Pros: Amazingly compliant ride (except Tradesman HD), satisfying 5.7-liter V8, nice cabin, handy RamBox storage system, powerful yet affordable Tradesman and Express models.
Cons: Marginal crash-test scores, barely useful base V6, typical truck ride quality in the leaf-sprung Tradesman.
The 2012 Dodge Ram 1500 (note that Dodge has technically dropped "Dodge" from the truck's name) is the softie of full-size trucks. Allow us to explain. We certainly don't mean that the Ram lacks toughness. Indeed, with a maximum towing capacity in excess of 10,000 pounds, this Dodge is one of the toughest kids on the block. But the Ram 1500 has a trick up its sleeve, or rather, in its rear suspension: coil springs. That's right-in the leaf-spring-dominated world of big pickups, the Ram is the only one to use coils out back.
And what a difference it makes.
The first time we drove a Ram 1500 with an empty bed, we were quite frankly shocked by its smooth and compliant ride. Unloaded trucks are supposed to bounce and jiggle all over the place, but the Ram did the most convincing luxury-sedan impression of any truck we've ever driven. Heck, we can think of some SUVs that don't ride this well.
Now, let's keep in mind that the new Ram 1500 Tradesman HD model-it's basically a heavy-duty Ram 2500 with a Ram 1500 front end-has a conventional leaf-spring rear suspension, so it rides much more stiffly. Fortunately, though, Dodge got plenty more right about this Ram than just the springs. In particular, the interior is one of the most attractive in the business, and both the Express and Tradesman HD models are great opportunities to get the excellent 5.7-liter V8 in an affordable truck.
Granted, the base V6-powered Ram is not competitive, but the V8-powered Express and Tradesman are barely more expensive, so that's almost a moot point. Although the market's teeming with capable full-size trucks, we've got a soft spot for the 2012 Dodge Ram 1500.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Dodge Ram 1500 comes in three different cab types: two-door Regular Cab, four-door Quad Cab and four-door Crew Cab with longer rear doors and increased rear legroom. There are also three bed lengths: 96-inch long bed (Regular Cab only), 76-inch short bed (Regular Cab or Quad Cab) and 67-inch short bed (Crew Cab only).
The Ram 1500 is available in a rather befuddling array of trim levels and packages, so we'll try to break it down for you. First of all, there are four basic trim levels; we'll get to the packages in a minute. The ST gives you just the basics, including 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlamps, air conditioning, manual windows, vinyl upholstery, a 40/20/40-split front bench seat, a column-mounted shifter and a six-speaker CD sound system. The SLT steps up to 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome trim for the bumpers and grille, power heated mirrors, power front windows, a power-sliding back window (not available on Regular Cab), keyless entry, cruise control, an upgraded gauge cluster with a trip computer, nicer interior trim, cloth upholstery and dual glove-boxes.
The Sport comes standard with the Hemi V8 and adds 20-inch wheels, sport-themed exterior trim, fog lamps, quad headlamps, body-color outside mirrors with puddle lamps and integrated turn signals, bucket seats including a power driver seat, a floor-mounted shifter, a center console with storage boxes and power outlets, supple upper dash trim with accent stitching and a premium sound system with USB/Bluetooth connectivity and either seven (Regular Cab) or 10 speakers. The fancy-pants Laramie (Quad and Crew Cabs only) tacks on a two-tone exterior color scheme, chrome outside mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, wood-grain interior trim, a heated steering wheel, power driver adjustments with memory, leather upholstery, a power passenger seat, heated front seats and a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with hard-drive music storage and navigation. Note that some of the higher trims' standard equipment is optional on lower trims.
Now for the packages. The Express package is essentially a base ST model with the Hemi V8, 20-inch alloy wheels and a few additional aesthetic upgrades. The Regular Cab, long-bed-only Tradesman HD is a base ST on the inside, but it swaps out the standard Ram 1500's underpinnings for those of the Ram 2500 heavy-duty pickup, including an industrial-grade frame with rear leaf springs. It also features the Hemi V8 and a spray-in bedliner. The performance-optimized Sport R/T features the Hemi V8 and shorter gearing, while the Laramie Limited and Laramie Longhorn are even more luxurious versions of the Laramie. Lest we forget, there are also the Outdoorsman and Mossy Oak packages for those who plan to venture off the proverbial beaten path.
Optional on every Ram 1500 is the RamBox cargo management system, which includes illuminated, lockable, drainable bins on both bed sides, a removable bed divider/extender and a cargo rail system with adjustable cleats. A sunroof is also offered on some models.
The Ram's front seats-both the three-person bench and the two individual buckets-are about what you'd expect in a full-size truck, providing plenty of space for a wide range of physiques. The cushioning is a little squishier than in some other trucks, though the available leather upholstery firms things up considerably. Front passengers will notice that the Ram 1500's dashboard designers went beyond the typical no-nonsense approach, opting instead for a layout with genuine style and respectable materials quality-especially in Sport and above. The controls are ergonomically sound, and they're even operable by a gloved hand in most cases. The touchscreen, however, is considerably less straightforward (see "Technology," below).
The Ram 1500 offers two back-seat options. The Quad Cab provides adequate room for adults, but one look at the narrow rear doors tells you it's not exactly limo-like back there. If you plan to carry rear passengers on a regular basis, we recommend the extended-length Crew Cab, which lets the crew in back stretch their legs after a long day.
Not surprisingly, the base Ram 1500 doesn't come with USB or Bluetooth connectivity, but it's not hard to add these niceties. The central technology topic in this truck is the available 6.5-inch touchscreen display, which includes about 30 gigabytes of digital music storage. That's an unusual perk in a truck, and the system's feature set is pretty competitive across the board. Ergonomically, however, it's a bit of a mess, as it lacks the crisp colors and friendly smartphone-style icons that make Dodge's new 8.4-inch touchscreen (as seen in the Charger and Journey, for example) so appealing. If you're interested, make sure you play with it at the dealership and verify that you're all right with the way it works.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Ram 1500's standard engine is a 3.7-liter V6 rated at 215 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque. The only available setup with the V6 is rear-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic. That's not a lot of power for a family sedan these days, let alone a full-size truck, so we'd suggest looking instead at one of the two available V8s, which get five-speed automatics (with six manual-mode speeds) and optional four-wheel drive. The 4.7-liter V8 makes a much healthier 310 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque, while the surprisingly affordable (in Express trim, at least) 5.7-liter "Hemi" V8 cranks out 390 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of torque. We've been pleasantly surprised by the 4.7's grunt, but given how attainable the smooth, strong Hemi is these days, we think it's the clear winner.
If you're wondering what's up with the Tradesman HD, well, it gets the heavy-duty Ram 2500's version of the 5.7-liter Hemi, which is rated at 383 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. It also gets a true six-speed automatic transmission.
Note that while rear-wheel drive is standard, four-wheel drive with skid plates and a mode-selector dial is available.
According to Dodge's latest figures, the regular Ram 1500 4x4 can tow up to 10,250 pounds with the Hemi V8, while the Tradesman HD can trailer up to 11,500 pounds-and haul a healthy 3,125-pound payload (versus an 1,850-pound maximum with the regular Ram). On the fuel economy front, the rear-wheel-drive Ram 1500 gets 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway with every available engine, while the four-wheel-drive Ram 1500 gets 14/19 mpg with the 4.7 and 13/19 mpg with the 5.7.
The 2012 Dodge Ram 1500 comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and six airbags (front, knee, and side-curtain).
In government crash-testing, the Ram 1500 Regular Cab received just three stars out of five overall, including four stars for frontal impacts and three stars for side impacts. The Quad Cab and Crew Cab models, though, garnered four stars overall. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety deemed the Ram 1500 "Good"-the highest possible rating-in frontal-offset and rear crash protection, but only "Marginal"-the second-worst rating-for side and roof protection.
Cruising down the highway in a Ram 1500, you really could mistake the ride quality and noise levels for those of a luxury car. On less polished pavement, of course, the truck's solid rear axle and body-on-frame construction make themselves known, but there's still significantly less jiggling here than in any other truck (except for the leaf-spring-equipped Tradesman HD). The only real negative consequence of the coil springs that we've found is the tendency of the rear end to squat towards the tires under heavy loads.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford F-150 - The F-150 recently received an entirely new roster of engines, including a twin-turbocharged V6 that promises V8-grade performance with superior fuel economy.
Toyota Tundra - The Tundra's 5.7-liter V8 provides stiff competition for the Ram's Hemi, and we like the Toyota's stylish interior, too.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 - Although it's getting on in years, the Silverado remains a solid no-nonsense choice, delivering plenty of work-truck capability.
If we needed a truck for work, we'd get the Tradesman HD, no doubt about it. With its heavy-duty frame, Hemi V8 and remarkably low price, the Tradesman is probably the best value in this class. For pleasure, we'd be tempted by the similarly affordable Express, which combines the Hemi V8 and the coil-spring rear suspension in a street-friendly package.