For full-size pickup buyers, these are the good old days. Never before have trucks been more capable for hauling and towing nor more competent at coddling passengers. Moreover, today's trucks make bold styling statements. There is no mistaking a Ford F-150 for a Nissan Titan or a Toyota Tundra, nor even confusing a Chevy Silverado with a GMC Sierra. Any one of them would be a good choice from a consumer's point of view.
But it was the Ram that started the high-style-truck trend back in 1994 when Dodge took a risk with a bold, retro big-rig design. That truck transformed Ram from a bit player with staid styling to a big-stage event. The Dodge Ram has run with the big boys ever since, sometimes leading, sometimes trailing, but always solidly on the bill. Whether the '08 Ram is merely as good as the trucks listed above, or somewhat better, is more a matter of personal preference than anything else.
The Dodge Ram 1500 light-duty pickups are smooth and refined. Their cabs are comfortable and convenient, among the roomiest in their respective classes. The Quad Cab is handy for hauling friends and family but even the Regular Cab is roomy.
Arguably, the Ram is the best-looking truck on the market. Its styling is bold and handsome, even more so in its latest incarnation.
Ram was extensively re-engineered for 2006, with a new hydroformed frame that's boxed its full length; plus new suspension and body mounts that improved ride, handling, and quietness. That same year, Ram was modestly restyled inside and out.
The 2008 model year brings new life to the 4.7-liter V8, with horsepower up 31 percent to 310 hp and torque up 10 percent to 330 pound-feet. Other updates to the 2008 Dodge Ram lineup include simpler maintenance intervals, trailer sway control added to the optional stability system, available tire pressure monitors, new steering hardware for 4WDs, dark maple woodgrain trim on Laramie, and two new colors right out of the muscle car age: Sunburst Orange and Detonator Yellow.
Ram's optional Hemi engine delivers power and efficiency. The Hemi features Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System, which shuts down four of the eight cylinders when they are not needed. The switchover is seamless, and fuel economy is improved by as much as 20 percent, says Dodge. Step on the gas, however, and the cylinders reawaken, ready to deliver the 345 peak ponies that make the Hemi-powered Ram one of the most exciting light-duty pickups on the market. Adding to the Hemi's responsiveness is a five-speed automatic.
The 2008 Dodge Ram is available as a Regular Cab or four-door Quad Cab. (Dodge also offers a Mega Cab 500, which is built on a heavy-duty chassis and reviewed by New Car Test Drive with the Ram heavy-duty models).
Two bed lengths are available: a 6-foot, 3-inch short-bed and an 8-foot long-bed. Several engines are offered: A 3.7-liter overhead-cam V6, 4.7-liter V8, and the 5.7-liter Hemi V8. A six-speed manual transmission comes standard with the 3.7-liter V6 and 4.7 V8 and the 5.7 V8s use a five-speed automatic; a four-speed auto for the V6 and five-speed auto for the 4.7 are available. Several trim levels are offered:
ST is the base model with vinyl upholstery and wind-up windows. ST comes standard with air conditioning, tilt steering, variable intermittent wipers, 40/20/40 vinyl seat, AM/FM/CD stereo, rear-wheel ABS, 17-inch steel wheels and a full-size spare tire, and a V8 and electric-shift transfer case on 4WD. Options include a bed liner, trailer tow mirrors, cruise control, four-wheel ABS, side-curtain airbags, power adjustable pedals, 17-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels, and a power sliding rear window for the Quad Cab.
SXT is essentially an ST with cloth upholstery, active turn signals (touch once for 3 blinks) and remote keyless entry. Options parallel those on the ST, although the STX is the trim level for the TRX4 Off-Road package.
SLT comes standard with the 4.7-liter flex-fuel V8, six-disc CD changer, carpeting, power windows/door locks/heated mirrors, overhead console with mini-trip computer and compass, cruise control, and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels. Options include a navigation system, Sirius Satellite Radio, UConnect Bluetooth hands-free wireless communication, 5.7 V8, on-demand 4WD, bucket seats, six-way power driver seat and 20-inch aluminum wheels. A power sunroof and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system are available for SLT Quad Cabs.
The Sport group for the SLT comes with the Hemi engine and five-speed automatic transmission, unique cloth-faced bucket seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, body-color grille and bumper fascia, fog lamps, and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels. Options are the same as for the SLT.
Laramie is the luxury trim level, offered only as Quad Cab automatic. It comes standard with dual-zone climate control, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, four-wheel ABS, security alarm, and 20-inch wheels on 2WD models. Leather seats are standard, with a heated, split 40/20/40 bench up front and power adjustment for the driver. Options include navigation, power sunroof, adjustable pedals, and electronic upgrades.
Safety features include optional side-curtain airbags designed to provide head protection in a side impact or rollover. We recommend getting them; head injuries are the leading cause of death in side impacts. The Ram was awarded the highest possible rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's offset frontal crash test. Three-point shoulder belts are provided at all locations, including the rear center seat; wear them, because seat belts are your first line of defense in a crash. An electronic stability program (ESP) is optional.
The 2008 Dodge Ram presents a bold, distinctive appearance with its big horse-collar grille and Freightliner fenders. The concept dates back a dozen years, but it received a major redesign for 2002 and a makeover for 2006. The headlamps cut back deeper into the fenders, and a flattened front bumper on Sport and Laramie emphasizes Ram's big-rig image. A slot in the front bumper aids engine cooling and air conditioner performance.
Ram's trademark front grille remains one of the most instantly recognizable front ends on the road. A thick band of chrome surrounds the grille on ST, SLT and Laramie; the band is body color on Sport models. The broad, sloping hood has a pronounced crown that falls over the sides to the prominent front fenders, helpful for clearance, less so for seeing edges in tight quarters.
A fast, raked-back windshield enhances aerodynamics and water management, while gracefully blending modern sleekness with Ram's retro lower body. The leading edge of the front door overlaps the A-pillar, creating a smooth transition from the front of the cab to the side. Everything is smooth and integrated. The big side mirrors, great for visibility, are mounted on platforms to minimize wind noise, and a channel has been specially designed to keep water off of the mirrors. A small spoiler at the top of the tailgate, new last year, is said to improve fuel efficiency.
Rams sit relatively high off the ground, particularly the four-wheel-drive models. Tailgate load height is 35 inches on four-wheel-drive models, and a little over 33-1/2 inches with two-wheel-drive. That seems high when trying to heave heavy gear aboard. All beds are fitted with boat cleats designed to handle 1,000 pounds each.
Ordering the long bed adds 20 inches to the wheelbase of a Dodge Ram. And a Quad Cab wheelbase is 20 inches longer than a Regular Cab. So a Quad Cab long bed has 40 more inches of wheelbase than a Regular Cab short bed. Long-bed Rams also get a bigger fuel tank, 35 gallons in place of the standard 26 gallons; some of the latter offer a 34-gallon option.
The Dodge Ram is among the roomiest of the full-size pickups, and its cab is a pleasant place to be. It sacrifices a few inches of bed space for interior space.
Regular Cab and Quad Cab versions offer identical roominess in the front seats. Standard front seating in the Ram is a bench split 40/20/40. The narrow center section features a large fold-down armrest with a compartment big enough to hold a laptop.
We've found both the cloth and the leather seats comfortable. The driving position is good, with good visibility in all directions, though the aerodynamic front end makes it impossible to see the front corners. Big mirrors on the Ram make it easy to see what's behind.
We found the bucket seats in the Sport version comfortable and supportive and the sporty fabric looks durable. The latest fabrics, first introduced with the 2007 models, are designed to be more stain and odor-resistant than before, while also reducing static cling. Laramie models get silver trim adorning the door panels and instrument bezels. Laramie comes with distinctive leather trim, with higher-contrast color seat inserts.
The Ram interior shows attention to details that add utility and convenience. The big fold-down center armrest/console comes with adjustable dividers and a power outlet. A hook on the passenger-side floor well is provided for securing a plastic grocery bag or anything else with suitable handles.
Premium amenities such as the full-screen GPS navigation radio and Bluetooth hands-free communications are available, along with a rear-seat DVD system for Quad Cabs. We found the navigation radio to be a nice design and relatively easy to operate; these systems are getting better all the time and the latest Chrysler Group's systems work quite well.
Overall, the center dash is a paradigm of convenience. Large heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) buttons can be operated while wearing gloves. A textured fabric is used for trim around the audio and HVAC controls that gives the center dash a nice look and feel. Just below the heating controls is a slot lined with a rubber mat that's perfect for a wallet. A big panel below that folds down with adjustable cup holders. Overhead is a console with an effective pair of map lights, a trip computer, a compartment for sunglasses, and a compass, perhaps redundant on navigation-equipped models.
The design of the standard audio system could be improved for ease of use. Sometimes you have to search for the right button to press. Since preset buttons store more than one station in memory, setting a preset for a station requires pressing a separate Set button, rather than just holding the preset button down. Small, sliding bass and treble controls are harder to adjust than knobs when bouncing around in a pickup truck. Steering wheel audio controls improve this situation with brilliantly designed buttons behind the steering wheel that are easy to use, at least until you have an awkward driving moment and grip the wheel and crank up the volume by mistake. Likewise, cruise controls on the steering wheel are easy to operate and come packaged with a tilt steering column.
The interior materials appear to be of good quality. The available faux wood surface on the center stack looks okay, though it's clearly not wood, partly because of the way it's molded around the nooks and crannies. White-faced instruments with turquoise numbers look sporty and trendy, but don't offer the legibility of traditional white-on-black designs, particularly at dusk. The top brow of the instrument panel provides glare protection in bright sunlight. At night, the instruments are nicely illuminated in green.
Power adjustable pedals let shorter drivers adjust their seating position better so they aren't sitting so close to the airbag. This improves comfort, safety, and drivability. Power adjustable pedals are a good choice for two-driver families because they allow shorter drivers to move farther away from the airbag-armed steering wheel, reducing the chance of airbag injuries.
Regular Cab models come fitted with a tray behind the seats big enough to hold a large bucket. Dodge even supplies the bucket, and a tray designed to carry tools and such. Big hooks behind the seats are handy for hanging dry cleaning or plastic shopping bags.
The Quad Cab features a roomy rear seat, with enough rake to the seatback to make it comfortable for two adults, though there isn't a lot of legroom. The size of the rear bench makes it suitable for child safety seats, and all three rear seating positions are fitted with tether anchors. With one hand you can flip the Quad Cab's rear seat down. An optional metal frame then folds into place to create a rigid platform designed to support 500 pounds, useful for carrying cargo. The rear doors open 85 degrees, making it easy to get in or load gear, and the rear windows glide all the way down. Overall, the Quad Cab is a friendly, practical design for hauling people and gear; it features four conventional doors. If you need even more room, take a look at the Mega Cab.
The Dodge Ram rides nicely, even when empty, but it rides better with some weight in the bed. The Ram's rigid chassis minimizes road vibration. Rack-and-pinion steering contributes to sharp handling. The result overall is that the Ram offers responsive handling, a comfortable ride, and a general feeling of tightness.
The Ram is a big truck and on narrow roads it feels big and tall, with broad fenders that seem to fill small country roads. The ride height of the Ram adds to this sensation. It's sometimes difficult to be sure exactly where your fenders are because you can't see them.
Quad Cab models add 20 inches to the wheelbase and a long bed adds another 20 inches, so a Quad Cab long bed is a long truck, riding on a 160.5-inch wheelbase. Like others in its class, it is long on roominess and utility, but not the easiest to turn around.
That said, the Ram handles reasonably well and powers through or over just about anything, even when the tires aren't always precisely where you intended to place them.
All Rams come standard with big four-wheel disc brakes that are smooth and easy to modulate.
The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is the most popular engine choice. Fire up the Hemi, let it idle, and it burbles like a good old American V8, though there's nothing old or outdated about this engine. Although technically a traditional pushrod design with its camshaft in the block, the Hemi's head geometry is more like that of a multiple-overhead-cam engine and features twin spark plugs, direct ignition, and electronic throttle control. It's a thoroughly modern engine. The Hemi features Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System, which can deactivate four of the eight cylinders when cruising for as much as a 20 percent gain in fuel economy. The switch from eight cylinders to four is usually undetectable to the driver, but since the Ram is heavier and less aerodynamic than Hemi sedans and wagons, don't expect the same percentage increase in economy.
The Hemi's peak power and torque ratings are 345 horsepower at 5400 rpm and 375 pound-feet of at 4200. It comes with a modern five-speed automatic transmission that adds to its responsiveness and flexibility. Punch it and you know you've got a Hemi under the hood. A properly equipped Hemi increases the Ram's towing capacity to 9,100 pounds yet it's rated 14/18 mpg with 2WD.
The smaller, 4.7-liter V8 has been thoroughly revised for 2008 with more than 30 percent more power. Now at 310 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, ratings just 35 and 45, respectively, behind the Hemi, and the 4.7 is more efficient, has a wider powerband, runs on regular unleaded (mid-grade is recommended for the Hemi) and is smoother yet than the Hemi. Unike the Hemi it can be mated to a manual transmission, and the automatic is the same five-speed unit the Hemi uses. The 4.7-liter V8 is available in most states with Flex Fuel Vehicle (FFV) capability, meaning it can run on gasoline or up to E85 Ethanol.
The 3.7-liter overhead-cam V6 is smooth and works well with the manual six-speed gearbox. If you don't tow more than the occasional tent or personal watercraft, or live in the mountains where long grades and high altitudes conspire against you, then it may offer enough power in a light-duty truck. The V6 develops 215 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque, and is rated 16/21 mpg with manual transmission, 15/21 mpg with automatic.
Trailer towing capacities range from 2,900 pounds to 9,100 pounds depending on engine, transmission, axle ratio, cab style, wheelbase, trim, and wheels; consult Dodge towing guidelines for particulars. The available 20-inch wheels typically reduce towing capacity by 1,000 pounds. Payloads range from about half a ton to almost a ton. In short, if you tow or haul, compare these capacities before selecting a model. On automatic Rams, a Tow/Haul mode for the transmission provides crisper shifts and reduces gear searching for reduced heat buildup when towing.
Four-wheel-drive models use a part-time transfer case that can be shifted electrically from two-wheel drive without stopping. Shifting into 4WD High locks the center differential. Shifting down to low range provides superior traction in extreme conditions. The front axle driveshaft is automatically disengaged when operating in two-wheel drive. This minimizes the front-drive system's energy consumption and improves fuel economy.
A full-time four-wheel-drive system is also available. Under normal driving conditions, the full-time system delivers 48 percent of the torque to the front wheels and 52 percent to the rear wheels. It's an excellent choice for icy conditions, gravel roads, or any situation that presents inconsistent grip. This system includes a locking transfer case that features 4WD High and Low modes.
A limited-slip rear differential is available and we recommend it for drivers who intend to go off road. A Protection Group includes tow hooks plus skid plates for the front suspension and transfer case. Automatics are available with a 3.55:1 axle ratio, or a 3.92:1 ratio, the latter better for towing and off-road driving. Some manual transmission models come with a 3.21:1 ratio for maximum highway economy.
The Dodge Ram offers big power and big capabilities. It's responsive and comfortable as an everyday driver and it's ready to do some serious work when called upon. Ram's distinctive styling makes it stand out in a rapidly improving field. Ram Quad Cab models offer a brilliant combination of comfort and utility. Even Regular Cabs are generously roomy and are thoughtfully set up to accommodate gear behind the seat. The new 4.7-liter V8 delivers good acceleration and is paired well with the smooth, responsive five-speed automatic. The 5.7-liter Hemi delivers stronger acceleration performance and is an excellent choice for the heaviest trailers.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reported from Los Angeles, with Sam Moses in San Antonio, John Katz in Pennsylvania, and G.R. Whale in Los Angeles.
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