This Thing's Got a HEMI

2019 RAM 1500 Pickup Truck Review: Rendering Full-Size Sedans Obsolete


March 26, 2018 Cars By Photo by Andrew Maness
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When Dodge released the second Gen Ram 1500 in 1994 with its imposing semi truck-esque styling, it marked a departure from nearly 30 years of rather unimaginative boxy design. That “big rig” front end was forever etched into my brain when I watched, as many of my generation did, as Bill Paxton outran that ‘ol evil tornado in the 1996 classic film Twister. Though that film runs like a showcase for the Ram, the finest explanation of what that truck represented comes via the YouTube channel Regular Car Reviews in their review of a ‘97 1500 model with such quotes as “it was forever pulsing with testosterone and masculine Van Damme assurance.”

Since the 1990s two main things have happened when it comes to pickups: they’ve gotten increasingly bulkier and feature much nicer interiors. Still, at the end of the day, they’ve been limited by the fact that they are purpose-built vehicles — and that purpose is to be great at hauling stuff, not people. The 2019 RAM 1500, however, is the first pickup I’ve driven that doesn’t make excuses or compromises when it comes to doing “car stuff” and it damn sure still does “truck stuff.”

The Good: What everyone has been talking about since the 2019 RAM was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show is the massive 12-inch screen that’s the centerpiece of the redesigned interior. FCA’s UConnect infotainment system has an upgraded processor that makes it snappier; plus, you can effortlessly switch between tasks by swiping the same way you would on a smartphone and in the same way can rearrange things to suit your tastes. The resolution on the massive screen is right up there with units found in any German luxury car, if not beyond them. It’s more intuitive than what you find in a Volvo or Tesla, the only other automakers offering this kind of digital real estate.

There are too many thoughtful finishing touches to list here, but among my favorites were the many different map display styles which included “cartography.” By selecting this the navigation map goes tan, your location icon is a red arrow and little trees are displayed when you’re off road. It’s a minor detail, but it’s the kind of thing that reminds you that these folks took their time and all the minor details add up to one impressive total package. There are available luxury touches you won’t find in any other pickup truck (real wood with real wood branding anyone?) more storage than you will know what to do with (like a 40-liter center console), superb ergonomics (redundant analog switches for Luddites) and all the while it retains signature RAM durability.

Who It’s For: Honestly, RAM has covered all the bases with their range of 1500 models. From the basic Tradesmen with vinyl seats all the way up to the top tier Limited with acres of leather inside, there’s a RAM for everyone, especially first-time pickup buyers. I’m convinced that anyone would be comfortable driving one of these trucks and should not be put off by the size of them.

Watch Out For: Be honest with yourself about what you’ll use a truck for. You can easily go wild with options and end up forking over a whole lot of cash that could otherwise be used for a project car which you could tow to the track with a more simply built out RAM. Also, the new front end styling won’t be for everybody, but it grew on me quickly, especially with the body paint matched grille which reminds me of pickups from the ‘90s. Beware of chrome, it can go wrong real quick.

Alternatives: Compared to the current Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra and Toyota Tundra, it’s not even close — the RAM is hands down the better truck, for now. The interior is light years beyond all of them, it rides better and has two mild-hybrid engines coming to market soon. Still, if it’s speed you’re after, a 6.2 V8 Silverado or Sierra will outrun the RAM and if towing bragging rights are your desire then the F-150 with a 13,200 lb max capacity will be the choice.

Review: No half measures were taken with this truck, it’s one pleasant surprise after another from the bottom of the frame to the top of the dash. As an FCA spokesperson said to me “the interior design team got everything they wanted, so did the exterior guys. That doesn’t happen often.” Boy does it show too, they really didn’t miss anything and believe me, I was looking hard to find faults. Every trim level was clearly well thought out and that translates to distinctive personalities. All three of the trucks I drove were equipped with the venerable 5.7-liter HEMI V8, though a mild-hybrid version of that motor is coming soon along with a mild-hybrid V6 soon after. Both “eTorque” motors will use a 48-volt mild-hybrid system to give low-end torque a boost and moderately improve fuel economy.

For now, though, the HEMI is great as it ever was, particularly in the RAM Rebel where it makes a little more noise courtesy of a Mopar exhaust system. Chucking a Rebel around in the desert made for great entertainment between on-road cruising sessions in the luxe Laramie Longhorn and basic Bighorn. Even in 4WD-High the Rebel roared through the sloppy soft sand of a dry river bed, and charging down a hard pack trail was still a breeze even with just the rear wheels providing motivation. I could have spent all afternoon lapping the course and though I’m sure the truck’s second-gen air-suspension could have handled it, I still think a traditional setup is the way to go for prolonged off-road antics. Either way, the Rebel is a load of fun and slots in nicely between the Tacoma TRD-Pro and Ford Raptor in terms of capability. It’ll be interesting to see what the new Chevy Silverado Trailboss brings to the arena when it arrives later this year.

Of course, it’s always easy to fawn over the finest of the bunch, like the cowboy-chic Laramie Longhorn, but what about the volume models, the trucks that people rely on to make a living day in and day out? Though you can still get a stripped out “Tradesmen” and add a few a-la-carte options to make it more liveable, it’s the Bighorn that’s the sweet spot of the line.

Upon climbing into the RAM’s comfy confines I immediately remarked at the quality of the cloth seats, which use a fabric that is damn close to tweed and looks exceptional in light or dark grey. Honestly, when was the last time you saw some great cloth in a new vehicle? The showpiece 12-inch screen might be gone, but there’s still a new version of the already excellent eight-inch unit FCA has been using for years and the resolution is now very, very crisp. With a traditional steel spring suspension, the ride isn’t as supple as that of the air-suspension equipped trucks, but is still a damn sight better than “the other guys,” especially when it comes to rear axle chatter. There was no need to search for a speed that didn’t resonate through the frame causing “the shakes,” because RAM engineers virtually eliminated them using some trick modules that vibrate at various frequencies to offset engine vibrations. Truly, these guys seem to have thought of everything. When you open up the cold beverage stash spot under the rear floor mat you can also measure the fish you just caught with the handy ruler they emblazoned on the underside of the lid. Yep, we’re living in the golden age of automotive engineering alright.

Verdict: What RAM has achieved with this new truck is pretty incredible. They’ve rendered the traditional full-size sedan obsolete. Why get a box with a somewhat useable trunk when you can get a box with an infinitely useable bed? When equipped with the second generation air-suspension, the 2019 RAM 1500 glides over rough asphalt and dirt with the grace of a car, not to mention their cabins are as just as quiet too. Thanks in part to active noise cancellation, nearly all road noise has been banished and what remains can be drowned out with a 19-speaker, 900-watt Harmon Kardon sound-system complete with metal grilles. Between that, the available real wood dash inlays, heated/cooled rear seats that offer up to 45(!) inches of legroom, you’d swear this truck interior was that of a full-size luxury sedan.

What Others Are Saying:

• “I really think the interior of this truck has the best-looking design of any half-ton. And it also happens to be endlessly useful. That’s what a truck’s supposed to be all about, after all.” — Andrew Collins, Jalopnik

• “Full-screen, multi-touch gesture functionality when using the navigation system is a revelation, and you can split it in half to allow two different functions to exist simultaneously. Finding USB-C ports alongside standard USBs was a welcome surprise that shows Ram was serious about futureproofing these trucks.” — Bradley Iger, Digital Trends

• “The new 1500 is something subtly, though significantly, different, and perhaps the first of its breed: a pickup that reflects how people who buy pickups circa 2018 actually use their pickups. It’s still a predominantly steel body (the remote-droppable aluminum tailgate is an exception) on a predominantly steel frame. The V8 isn’t going anywhere. But the niceties that have been creeping into pickup cabins over the past decade don’t feel tacked on. They feel, for maybe the first time ever in this corner of the market, fully baked in from the start.” — Graham Kozak, Autoweek

Key Specs

Although the Rebel is genuinely great, I’d personally opt to build out a Bighorn with the optional off-road package that adds a one-inch lift, skid plates and an electronically locking rear differential. That package, plus the aforementioned cloth interior, complete with seating for six thanks to a flip-up center console, would make for one heck of a starting platform for an adventuremobile at a very reasonable price. And yes, I’d absolutely drop $1,500 on the massive panoramic sunroof.

Engine: 5.7L V8
Transmission: 8SPD Auto
Horsepower: 395HP
Torque: 410 ft-lbs
Weight: 5,250 lbs
Towing: 12,700 lbs
Payload: 2,300 lbs

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