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2019 Ram 1500: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by James Riswick March 2018

The 2019 Ram 1500 is at once a careful evolution of its predecessor and also a clever, all-encompassing effort that moves the ball far downfield. It's wisely conservative in certain respects and boldly progressive in others. The new Ram is, quite simply, masterful.

Yet as an all-new truck with a dizzying number of options and possible configurations, it's also an awful lot to cover. So rather than wax poetically, let's dig into everything you need to know about 2019 Ram and see how it performed in our first test drive.

More Grilles Than a BBQ Competition

For many, the new Ram's face represents the biggest change, as it moves away from the traditional "crosshair grille" it inherited from the truck's decades as a Dodge Ram. This controversial change was previewed in the different grille found on the previous generation's uppermost trim levels, and although that's not the design you see here, the new one does share the broad Ram script up front. There are actually five variations of it, with differing amounts of chrome and intricate details. At the rear, designers opted to stick with the ram's-head logo instead of the colossal Ram font used on the old upper trim levels.

The off-road-oriented Ram Rebel is the only truck that keeps its grille (dubbed the "handlebar mustache") and the Ram font at the rear, though the latter has been reduced in size.

The new truck benefits from improved aerodynamics, including the removal of the aerial antenna and the addition of automatically opening and closing shutters behind the grille. There's also an automatically deploying air dam that lowers 2.5 inches at speed, eliminating the sort of unsightly black plastic chin spoiler prominent on GM pickups.

The bed sides have been also raised by 1.5 inches. Not only does this further improve aerodynamics, it also improves the truck's visual proportions and adds a bit more capacity. The RamBoxes also make their return, but are a bit larger, while the tailgate is now not only damped, but can also be remotely lowered on upper trims. Unfortunately, there's no sort of clever step-up system available, as in the Ford F-150 and 2019 GMC Sierra.

Under the Aluminum Hood

Here is where the new Ram really shows how it's both conservative and progressive in areas. In some ways, very little has changed. The 3.6-liter V6 and 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engines carry over unchanged, while the 8-speed automatic is the same apart from new shift mapping. We tested only the V8, which has the same 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque as last year's truck, which is certainly more than enough. We especially like how it sounds: a smooth growl rather than a breathy, decidedly truck-like roar. There's a certain sophistication to it that should be especially appreciated on the upper luxury trims.

Ah, but here's where the progress comes in. The 305-hp V6 might carry over, but it's now attached to a standard 48-volt battery and electric assist system dubbed "eTorque" that provides a boost in torque when accelerating (up to 90 extra lb-ft from the V6's standard 269) and smooths out the power delivery between gears. One could deem it a "mild hybrid."

eTorque is also an option with the V8. It achieves the same results, albeit with 130 lb-ft of extra torque. We didn't get a chance to sample either engine with eTorque, so stay tuned for that story.

Besides eTorque, the previously mentioned aerodynamic enhancements and the loss of about 225 pounds, V8 fuel economy is aided by a revised cylinder-deactivation system. Little devices mounted to the frame, dubbed "active-tuned mass modules," make it possible to more frequently disengage cylinders by canceling out the resulting extra vibration. We did notice a brief "bwah" noise from the exhaust when the cylinders shut off, but if the stereo's on, you'd be extremely hard-pressed to notice any difference between running on four and eight cylinders.

Full fuel economy data was not available at the time of this writing.

The Four C's

As before, the Ram stands out with a 5-link coil-spring rear suspension that greatly benefits ride comfort, handling and trailer control by more precisely controlling the rear end than is possible with leaf springs and a solid rear axle (which are what's found in every other truck). For 2019, a stiffer stabilizer bar and new coil-over shock design up front further improve handling, as do updates made to the electric power steering. The available air suspension also returns, including its ability to rise to clear obstacles and lower to aid loading.

Really, the previous Ram redefined what it meant to "drive like a truck," and the 2019 only pushes that bar higher. During our test drive, the new 1500 was just so civilized and confidence-inspiring. True, it's not as if its competitors are agricultural, but there is nevertheless a greater sense of control, comfort and civility with the Ram.

As for the all-important fourth C, capability, payload is now 2,300 pounds, and maximum towing capacity goes as high as 12,750 pounds with the new Max Tow package, 2-wheel drive, a quad cab and the V8 with eTorque. Without eTorque and/or with a crew cab, the Hemi is in the 11,000-lb range. (Also, in the likely event that towing is on your agenda, the new blind spot monitoring system's range extends back to 34 feet, which should make lane changes less nail-biting).

For those with off-roading on the agenda, the Rebel returns, but is now available in both the quad and crew cabs. It also now comes standard with a steel suspension, though the previously standard air suspension remains an option. Other elements include a 1-in factory lift, an electronic-locking differential, off-road tires, Bilstein shocks, unique suspension tuning and underbody protection. This equipment is also now available on every trim, but only the Rebel gets its special styling and interior color flourishes.

Finally, as before, there are part-time and on-demand 4-wheel-drive systems available. The latter includes an automatic setting that ably engages the front axle as needed (we tested its capability by putting the rear wheels on a slippery cow catcher), in addition to driver-selectable high and low gears.

A Cleverly Evolved and Improved Interior

The new Ram evolves its impressive predecessor's cabin quality and design, while adding more features, clever functional improvements and greater style differentiation between trim levels. In terms of the latter, each trim has different color schemes (it's not just black, beige and gray), trim types (including real wood and metal on upper trims) and even fonts inside the digital gauge cluster (the Long Horn's are ranch-inspired, for example).

Functional improvements can best be seen in the clever new center console design. Besides being big enough to hold a 15-in laptop, different trays slide about to provide differing configurations, while there's a dedicated holder for a smartphone that can be upgraded with wireless charging. For wired charging, there are five USB ports standard, including three that are fully functional to communicate with the infotainment system, and four that are quick-charging Type-C ports. That should be good news for the kids in back, who should also appreciate the available dual-pane sunroof, the 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection and a built-in tablet holder in the center console's aft cupholder unit.

Now, if you'd rather have a 6-passenger configuration, the front bench returns, but the middle seatback is noticeably tall, which is good for passenger comfort and safety, as well as lengthening the fold-down console it doubles as.

Regardless of configuration, the center control stack has been upgraded with a configurable toggle switch bank, improved button quality and upgraded versions of Chrysler's user-friendly touchscreen interfaces. Standard on most trims is the 8.4-in unit that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the Ram-exclusive 12-in vertically oriented touchscreen found on upper trims will not only impress your friends, but unlike similar screens found in Teslas, Volvos and the Toyota Prius Prime, its accompanying hard buttons allow you to more easily access and control certain functions (especially the climate system).

In terms of space, the crew cab is 4 inches longer, and in conjunction with an available reclining rear seat, it's positively limo-like back there (that seat can also be heated and, uniquely, ventilated). The quad cab still suffers from an overtly upright seat angle, though. Regardless of cab design, the driving position is significantly improved by the addition of a telescoping steering wheel and center stack controls moved further rearward.

Finally, Ram has added accident-avoidance tech to the options list, features that were notably absent for 2018.

Is It Worth the Wait?

Think of the 2019 Ram 1500 as an extremely successful movie sequel. It builds upon what worked before and adds new elements to the mix that make the overall product that much more compelling. Importantly, those new elements also help Ram continue to stand out from the pickup crowd while providing the customization and design options today's truck buyers crave. It's a job very well done.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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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.
2019 Ram 1500: First Drive Review - Autotrader