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2018 Ram 1500: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader March 2018

As The Doors once sang, "This is the end." The 2018 Ram 1500 represents the final model year for the current-generation truck, which has now been on sale without a complete makeover for a decade. Sure, it's received some key updates over the years, like the addition of its EcoDiesel engine, an 8-speed automatic and the latest Uconnect infotainment features, but this Ram was so far ahead of its time in key areas that it remains nearly as competitive as the day it was revealed.

The trick is that it has always blazed its own trail with innovative and worthwhile features. Besides that diesel engine and the 8-speed transmission, which are particularly beneficial for towing and fuel economy, the RAM's coil-spring rear suspension, available air suspension, RamBox storage system and user-friendly 8.4-inch touchscreen help it stand out from the crowd. The cabin is still handsome, functional and well-made despite being mostly unchanged for 10 years (we named it one of our Best Interiors), while the 1500 gives up nothing in terms of the nearly endless combinations of trims, cabs, beds and engines.

Of course, there are some disadvantages to its age. Its safety scores are subpar, advanced accident-avoidance features are not available, its steering wheel doesn't telescope and there's certainly something to be said for not getting the latest-and-greatest truck on the market. That should likely change for 2019 with the completely redesigned Ram -- a truck we anticipate to be a careful evolution of the current truck that still features comparable ahead-of-the-game improvements. It may be worth waiting for, but we also don't think you'll be kicking yourself for going with a great deal on the 2018 version.

What's New for 2018?

This would not be the completely redesigned RAM 1500. That's the 2019 model. The 2018 RAM gets new Harvest and Limited Tungsten trim levels, a new Sport appearance package, an upgraded 8.4-in touchscreen (that now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), a standard backup camera on all trim levels and the additional option of leather upholstery on the Rebel.

What We Like

Available diesel power; smooth ride; muscular engine lineup; 8-speed transmission; easy-to-use tech options

What We Don't

Showing its age in some areas; no telescoping steering wheel; lower tow ratings than rivals; no accident-avoidance tech

How Much?

$27,100-$54,000

Fuel Economy

The 2018 Ram 1500 offers three engines. Base models use a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. Like every Ram engine, it's mated to an 8-speed automatic. Fuel economy is 17 miles per gallon in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg in combined driving with rear-wheel drive (2WD), and 16 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined with 4-wheel drive (4WD).

The available 5.7-liter HEMI V8 produces 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. It returns 15 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/17 mpg combined with 2WD, but it's effectively the same with 4WD. Note that midgrade gas is recommended for the HEMI.

The available 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6, dubbed "EcoDiesel," produces 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, making it a great choice for towing. But it also returns great fuel economy, at 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined with RWD. The combined rating lowers to 22 mpg with 4WD. That's exceptional for a full-size truck.

Standard Features & Options

The Ram 1500 is offered in a complex array of body styles, trim levels, engine sizes and drivetrain options. We've summarized the trims here, but note there may be some variation in features and pricing depending on the truck you choose.

At the bottom of the Ram lineup is the commercial-oriented Tradesman ($27,100), which comes with only the basics: steel wheels, vinyl floor coverings and seats, air conditioning, a backup camera and a locking tailgate. You won't even get features such as keyless entry, power locks or power mirrors, though those items are optional.

The Express ($33,300) is essentially a Tradesman with some fancier trim, including 20-in wheels, body-color exterior pieces and interior carpeting.

The first Ram trim level that's more daily driver than commercial work truck is the Big Horn ($31,400), known as the Lone Star in Texas. It adds alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, remote ignition, a power driver's seat, better cloth upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power-sliding rear window, Bluetooth, satellite radio and the 8.4-in Uconnect touchscreen (which includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi and HD Radio).

The Sport ($37,100) and Night ($41,000) are equipped similarly to the Big Horn but add 20-in wheels, special styling flourishes, better headlights and power-adjustable pedals. The Sport is even more sport-oriented with the regular cab, as it's uniquely equipped with 22-in wheels, a limited-slip differential, its own special styling and standard rear-wheel drive.

The new-for-2018 RAM Harvest ($35,100) is the more rugged answer to the Sport and Night. It gets more ground clearance, off-road tires, skid plates, tow hooks, its own special styling and tubular side steps.

To the Big Horn equipment, the Laramie ($42,000) adds leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, driver's-seat memory, a heated steering wheel, a power passenger seat and a 10-speaker upgraded audio system.

The crew-cab- and V8-only Laramie Longhorn ($50,100) adds special styling of its own, plus proximity entry and push-button start, a spray-in bedliner, parking sensors, better leather upholstery and integrated navigation. The Limited ($50,100) has different styling flourishes than the more ranchy Longhorn, but also gets automatic wipers and high beams, upgraded leather and the self-leveling air suspension that's optional on lower trim levels. The Limited Tungsten is really an option package that adds its own special design flourishes, including a front/indigo interior color scheme.

Moving outside the trim-level ladder, there's also the off-road-oriented Ram Rebel ($45,500), which includes special wheels, tires, shocks, tow hooks, styling flourishes and interior trim, plus a selection of desirable feature upgrades.

Safety

Standard safety equipment includes front-side airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags, as well as electronic traction and stability control and trailer-sway control. You can also get a backup camera, automatic high beams and front and rear parking sensors.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests, the Ram 1500 earned four stars overall. That rating included four stars in frontal crash tests, along with five stars in NHTSA's side-impact assessment. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 1500 extended and crew cabs the best possible rating of Good in its moderate-overlap front and side crash tests, but the truck got the second-worst rating of Marginal in the small-overlap front crash and roof-strength tests.

Behind the Wheel

The Ram 1500 delivers the best ride we've experienced in a full-size pickup, capably absorbing most road imperfections without the sort of jiggling motions typical of a pickup. Credit goes to the unique coil-spring rear suspension, which also aids in handling and trailer control. Improving things further is the available air suspension, which, when taken off-road, allows the Ram 1500 to bound over dips and hills without bottoming out, all while keeping tight control over body movements that usually translate into passengers being tossed about the cab. Regardless of suspension, we've also found that the steering delivers good feedback and an on-center feel (though it lacks the telescoping adjustment of its rivals and the upcoming 2019 Ram).

The 3.6-liter V6 is a capable workhorse, delivering good off-the-line acceleration and impressive fuel economy. Plus, with its 8-speed automatic, you'll be shocked at how capable it is when towing. However, for heavy towing and improved passing power, the 5.7-liter HEMI V8 or 3.0-liter EcoDiesel are superior choices. Of the two, we strongly recommend the EcoDiesel given its substantial fuel economy advantage.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 -- The Chevrolet Silverado and its GMC Sierra twin offer a well-rounded blend of attributes, including an efficient V8 engine, user-friendly tech, a quiet cabin and top crash-test scores.

2018 Ford F-150 -- The F-150 boasts excellent turbocharged V6 powertrains, along with strong fuel economy numbers and a strong driving experience and interior. Even if you're a diehard Ram driver, the latest Ford is worth a look.

Used RAM 2500 HD -- If you need even more capabilities than the Ram can offer, you might find the brawny 2500 HD more to your liking. Unfortunately, prices can be pretty high, which is why we suggest checking out a used model. On the upside, little has changed over the years, so the differences between new and used models will be slight.

Autotrader's Advice

You'd be surprised at just how capable the base V6 is, but we think the EcoDiesel is the way to go. It betters the HEMI V8's torque while thoroughly besting both gas engines' fuel economy. You'll save hundreds of dollars at the pump every year. As for trim level, we would suggest going with a Big Horn/Lone Star, as it has a good selection of features at a reasonable price.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Ram 1500: New Car Review - Autotrader