Despite high gas prices, the full-size pickup market is still the third largest in the United States. While Ford waits to release its new F-150, Dodge boldly forges ahead, redesigning the Ram to better compete with the Ford and Chevrolet Silverado. An upgraded Hemi V8 and a new Crew Cab body style aim for the heart of the market, while a smooth coil-spring rear suspension and an innovative RamBox storage system give the Ram a competitive advantage.
The 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 is offered with three cab styles and three bed lengths. The new Crew Cab body style replaces the Mega Cab, which used the chassis from Dodge's heavy-duty trucks. The regular cab is offered with 6-foot 4-inch or 8-foot beds, the Quad Cab has the 6-foot 4-inch bed, and the Crew Cab has a 5-foot 7-inch bed. Trim levels include ST, SLT, off-road-oriented TRX, handling-biased Sport and top-of-the line Laramie.
Standard on the ST are air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD stereo, power locks and 245/70R-17 tires on steel wheels. The SLT adds cruise control, power windows, power heated mirrors, remote keyless entry and P265/70R-17 tires on aluminum wheels. The TRX gains off-road-oriented shocks, two-tone paint and on-/off-road light-truck tires. With 4WD, the TRX adds tow hooks, skidplates, a limited-slip differential and LT275/70R-17 all-terrain tires.
The Sport comes standard with the Hemi V8, as well as bucket seats, fog lights and P275/60R-20 tires. The fully equipped Laramie has dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable pedals, uconnect Tunes hard-drive radio, rear park assist and a rearview camera. All Rams have side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and Hill Start Assist, electronic stability control with rollover mitigation and Trailer Sway Control.
The optional RamBox storage system is offered on the Crew Cab. It includes 3.7 cubic feet of lockable, drainable storage space in each bed rail. Also included are a cargo bed divider that doubles as a bed extender and a bed rail system with sliding, adjustable cleats to tie down and secure various loads.
Under the Hood
The base engine, standard on rear-wheel-drive (RWD) regular cab and Quad Cab versions, is a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 215 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. It comes with a four-speed automatic transmission, and garners EPA fuel economy numbers of 15/20 mpg (city/hwy) with RWD and 14/20 mpg with four-wheel drive (4WD).
Standard for all 4WD and Crew Cab rigs is a 4.7-liter V8 that makes 310 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque at 3950 rpm. Fuel economy estimates are 13/19 with both RWD and 4WD. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is standard for Sport and Laramie models and optional otherwise. It churns out 390 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 407 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. It uses Dodge's Multi-Displacement System, which shuts down four cylinders under light load conditions to save gas. EPA fuel economy ratings are 13/19 with RWD and 13/18 with 4WD.
Both V8s come with a five-speed automatic transmission with Dodge's AutoStick manual shift capability. Maximum towing capacities are 3,800 pounds for the V6; 7,600 pounds for the 4.7-liter V8; and 9,100 pounds for the 5.7-liter V8. Maximum payload is 1,850 pounds.
The base 4WD system includes low-range gearing. It works part-time, meaning it shouldn't be engaged on dry pavement. Optional for the Sport trim is a full-time 4WD system that can be left engaged on dry pavement and also includes low-range gearing.
The Ram's interior takes a substantial step forward for 2009. While most of the dash is hard plastic, that's the norm for the class. Thankfully, the armrests and the tops of the doors are nicely padded, and the Ram's interior is as quiet as any in the class. Base trims are quite basic with vinyl upholstery and floor covering.
Materials quality progresses up the line, and the top-line Laramie has leather upholstery, power heated front seats, and a stylish leather-covered dash. From the driver's seat the controls are clearly marked and easy to reach. Chrome trim around many of the dials adds a touch of class, and Laramie versions have even more chrome trim. Small-item storage bins abound, including a dual glove box, a deep center console, and handy door pockets.
The driver has lots of head- and legroom and available power-adjustable pedals help, but a telescoping steering wheel would tailor a comfortable driving position for more types of drivers. Seating capacity expands to as many as six with the Quad Cab or Crew Cab. Taller rear passengers will want more legroom in the Quad Cab, but the Crew Cab has limo-like rear seat room.
Available amenities include a uconnect Tunes hard-drive radio, a uconnect GPS hard-drive radio and navigation system, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a 10-speaker Alpine surround sound audio system, and rear DVD entertainment with Sirius Backseat TV. Uconnect Tunes has a 30-gigabyte hard drive to hold song and picture files, and uconnect GPS adds a navigation system with voice activation. Songs can be ripped from a CD or downloaded from a thumb drive via a USB port.
On the Road
Dodge made competitive models available for testing and we can confirm that the coil-spring rear suspension does its job. Other pickups have rear leaf springs that cause bounding motions over bumps. The Ram irons out those motions, giving it a smoother ride than its competitors.
When it comes to handling, however, the Ram is just like other big pickups. It rides high, leans a lot in corners, and reacts poorly to quick changes of direction. The steering feels natural; it is tighter than that of the Chevrolet Silverado, but not as direct as in the Ford F-150. The brakes are easy to modulate and progressive, but it takes a long time to slow this big beast.
The 3.7-liter V6 is adequate for everyday driving, but those who plan to tow or haul cargo will want one of the V8s. The 4.7-liter V8 offers plenty of power, but we recommend the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 because it offers more towing capacity and little fuel mileage penalty compared to the 4.7. Upgraded for 2009, the Hemi gets the Ram moving with ease and provides confident passing power.
The Sport's R/T package has different transmission tuning and a shorter (numerically higher) rear-end gear ratio. Dodge says it's capable of reaching 60 mph in less than 6.0 seconds. Other Hemi-equipped rigs are probably a second or so slower, depending on body style and equipment. The Ram's five-speed automatic transmission is responsive, especially in the R/T, but the Toyota Tundra 5.7-liter V8 and six-speed automatic transmission combo is the most responsive in this class.
Right for You?
Thanks to high fuel prices, big pickups like the Ram are no longer the best choice for everyday transportation. However, if you tow, haul cargo or really want to help your friends move, the Ram is as capable as any truck on the market. Team that capability with a pleasant interior and a smooth ride and the Ram is a savvy choice among full-size pickups.
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.