The Ram pickup has been with us since 1981
That's a long time, during which numerous sales managers have probably found it necessary to update their resumes. But the latest generation could well bring that also-ran status to an end-at least until the 2014 GM pickups make their appearance. Maybe even beyond.
So what's the big deal? Styling? Design chief Joe Dehner and his sheetmetal commandos have massaged just about every square inch of the front end, and the sum of their attentions is a coefficient of drag-0.36-that's best in class, according to the Ram hymnal.
But when you get right down to it, the new truck looks a lot like the old one, and anyone who doesn't know it's a Ram hasn't been driving in America since 1994.
Okay, how about chassis? New stuff down there. Chrysler-sorry, the trucks are now under the Ram brand-used high-strength steel throughout, saving about 30 pounds in the frame and chassis. And optional air springs at all four corners, an upgrade made easy by the 2009 introduction of a coil-spring rear suspension, are available on Quad and Crew Cab models.
The air springs allow adjustable ride height-for example, the driver can add up to two inches of ground clearance for dirty work, then lower the truck at highway speeds to improve aero. Beyond that, they deliver exceptionally silky ride quality by truck standards, on pavement or off.
Interiors? All new, with upgraded materials; a vast array of choices ranging up to the fancy embossed leather of the Laramie Longhorn trim level; expanded telematics and connectivity including hotspot Wi-Fi®, a work-site boon; a new power-locking system that secures the tailgate and side-mounted RamBoxes with one key-fob click.
As before, the Ram, like its domestic competitors, continues to offer a broad array of body styles, bed lengths, powertrain choices, off-road packages, and trim levels that go from basic to super luxo.
In a market where fuel economy is paramount-particularly for full-size pickups-the Ram's new standard powertrain raises the stakes in both power and thrift. Chrysler's 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve 60-degree Pentastar® V-6 replaces the previous SOHC 3.7-liter 90-degree 12-valve V-6, an upgrade that's analogous to swapping your tired old plow horse for a derby-ready thoroughbred. Output jumps from a seriously anemic 215 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque to a robust 305 and 269, respectively.
The new engine mates to an even newer eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission (built under license from ZF), replacing the previous four-speed. This combination, augmented by other econo-tech touches-a stop-start system shuts the engine down at traffic lights; closable shutters in the big new grille; a heat exchanger that uses engine coolant to warm transmission oil more rapidly, reducing viscosity-adds up to impressive EPA ratings: 18 mpg city, 25 highway
Compared with the previous base engine/trans, those numbers represent gains of 4 mpg city and 5 highway. More significantly, they're at least 2 mpg better in both categories than the standard powertrains available in competing pickups.
In addition to top standard-engine mpg, the Ram V-6 also delivers impressive performance-0 to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, according to the Ramites, which seems wholly credible based on a day of driving exercises in the hilly Tennessee hinterlands near Nashville.
The powertrain-improvement claims extend to towing-6500 pounds max, including trucks equipped with four-wheel drive, an option not offered with the previous V-6. Towing was part of the experience in Tennessee, with V-6 Rams hitched up to various hefty trailer loads-a boat, a Bobcat, a large enclosed trailer-and the new truck handled them all smoothly, with no hint of strain.
Optional V-8 engine choices are unchanged: the SOHC 16-valve 4.7-liter (310 horsepower, 330 pound-feet) and potent 5.7-liter pushrod HEMI® (395 and 407). Both are paired with the current six-speed automatic, but the eight-speed auto will become available early next year. Chrysler claims mpg improvements for both engines without providing specifics.
In terms of dynamic response, the advantage of the air springs is hard to discern in a short day of driving, especially in a Quad Cab with four-wheel drive. A full-size pickup is a big boy; the word â€œagileâ€ does not come to mind, something essentially true of any truck in this class. Turning circles range up to 45 feet-not what you'd call parking-ramp handy-and a long wheelbase can be a handicap in really lumpy off-roading. There's also a new electric power-steering system, and this gets mixed reviews, seeming to provide better on-center feel in a fully tarted-up Laramie Quad Cab than in a more basic 4x4 Tradesman version.
On the other hand, the air springs provide surprisingly supple ride quality, patchwork pavement or smooth, graded gravel or hummocky roadless construction site. And while a long wheelbase limits off-road usefulness, the Ram's departure and breakover angles-Chrysler claims best in class-mitigate this factor a bit.