Not long ago, we tested the Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson, arguably the king of the so- called poseur trucks. Now, if your persuasions lean more toward the Pentastar side of things, Ram offers an alternative in the shape of the Laramie and especially the Southwest themed Longhorn, a rolling tribute to cowboys of old.
|1. Ram 1500s are available with a factory spray-on bedliner.
2. A special Laramie Limited is offered for 2012, for those who think the Longhorn is a bit too crass.
3. The 5.7L Hemi V8 delivers 390 hp and 407 b-ft of torque.
4. The Limited model offers a 1500 lb payload and 8,500 lb tow rating.
Like the H-D, it comes as a crew cab with a short box and a host of features that scream more lifestyle than working truck. That said, does it have substance, or is it strictly something for urban cowboy yuppie types?
TOO LIFESTYLE ORIENTED?
Well looking at it, and considering such features, along with the “Ram Box” storage lockers that further eat into bed space, the initial observation would appear to be a resounding yes.
Flashy 20-inch chrome clad wheels and plenty of gingerbread; a bold chrome grille that wouldn’t look out of place on a Peterbilt and shiny side mirrors and big “Ram 1500 lettering,” further add to this perceived, showy persona.
Inside, it’s much the same. Order one with the Longhorn package and not only do you get full leather seats, but features with a decidedly “western” theme. Pouches on the chairs are designed to ape classic saddlebags, while special embroidery on the upholstery, mimics work you’d most probably find on a pair of custom cowboy boots. Combined with unique ambient lighting, it’s all very Dallas or Las Vegas and no doubt J.R. Ewing would feel right at home. Nevertheless, according to Ram CEO Fred Diaz, the Laramie accounts for approximately 25 percent of all Ram 1500 sales in the US, so more flash appears the way to go.
In the past, one area on Dodge (now Ram) pickups that fell short was interior quality. Scratchy, cheap looking and ill-fitting plastic ruled, along with non-supportive seats and flimsy switchgear.
When the Ram 1500 was revamped for the 2009 model year, interior quality took a major leap forward, and certainly in the higher end trucks such as the Laramie and Longhorn, you’ve got a nicely stitched dash, rich looking door panels coated in leather and wide, comfortable seats, with good rake and lumbar adjustment. Sturdy looking controls, plus a tilt steering column and power adjustable pedals that enable just about any driver to get comfy, add to its appeal. Dominating the cabin is a mammoth center console that also houses the, stubby, short, automatic shifter.
However, from our perspective, we still don’t understand why these massive consoles and floor shifters are currently all the rage in higher end half tons. Yes, the unit does have a decent amount of storage space but wouldn’t placing the shifter on the column and configuring the console, so it can make way for a third front seat be better? Perhaps, but then again, aren’t we sitting in a poser truck?
Given its full jamb status, the Laramie comes loaded with features, satellite navigation and Sirius XM radio, surround sound, heated front (and rear) seats, U-Connect WiFi capability, a 30 gigabyte hard drive and for rear seat riders, a streaming video feature that enables them to download and watch animation on head rest mounted screens. Plus rear headphones are, of course, offered too.
The Ram box feature is another “lifestyle” aspect that has us a bit perplexed. Sure, it’s a good location for storing hunting rifles, camping chairs and smaller toolboxes, but there isn’t a huge amount of useable space. Furthermore, it eats significantly into the actual bed area too; the 5 feet 7-inch long box has just 50.3 cubic feet of volume (the 6 feet 4-inch box offered on regular and Quad cab models boasts 57.5). That said we do welcome the hard, durable spray-on bed liner (from the factory no less) and sliding rails that can make efficient use of what limited bed space there is.
Outward visibility is excellent, though once in motion, you are consciously aware of the Laramie’s size (229 inches long, 74.9-inches wide). Particularly when negotiating drive-thru pickup windows you sometimes get the feeling that you might easily curb the wheels or scratch that flashy paint, simply because you can’t get always get a good feel for this rig’s exact dimensions.
Our test truck was equipped with the all-conquering 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and when all’s said and done it’s an engine perfectly suited to this rig’s personality. With 390 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of torque, it has no shortage of get up and go. Punch the throttle and it will hustle the 5,900 lb Laramie to 60 mph in well under eight seconds. Freeway cruising is effortless and even when hauling a box full of topsoil it doesn’t break a sweat, at all.
When this truck was first introduced, the Hemi was teamed with five-speed automatic, a transmission that was very much the Achilles Heel in the whole powertrain ensemble. For 2012, the transmission has been updated to take better advantage of its split second gear. Essentially that means it’s morphed into a six-speed unit (though not technically), with a revised torque converter and an Electronic Range Select feature that’s designed to allow the driver to match engine speed based on driving conditions, (such as when towing on steep grades). With a short 3.00:1 first gear, this transmission is a pretty worthy companion to the Hemi V8, enabling quick, off the line snap, while a fairly tall .067 top overdrive ratio keeps things civilized on the highway.
However, we did find that the split second gear, which uses shorter gearing on the upshift and taller on the downshift, still causes the trans to hunt a bit, especially when you hitch a trailer up behind, on those steep grades. As a result, despite being an improvement over its predecessor, it still feels less comfortable than the conventional six-speed units found in comparable Ford and GM trucks.
Even with that tall overdrive and the Hemi employing Chrysler’s Multi Displacement System (cylinder deactivation), don’t expect great gas mileage from your Laramie. Under optimal conditions it will return about 12 miles per gallon in town and around 18 on the open road. And with a 26-gallon fuel tank, don’t expect filling station visits to be particularly light on the wallet either, especially in these times of $4.00 per gallon gas.
In terms of ride and handling, the big Ram has come along way. Conventional A-arm suspension up front does a good job absorbing shocks on rough roads (aided by those twin-tube shocks), while out back, the five-link solid axle setup with coil springs noticeably reduces the rear end bounce that used to plague old half-ton Rams, particularly when the box was empty.
The steering is still a bit lifeless and with 45.5-inches of turning diameter the Ram isn’t among the easiest vehicles to maneuver, particularly in tight spots. Given its overall girth and high center of gravity, the Ram isn’t designed for corner carving. That said, it’s decently predictable through the turns by truck standards and noticeably more stable than its counterpart from a decade ago.
Braking is definitely a strong suit; large 13.2-inch front and 13.8-inch rear discs do an admirable job of hauling this almost 6,000 lb beast from speed and stopping power is well modulated and controlled, with good feedback. From 60 mph, the truck comes to rest in less than 136 feet, which is by all accounts quite impressive.
In terms of rock crawling (just don’t scratch the paint), the optional electrically activated 4×4 system with its two-speed transfer case is easy to operate and provides a good amount of traction; the ability to lock the axles for serious terrain is definitely a bonus. That said, the truck’s 20.5-degree approach angle isn’t helped by the standard front bumper spoiler and it’s easy to damage or rip the thing off entirely. The 24.4-degree departure angle is significantly better.
One area where the Ram suffers compared to some of its competition is in payload and towing capacity, largely due to that coil spring rear axle. Our Crew Cab, luxo Laramie 4×4 was rated at just 1,500 lbs. In terms of towing, Chrysler says that when properly outfitted, a truck configured like this should be able to yank 8,500 lbs behind it. That’s probably more than most who buy this type of truck will likely need, though still significantly less than some rivals and again, more indicative of a lifestyle vehicle than a working truck.
So, is the Ram 1500 Laramie more style than substance? That probably depends on your viewpoint. Considering that a truck like this stickers at a base price $40,220 ($43,125 with the Longhorn package), it might seem hard to justify, especially for a truck with somewhat limited towing and cargo capacity. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that the current Ram 1500 Laramie oozes charisma, boasts good on road refinement and interior fixtures that are a cut above much of the competition.