2010 Dodge Ram 1500 4x4: Off-Road Review

Off-road, the Ram 1500 proves capable, but is hardly the ideal beast for the task

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2010 Dodge Ram 1500 4x4: Off-Road Review
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In 2009, Dodge gave its full-size, half-ton pickup a major revamp, including a more powerful Hemi V8, redesigned interior, greater number of configurations and a redesigned rear-suspension with coil springs. When it was launched we got a chance to put the truck through its paces on the road, slalom and braking course, plus a little bit of off-roading. However that last segment was largely limited to rocky dirt roads, so given the chance to see what this brute could do on a proper off-road trail, we were chomping at the bit.

FAST FACTS

1. Ram 1500 models come with either a base 210-hp 3.7L V6, mid-range 310-hp 4.7L V8 or range-toping 390-hp 5.7L Hemi V8.

2. For 2010 max towing capacity has been increased to 10,450 lbs.

3. Dodge now offers a specific TRX off-road package that includes heavier duty axles and specific 275/70/17 all-terrain tires.

4. Ram 1500 models are available with three different box lengths – 8-feet, 6-feet, 4-inches (quad cab) and 5-foot, 7-inches, (crew cab).

Besides, for 2010, the Dodge Ram 1500 gets somewhat of a new name. Gone is the Dodge branding in favor of the new truck brand “Ram.”

Make no mistake; the Ram is big. Compared to the other vehicles we sampled during a recent off-road expedition organized by Chrysler it stood out like a giant. Our Quad Cab model tipped the scales at close to 5,800 lbs, so if we were going to get stuck on the trail, this would be the vehicle to do it in.

Nevertheless, our Ram was quite well equipped for boonie bashing duty. It had the fearsome 5.7-liter Hemi V8; replete with 390-hp and 407 ft-lbs of torque - five-speed automatic transmission, and part time 4x4 system with electronically controlled two-speed transfer case. Thankfully it also sported the 17-inch wheels and tires and 3.92 rear axle ratio, so on paper it least, despite not winning any awards for fuel economy (13/18 mpg city/highway), it appeared to be up to the job for some back country adventures.

DIFFERENT APPROACH

The massive size of this truck meant that when we got out onto the trail, we were provided with a different perspective. Shifting the transmission into neutral, we turned the dash-mounted knob to low range and set off.

Like the others in this group test (including the Jeep Patriot, Jeep Compass and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon), the big rig sported Hill Start Assist. The Hemi V8 is one hot rod of an engine, a torque monster with a surprising ability to rev. Even with four-wheel drive and low range engaged, it takes a bit of skill to master throttle control in off-road situations, not helped by the all season 265/70/17 tires, especially when mud or snow is caught in the treads. Too much gas and the tires just spin, too little and the sheer weight of this rig holds it back, though the Hill Start Assist does it’s best to maintain position on steep off-road grades.

Another problem on our test rig was the approach angle. As a sport model, our truck had the lower front bumper splitter assembly and more than a few times we heard it grinding on the descent, especially on sections of the trail where fairly steep camber changes were evident.

POWER SLIDE

Yet in spite of all this, the Ram equated itself quite well. The steering delivered good on feed back on the trail and a fairly quick ratio enabled the truck to hold its own, especially when negotiating a couple of ditches and a few rocks we encountered along the way.

Provided you’ve got enough momentum going, especially in view of the fact snow and ice were omnipresent on our off-road circuit, the Hemi’s torque can also be your friend. Powering out of a dip and up to the next hill, the truck’s coil sprung rear end, is actually fairly well behaved at low speeds, allowing better tire contact and grip with the surface than the old leaf sprung setup, even when the front and rear suspension are at opposing angles to each other.

Given that they’ve got a lot of weight to haul down from speed, the four-wheel disc brakes have a fairly unenviable task. When off-roading, and cresting a steep hill, the descent can be best described as entertaining. With the ABS kicking in hard, there’s no question that the truck is going to slide, especially on snow and wet mud – your best option is to stay slow and steady, using the throttle and second gear on the transmission to maintain control – since weight and gravity are both your enemies at this point.

With greater practice and more trail time, the Ram becomes easier to manage off road, but unlike the Jeeps we tested, driving it well under these conditions requires a slightly different, more gingerly approach.

THE VERDICT

As full-size pickups go, the current Ram has a lot going for it. Yes it might be big, but it’s more agile than it size-would suggest - even off-road. The only real drawback is price. Considering the off-road capability, a base 4x4 1500 Quad Cab in SLT, trim starts at $32,985 and a Sport model begins at $37,220. Add the Hemi engine, which is a $1,310 option, plus the 3.92:1 final drive ratio and you’re already nudging $36,000 in SLT trim and over 40 grand in Sport dress - and that’s before taxes. That’s a sizeable chunk of change to swallow and unless you need the hauling and towing capacity of a truck, it can be hard to justify, purely for recreational off-roading, especially given the Ram’s size and weight.

LOVE IT
  • Hemi V8’s power and torque
  • Decent steering
  • Coil rear suspension aids grip off-road
LEAVE IT
  • Size
  • Weight
  • Traction can be difficult on the trail

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2009 Dodge Ram
2009 Ford F-150
2009 Chevrolet Silverado
2009 GMC SIERRA
2010 Toyota Tundra 4x4 Double Cab 4.6L Review
2010 Nissan Titan Review

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