In the days and weeks leading up to April 30, 2009, Chrysler executives and their government shepherds scrambled to create a future for America's ailing third-largest automaker. Since Chrysler spent the last decade building products that often were mediocre at best, it was difficult to imagine the company succeeding in a more competitive, lower-volume market. Yet the Dodge Ram that arrived at our office just a month prior to Chrysler's declared bankruptcy didn't offer a single clue that it was born to a family in utter disarray. Quite the opposite, in fact. In dramatic contrast to the vehicles we'd come to expect from Auburn Hills, the Ram wowed us the day it showed up and continued to impress us until the day it left.
The inferno red Ram in our garage boasted sharp new sheetmetal, a pleasant cabin, and one significant segment-defying innovation. Priced at $52,230, our four-wheel-drive Laramie crew cab was loaded with practically every available option. The result was a truck that had more in common with a premium SUV than with a typical pickup. Both front- and back-seat passengers could be excused if they thought they were riding in a luxury car. There was a stitched faux-leather dash, heated and ventilated front buckets, heated rear seats, and an entertainment system with satellite TV. During Michigan's cold months, drivers gushed about the remote starter, which also gives the heated steering wheel and seats a head start. But it's not just the equipment that impressed us. Credit much of the panache to an interior that boasts better materials, higher finish quality, a quieter ride, and friendly ergonomics. "The interior vaults from worst to first," declared senior editor Joe Lorio. "Design and execution are very impressive. It's frankly incredible for a Chrysler product."
It's a task, though, getting into and out of the Ram due to its skyscraper stance. That's a problem that afflicts all full-size pickups these days, but without running boards on our test truck, entry was particularly strenuous. "The climb up is a drag, and the lift up for loading is a larger drag," said technical editor Don Sherman. "Since there are no off-road pretenses here, why build the chassis at mezzanine height? Automakers are afraid a low-riding large truck is too wimpy looking. That's a pity."
The Ram's measurements are expansive in the other two dimensions as well, often necessitating three-point turns in parking lots and garages. When it came to hooking up trailers or backing into tight spaces, we lamented not ordering the $200 backup camera. We tried to compensate with an aftermarket unit from Peak, but the fuzzy screen was quickly and permanently dumped in the deep center console. Several editors also complained about the view forward at night, noting that the halogen headlamps were inadequate on rural roads, even with the high beams on.
Speed comes easy in the Ram with the mighty 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 under the hood. The 390 hp and 407 lb-ft of torque make for a quick, 7.4-second sprint to 60 mph, and the deep burbles piped through the dual chrome tips are exhilarating under acceleration. But on longer trips, some drivers found the note to be irritating at cruising speeds. As much as we were impressed with its acceleration, we also marveled at how often the V-8 kicked into its fuel-saving four-cylinder mode. Dodge lists an EPA rating of 13 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway, but with the amount of towing and hauling we did, plus our Ram's 3.92:1 rear axle ratio, it's no surprise that our year's average of 14 mpg sat on the low end of that range. Although a five-speed automatic may sound like an antiquity these days, the gearbox did a good job.
The Ram's revelation comes from the design of its rear suspension. With coil springs replacing the truck segment's long-held standard of leaf springs, the Ram has a ride that's significantly more controlled and comfortable than anything the competition offers. Whereas most trucks require 500 pounds of payload in the bed to keep the rear end from jostling, our Ram was just as comfortable empty as it was loaded. For daily commuting, the ride is as good as you'll find in less capable, more dainty crossovers. Sherman called the Ram "a truly wonderful, made-for-Michigan piece of work," noting that "the coil-spring suspension and massive weight sweeps over ravaged surfaces with magic-carpet grace."
The plush ride and plusher cabin didn't stop our staff from subjecting the Ram to good ol' blue-collar grunt work. With the Class IV tow hitch, we pulled a duck-hunting boat, a $500 race car, a small camper, and a U-Haul trailer packed with twenty triathlon bikes. Senior web editor Phil Floraday gave the Ram its biggest challenge when he hauled a 1985 Toyota pickup to Canada. His only complaint with 6500 pounds out back was the lack of a trailer-brake controller. Dodge has rectified that with the 2010 model, offering an integrated controller as a $230 option.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the five-speed automatic during towing," mused Floraday. "It would probably be better for trailering if Dodge would have upgraded to a six-speed like Ford, General Motors, and Toyota have done for half-ton trucks, but the Hemi puts out enough power to easily tow loads in the 6500-pound range, and I'd rather have the five-speed and coil springs than a six-speed and leaf springs."
Shortly after receiving the Ram, we dropped in a Mopar accessory bedliner to protect our workhorse from the furniture, firewood, appliances, and car parts that would inevitably be tossed in the back. From the factory, our truck came equipped with the clever RamBoxes, twin weather-proof, lockable containers on either side of the bed that straddle the wheel wells. Floraday -- firm in his truck beliefs -- lamented the loss of bed space (even though it's still more than four feet wide), but the RamBoxes were otherwise universally loved. At various times, they housed laptops, hand luggage, charcoal, beer, watermelons, a small golf bag, and even a package of raw meat tucked under a bag of ice. As useful as they were, the $1895 price is rather steep, and we'd like to see the manual locks tied into the central locking system.
Perhaps it's not surprising that a truck driven so far and worked so hard in twelve months would endure a few injuries. In Texas, the hood and roof were pecked by hail. The windshield cracked on a trip to South Dakota. And in the parking garage outside our office, the rear door and fender were dragged along a pillar. Despite the damage, we couldn't keep the Ram on the sidelines for long; our drivers were so eager to get behind the wheel that some 13,000 miles passed between the hail abuse and our finally having it fixed. To Dodge's credit, the Ram never developed any mechanical issues, although a handful of minor faults were fixed during various service visits
After turning out a string of also-ran vehicles, Chrysler has reset its reputation with the Dodge Ram. A remarkable ride and an upscale, spacious interior make the Ram as comfortable as any people mover, and at the same time it delivers uncompromising pickup-truck capability for heavy lifting on the weekends. Not only is it the best full-size truck you can buy, but it steps up expectations for the next generation of pickups. What the Ram means for the rest of Chrysler isn't as clear. It's too early to know if the newest Dodge foretells a coming product revolution at Chrysler, but we sure hope it does.
After supplying the auto companies run by Henry Ford and Ransom Eli Olds for more than a decade, John and Horace Dodge set out building complete vehicles in 1914. Their first Dodge Brothers truck, called the Commercial Car, arrived in 1917. The company soon developed a reputation as a leader in light trucks and was acquired by Chrysler in 1928.
Although Dodge started selling the Ramcharger SUV in 1974, the Ram name wouldn't appear on a pickup truck until 1981. The inspiration for the name came from an intricate hood ornament first seen on 1932 Dodges.
The 1994 redesign made waves, not just because it was the first new full-size Dodge truck in twenty-two years, but because of its "big-rig" styling, authoritative engines, and well-conceived interior.
A new Ram debuted in 2002, and the 345-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 appeared the next year. The hottest engine, though, was found in the 2004-06 SRT10. That 8.3-liter V-10 was plucked from the Viper and made 500 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque.
In what could go down as Chrysler's last great theatrical debut, the fourth-generation Ram was introduced at the 2008 Detroit auto show outside Cobo Hall amidst a herd of cattle. At the time, Dodge promised both hybrid and diesel powertrains; both projects stalled-perhaps indefinitely-ahead of Chrysler's meltdown. Following Fiat's acquisition of Chrysler in June 2009, the Dodge name was dropped from the Dakota, Ram, and Ram Heavy Duty, as all trucks were repositioned under a unique brand called Ram Trucks. We're confused, too.
2009 Dodge Ram 1500
RATING **** 1/2
Body Style : 4-door pickup truck
Accommodation : 5 passengers
Construction; Steel body-on-frame
Engine : 16-valve OHV V-8
Displacement : 5.7 liters (345 cu in)
Horsepower: 390 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 407 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive: Rear- and 4-wheel
Steering : Hydraulically assisted
lock-to-lock : 3.3 turns
turning circle: 45.5 ft
Suspension, front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Live axle, coil springs
Brakes f/r: Vented discs/discs, ABS
Tires : Goodyear Wrangler HP
Tire size: 275/60SR-20
Headroom f/r: 41.0/39.9 in
Legroom f/r : 41.0/42.0 in
Shoulder Room f/r: 66.0/65.7 in
Hip Room f/r: 63.2/63.2 in
L X W X H : 229.0 x 79.4 x 76.4 in
Wheelbase: 140.5 in
Track F/R: 68.2/67.5 IN
Weight: 5809 lb
Weight Dist. f/r : 56.1/43.9%
Cargo Bed L X W X H: 67.4 x 50.0 x 20.0 in
Rambox Capacity: 7.4 cu ft total
Payload Capacity: 1360 lb
Towing Capacity: 7300 lb
Fuel Capacity: 32.0 gallons
EST. Fuel Range: 450 miles
Fuel Grade: 87 octane
Our Test Results
0-60 mph: 7.4 sec
0-100 mph: 20.8 sec
1/4-mile: 15.7 sec @ 89 mph
30-70 mph passing: 7.7 sec
peak acceleration: 0.49 g
Speed In Gears:
5) 100 mph
L/R: 0.74/0.79 G
70-0 mph braking: 181 ft
Peak Braking: 0.97 g
Pros & Cons:
+ Revolutionary ride
+ Excellent interior
+ Great versatility
- Cumbersome size
- Weak headlights
- Typical pickup thirst
Prices & Equipment
Price as tested
$24,900 (Estimate based on information from intellichoice.com)
ABS; traction and stability control; dual-zone automatic climate control; power windows, mirrors, locks, sliding rear window, and heated front seats; heated steering wheel; keyless entry with remote start; leather upholstery; Bluetooth; AM/FM/Sirius/CD ten-speaker Alpine audio system with 30-gigabyte hard drive; front and side curtain air bags
Inferno red paint, $225; ventilated front bucket seats, heated rear seats, $500; preferred package 25H (backup sensors, electric transfer case, dual exhaust), $795; protection group (tow hooks, skid plates), $150; 3.92:1 rear axle ratio, $375; power sunroof, $850; 32-gallon fuel tank, $75; navigation system with Sirius Traffic, $945; RamBox cargo management, $1895; Class IV towing receiver, $335; rear-seat entertainment system with Sirius Backseat TV and six-disc in-dash
CD/DVD changer, $1695
3-yr/36,000-mile roadside assistance
7417 mi: $45.73
13,987 mi: $62.37
19,539 mi: $45.73
25,114 mi: $62.37
30,250 mi: $756.67
34,183 mi: $45.73
19,539 mi: Flash ABS/stability control computer and reverse sensor module
25,114 mi: Replace broken tailgate spoiler, add double-sided tape; apply antisqueak tape to hood hinges
30,250 mi: Replace RamBox locks
34,183 mi: Reseal third-brake-light lens
11,073 mi: Install bedliner, $361.00
16,524 mi: Replace hail-damaged hood, repair passenger-side damage, $5712.54
31,309 mi: Replace windshield, $315.00
35,018 mi: Replace stolen navigation unit and broken front side window, $3589.53
EPA city/hwy/combined 13/18/15 mpg
Observed 14 mpg
Cost Per Mile:
(Fuel, service) $0.20 ($0.93 including depreciation)