|1. The Ram is the first full-size pickup to adopt a coil sprung rear axle in the interests of an improved ride.
2. Crew cab models and a new Ram Box option with side mounted storage units are new options for 2009 ½ ton Rams
3. Top of-the-line Hemi V8 now makes 390 hp and 407 ft-lbs of torque thanks to higher compression and a redesigned intake manifold, making for tremendous acceleration (0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds).
When Dodge first gave us the 18-wheeler look with the Trevor Creed designed Ram, way back in 1994, it turned the full-size pickup market on its ear. Since then successive Rams have built upon the macho looks, becoming larger than life mobile statements to everything that is big, rugged and all-American.
For 2009 Chrysler has given its full-size warhorse a substantial freshening, with updated styling, revised interior, a new coil-sprung rear suspension and a nifty Ram Box feature, with lockable storage compartments built into the sides of the bed. But, we can’t help wondering if the once hard as nails Ram is perhaps becoming a bit soft. And in this soggy economy is there still enough of a market for personal use pickups? Let’s find out.
OUTSIDE AND IN
While the new Ram looks decidedly familiar, changes to the front fascia, bumper, headlights, hood and grille, modernize the Kenworth look and improve aerodynamics. Drag Coefficient has actually dropped from .46 to .42 on the new one, which is quite significant for a full-size pickup. One of the new Ram’s biggest selling features is the new Ram Box with dual lockable and illuminated storage bins on the outside of the bed. Only offered on Crew Cab models, these provide a nifty alternative to standard in-bed toolboxes and offer a good solution to keep prized tools and gear away from prying eyes. That said, the Ram Box option eats in to the already fairly small load area of the short 5 feet 7-inch bed, though this is somewhat negated by the inclusion of a built-in bed extender. Standard short and long (8-inch beds) are still offered, though the last is not available on the Crew Cab models.
For years Chrysler products were notoriously known for chintzy interiors, acres of shiny, scratchy plastics and knobs, lids and covers that fell off simply by staring at them. The 2002-vintage Ram was no exception to the rule, though things gradually improved with the passing of time. This year, the cabin fixtures were a major focus in the big truck’s freshening and quite frankly, it shows. Now it doesn’t matter whether you’re driving a base Ram, with a regular cab and rubber floor mats, or a four-door Crew Cab Laramie, you can clearly see that this one was put together with a bit more than just a tube of modeling glue and some double sided sticky tape. The steering wheel feels solid, the seats are well bolstered, with good fore and aft adjustment and you won’t snap off the rake handle on the first, or even the 51st try. The steering column function stalks; HVAC and stereo controls are a good deal more substantial, as are the window, mirror and lock switches. Overall ergonomics are good too with decent outward visibility, arm reach and a comfortable posture. The Quad Cab models, despite looking like a Crew Cab, are still tight in the rear seat room department and Dodge would be better off having the back set of doors opening rearward to maximize easy entry and exit. Adding a proper Crew Cab option to half-ton Rams, is very much welcome with good space and comfort for rear riders. Laramie trucks now also follow Ford’s path, offering a lengthy center console with a floor-mounted shifter. For a truck, we still think it’s a bit silly, but the storage bins are actually really useful and the shift handle has a nice feel to it when engaging drive. In Car Entertainment is also a major selling point of the latest Ram with not only standard MP3/ CD AM/FM, but also Sirius XM satellite radio, optional GPS, uConnect Wifi and a first – streaming video for rear passengers (standard on the Laramie, Big Horn and Lone Star models).
ON THE ROAD
If you’ve ever driven a 2002-08 Dodge Ram, out on the black stuff it feels, well big. There’s this great aura of massiveness as you bear down on hapless car drivers, part of the reason this truck so appealing among a particular segment of pickup buyers.
However, the truck was also rough riding. It did not like bumps or potholes – it would bounce around as if the rear leaf springs had been replaced with pogo sticks and it didn’t matter whether the truck rode on 17 or 20-inch wheels, the effect was still the same. Also, among full-size pickups it was at the back of the pack in terms of handling and agility, it always felt big, with slow, fluffy steering and a tendency to plow through corners. Hit a pothole or rock and the whole linkage would quiver, leaving you to think that the tie rod ends and box were left behind on the ground. As a result, we weren’t expecting a whole lot of improvement in the latest one. How wrong we were. While the steering isn’t as smooth and linear as say a Ford F-150, it is much improved, with far better weighting and when you turn the wheel, the Ram actually goes where you ask it too. With the big wheels and tires it’s actually quite agile and you can throw this truck about without really breaking a sweat. Big bumps still send shocks and a bit of flex through the steering column and wheel, but it’s nowhere near as scary as before. The adoption of coil springs for the solid rear axle, gives the new Ram an on-road character that’s worlds removed from its immediate predecessor. The ride is far less bouncy and the back has far less tendency to skip through a corner or buck when the pavement gets a little bumpy, as it does frequently on those wonderfully maintained North Eastern and Mid Western roads. However, the downside of the coils is that when you’re towing a load, or you’re going four wheeling, the axle feels like it’s about to come loose at times, especially when negotiating turns at middling speeds. Because the truck is so new, we can’t actually say whether or not the new rear end can really hold up to the rigors of heavy use, but at this early stage it appears that by adopting it, Dodge has clearly set its sights more on the personal use market than the work market. This even applies to the entry level trucks, which may turn more contractors away and into the arms of its competitors. Four wheel disc brakes with standard ABS are featured across the board, and equipped with them the big Ram has good stopping power, able to come to a complete rest from 60 mph in less than 135 feet for the 5,900 lb Crew Cab Laramie.
In terms of power delivery, the base, 210 hp 3.7-liter V-6 gets the Ram moving, but anything more than a regular cab and shortbox and it starts to feel the strain and is rough and coarse at higher revs. The four-speed automatic hooked to it doesn’t really help either; this engine needs an extra gear and perhaps a redesigned intake manifold with longer runners might help its cause, but then again, things like that cost money. Still, as base engines and base trucks go, there are worse alternatives. The mid-range 4.7 liter V-8, a long-time Ram staple, is rated at 310 hp and 330 ft-lbs of torque. Going from the V-6 to this is like changing from propellers to jets. It also gets the Mercedes sourced five-speed automatic and is a highly capable engine delivering plenty of satisfying low and mid end grunt, through a wide rev range. In Ram circles it provides a good blend of thrust, with acceptable fuel economy. However, part of the reason for buying one of these rigs in the first place is to get your hands on the King Kong Hemi. The 5.7-liter V-8 has been given a few updates of its own for ’09, including revised intake runners, with new active short and long pipes, plus a more advanced Multi-Displacement system to boost fuel economy and redesigned pistons with a higher compression ratio to promote faster burning and more efficient power delivery. Make no mistake; this engine’s a real screamer and fully lives up to its 390 hp and 407 ft-lb of torque rating. Stand on the gas and yee-haw!! The big Ram can scoot to 60 mph in less than seven seconds in Laramie form and wants to just keep on going. It also sounds superb; thanks in part to a redesigned exhaust system that now offers proper dual outlets, right from the factory. While the Hemi makes very light work of most situations, acceleration, hills, overtaking etc, one area where it falls off is in towing. The Ram has the lowest tow rating of any current full-size American truck (7,300 lbs) and it shows. The engine is eager as ever, it’s just that the transmission feels that it’s not quite attached to it. With a 5,500-lb trailer attached to the rear bumper, the motor to spins in frustration without the truck gaining any significant forward motion. Once up to speed it’s fine, but this aspect, like the all coil suspension, puts another question over the truck’s true suitability for rough ‘n’ ready work use, especially when its ½ ton rivals can easily pull 8,000 lbs or more. Another drawback is the Ram’s thirst. Although improved, the 5.7-liter Hemi engined trucks still struggle to get better than 18 miles per gallon on the highway, when rivals are pushing well into the 20s.
Dodge has spent a lot of money on the 2009 Ram. While the truck is far from being entirely new, it boasts a raft of well thought out improvements, with a great interior, superb ride quality and strong V-8 engines. It’s also competitively priced. You can jump into a base SLT regular cab for $32,535, while the SRX starts at $33,080, the Sport at $37,270 and even the top line Laramie, stickering at a fairly reasonable $41,235 MSRP. However, with fewer options and trim levels than Ford or GM when it comes to bed/cab and equipment configurations, along with that coil suspension and a heavy emphasis on gingerbread, especially the R/T, Laramie, and specialty Lone Star and Big Horn trim levels, clearly indicate that this truck is designed to appeal more to the personal use buyer than the serious truck person. And while that target was dead on the money four years ago, it has since shifted as more urban cowboys go back to their sedan roots, leaving hardcore truck buyers to get on with it. Which isn’t the best situation to be in when launching a new pickup like this.
Much improved interior, with better fit and finish and sound ergonomics Ride quality on paved surfaces much improved, thanks to the coil sprung rear endRam Box storage bins a very novel and useful concept for a full size truck
Fewer trim and equipment levels than its rivals; leave the Ram behind in the versatility stakes Towing capacity not up to class standards Fuel economy remains a sore point, with even the base V6 struggling to break 13/19 mpg city/highway