since 2001. However, it has been updated every single time the Ram 1500 gets an update. This time, it has the same amount of power (390 horsepower, 410 lb-ft of torque), but it is more efficient, thanks to Variable Valve Timing. Plus, there are revised cooling systems, electric power steering, and a cool new electrical system with pulse modulation that uses power more efficiently to lessen the strain on the alternator.
Most people focus on the powertrain of a pickup truck, yet that may be one of the less important topics on the refreshed Ram 1500. Ram has added air suspension, which may raise concerns about reliability. But, the Ram 1500’s air suspension looks like the ones found in modern full-size luxury cars, which typically weigh about as much as a half-ton pickup. This air suspension is cool. It can raise the truck 1.2 or 2.0 inches, depending on which off-road mode the 4WD system is set to. There is also an aero mode that will lower the truck 0.6 inches (this is intended for long drives on the interstate). Active shutters behind the grill will close at highway speeds, directing air AROUND the truck, not UNDER. This, plus the slightly redesigned body cut the truck’s coeffecient of drag from 0.39 to 0.36, to net a 6 percent increase in aerodynamic efficiency.
If you are thinking that Ram left the interior of the Ram 1500 as disgusting as it was four years ago, then you would be greatly mistaken. The Ram 1500’s interior has gotten as much attention as the exterior and mechanicals. The interior layout is the same, so if you have driven a Ram 1500 of this generation before, you will know that the Uconnect infotainment system was slow and horrible. The screen is brighter than before, and it has higher resolution than most navigation screens. The screen is now a massive 8.4 inches (think of putting an iPad Mini in the dash), and you can further upgrade the system with various apps like: Pandora internet radio, etc. Plus, it can provide you with an in-vehicle WiFi hotspot. While Motor Trend likes the layout of the system, problems from before still plague the Ram 1500. Sometimes, it’s slow to respond. Also, the navigation system can sometimes lose track of the truck when it is in motion. It sometimes thinks that the truck will be a few hundred yards off the highway!
The new 8-speed automatic is essentially the same ZF transmission found in the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger and Rolls-Royce Ghost. The transmission control is a radical departure from the column shifters or console shifters we are used to. It is a dial. It may seem like truck blasphemy, and to some it is. It is nice to have it placed on the dashboard, however. The Motor Trend testers weren’t the only ones who turned up the radio when attempting to do a three-point turn.
Another gripe about the Ram 1500’s transmission controls – the tiny pushbuttons on the steering wheel are right above the cruise control buttons, and aren’t clearly differentiated from the cruise control buttons. IF Ram is concerned about customers shifting the truck while wearing work gloves, then they would have installed shift paddles, NOT tiny buttons.
One of the things that many truck buyers want is on/off-road prowess. If you are looking for off-road prowess, get a Ford F150 SVT Raptor. If, however, you need some off-roading chops, then the Ram 1500 might be your ticket.
For those of you who have driven the current generation of the Chrysler 300, you will be shocked to find out that the Ram 1500 SLT with the Pentastar V6 drives almost exactly like a Chrysler 300 with a bed. The 2013 Motor Trend Truck of the Year judges were amazed at how well the Ram 1500 SLT drove. The torque comes in at relatively low RPMs, with a peak of 269 lb-ft. Plus, you can still be rewarded by swinging the tachometer up to 4500 RPM to get the full 305 horsepower. Plus, the Pentastar sounds good for a V6. The Pentastar and the 8-speed automatic make for a potent entry-level truck. Plus, the air suspension works as well off-road as it does on asphalt. Body motions are relatively few in cornering, while bumps are soaked up quickly and quietly without any complaint.
The Ram 1500 V-8 Sport is a totally different animal. Of course, 390 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of torque will make it quicker. A lot quicker. The interior will remind you of an SRT product, with the same seats as the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, and the same feel as an SRT product. The interior is also a bit louder in the V-8 Sport, with engine note and road noise being a bit louder than the SLT. The anti-roll bars and coil springs allow for less body roll in cornering, but they don’t give the driver the same feeling of control the driver would get in an SLT. The steering is the same, but bigger tires give more grip and tire slap.
The V-8 Sport has so much power that it is hard to hook up the rear tires to the pavement. With a good launch, look for 60 in a scant 6.9 seconds. Ford’s Ecoboost engine might give quicker results, but if you want a classic American V8, then the Hemi V8 is a good choice. When the V-8 Sport is hooked up to a trailer, that’s when the engine comes alive. The quarter mile will disappear in 20.0 seconds at 69.4 mph. Yikes. The Ram SLT with the Pentastar may have a bit less power, but it still has enough power to tow at 75% towing capacity.
The 2013 Motor Trend Truck of the Year judges were extremely impressed with the Ram 1500. The V6 covers the area once patrolled by the Dakota, and the V8 turns the truck into a truck that inspires confidence like no other half ton.
They say brand loyalty is one of the strongest criteria in buying a truck. It would be a shame to be a Ford guy and never think of the Ram 1500. As good a truck as the F150 is, the Ram is better. For now. I may have a Chevy pickup, but I should say that the Ram 1500 is a good choice for those who need a truck that is bigger than a Toyota Tacoma, yet smaller than a Ford F250. The 2013 Ram 1500 is a job that comes close to perfect. It may not be a game-changer for trucks like the Porsche 959 was for supercars, but it is a very good truck. Congrats, Ram.