There's something that's just different, and very enjoyable, about driving a truck. You sit higher than everyone else, and it almost feels like the road is yours and the other vehicles are guests of yours.
There are plenty of trucks on the market, but this year one particular model has made a big splash - that being the 2013 RAM 1500, which recently capped a long string of award wins by being named North American Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show.
The reason the RAM 1500 is getting so much hype this year is legit - as there's really a lot to like about it.
It's noteworthy that RAM is now a separate entity from Dodge, a move recently made to distinguish Chrysler's truck offerings from its other vehicles. And this is the first vehicle under the new RAM name.
It's clear that RAM is making a bold move on the market as they try to gain market share, and this is a strong first effort.
I recently spent some time driving a Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 RAM 1500, and I'll fill you in on my experience with it.
When you look at the RAM 1500, the first word that comes to mind is sharp. In the old days, a pickup truck probably didn't turn too many heads, but those days are long gone.
My test vehicle featured 20-inch aluminum chrome-clad wheels (and there are varying wheel packages offered depending what trim level you choose) that were very impressive, there is a redesigned grille, and there are some other physical adjustments that improve aerodynamics (the RAM 1500 features an impressive .360 drag coefficient).
The headlights get an upgrade, as you can opt for bi-functional halogen projector bulbs (where a single lamp delivers both high and low beam capability, and a wider span enhances visibility at night)
A nice improvement on the truck is the addition of wheel-to-wheel sidesteps, which allow you to climb up and get into the truck bed without as much reaching.
On each side of the truck bed, you get opt for a RAM box, which are convenient places to store your tools or other belongings. The RAM boxes can be locked via your remote that opens the car doors, too.
The chassis has also been redesigned and is made of high-strength steel. My test vehicle featured a crew cab with four doors, a very comfy front and back seat, plus a 6x4 foot truck bed. There is also a two-door version with an 8-foot bed if you want more bed space.
As a side note, while the vehicle I tested was quite roomy -- moreso than I figured a truck would be, there is an even larger cab offered by RAM. The RAM 2500 HD (which is capable of towing up to 18,350 pounds) features a Mega Cab option, which adds an extra six inches to the cab size and allows you to recline the rear seats -- a rarity in this type of vehicle.
Getting back to the RAM 1500, your cab size options are:
- Crew cab (back seat and 4 doors, your biggest interior offered)
- Quad cab (smaller than crew inside but 4 door)
- Regular cab (2-door version)
Depending how much space you need, and how much you're willing to spend, there are plenty of options you can choose.
Most folks who drive these types of vehicles need them to complete their work properly, but still no doubt are disappointed by the gas mileage that most trucks offer.
RAM tries to address that on the RAM 1500, and between the aerodynamic improvements they've put in, they've seen some success.
One version of the RAM 1500 (a V-6 with an 8-speed transmission) gets 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway -- which is quite impressive for a truck.
My vehicle had a V8 engine and was a bit more thirsty, getting 13 mpg city/19 highway, for an average of 15 mpg, officially. My test numbers were pretty much in line with that, as I drove mostly in the city and averaged just over 13 mpg.
These numbers aren't exactly great when compared to the regular-sized vehicles on the road or hybrid vehicles, but you're hauling a lot of truck around here, and these numbers are pretty good in the overall context of the truck segment.
Soon, RAM plans to bring out an 8-speed transmission on the V-8 models, which will improve their fuel economy numbers.
The truck I drove came with a standard 26-gallon tank, but a 32-gallon tank is an option. A couple models of the RAM 1500 (Longhorn and Outdoorsman) come standard with a 32-gallon tank.
Towing ability is the reason many people buy a truck, and the RAM 1500 is competitive in this key area. It's capable of towing up to 10,450 pounds, depending on the configuration. The RAM 2500 can tow more than 18,000 pounds.
One other nice feature offered on the RAM 1500 is the 4-corner air suspension.
In simple terms, there are five different heights the vehicle can ride at. Sometimes, when needed, it can adjust automatically. Other times, you can adjust it yourself (i.e. when you want to lower the truck so you can get out more easily).
The settings are:
- Off Road 1 and Off Road 2 (1 inch above normal, and 2 inches above normal)
- Normal ride height
- Aero Mode (.6 inches lower than normal), which kicks in at 55 mph
- And the lowest level is Egress mode. It's a park mode, makes it easier for you to get out of the truck. You can lower it with the key fob or from inside the vehicle.
If you are in Off Road 2 and you go over 25 mph, the vehicle automatically will go to Off Road 1.
If you are in Off Road 1 and go over 45 mph, the vehicle will automatically drop you to normal height. This means you can't drive on the freeway in Off Road 2, as the vehicle won't let you.
8-SPEED TRANSMISSION OFFERED
One feature RAM is touting is the addition of the 8-speed transmission on the 1500, which helps the fuel economy numbers vs. trucks with a 6-speed transmission (like the one I tested).
On vehicles with a 6-speed transmission, there is a dial that lets you choose 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, but if you get one of the vehicles with an 8-speed transmission, that dial turns into a shifting dial (Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive), as opposed to the old-school column shifter I had on my test vehicle.
ENGINE, DRIVE QUALITY
My vehicle ran a very powerful 5.7-liter V8 HEMI and featured 395 horsepower and 407 foot-pounds of torque.
Needless to say, with that kind of power I got around very comfortably on the roads. Even in inclement weather, while you still need to be careful of course, the RAM 1500 had me feeling pretty safe (compared to if I were driving my Focus or Saturn, for example).
There are a wide variety of other powertrain options offered on the RAM 1500, including the Pentastar 3.6 liter V6 engine, which features 305 hp and 269 foot-pounds of torque.
You are still driving a very heavy vehicle, and you feel that in the turns when you're trying to get this bad boy dragged all the way through, but it's not overly cumbersome to get the vehicle to maneuver properly.
And when you need to get up to speed quickly, or slow it down quickly, it doesn't take nearly as long as you would think it would with a vehicle this large.
Overall, my driving experience in the RAM 1500 was very positive and smooth, and on top of that it's filled with the creature comforts of your standard-size vehicles.
Once again, in the name of aerodynamics, a new "active grille shutter" system is offered on the RAM 1500.
This means that the grille shutters work like Venetian blinds to adjust air flow and shove air around the truck, which will also help with cooling capacity in times of heavy towing.
Adapted electric power steering is also on every truck, to help improve fuel economy.
The RAM 1500 was the first vehicle to feature Chrysler's new UConnect Access system, which is centered around an 8.4-inch touchscreen that controls everything you need to control in the vehicle.
What's new on this latest version of UConnect is that it's an embedded cell phone connection, so there is connectivity. The vehicle can serve as a WiFi hotspot (so someone with a laptop or tablet in the vehicle can get online, for example).
There is a voice-to-text feature (once your phone is connected, you can create a text with your voice with driving, hands-free).
The new UConnect system also allows you to upgrade to Navigation at any point in the future, even if you don't get it right away.
With your voice, you can make phone calls, use the navigation system if you have it, and control your music options. Only thing that's not really voice controllable is climate, but the controls are right in front of you either on the touchscreen or as standalone buttons.
2 USB ports are in the center console (one for charging, one for connecting an iPod or other device), plus an SD card slot.
And of course, a Bluetooth connection lets you hear music from your phone on the vehicle's speakers (my test vehicle's system was an optional Alpine 506-watt, 9-speaker system that lived up to its numbers in terms of booming sound).
You have AM/FM radio, plus one free year of satellite radio (with monthly fees after that year).
The gauges directly in front of the driver feature a 7-inch color screen, which you can reconfigure to show what you're most interested in (miles per gallon, temperature, and lots of other options). There are over 300 screen variations that can be chosen.
The backup camera to aid you in backing out from a parking spot is standard on higher end models like the Laramie Longhorn, but is optional on others. Heated seats are another comfy feature that some models offer.
The takeaway from all this is that you can have a very nice experience inside a truck, with many tech features previously not associated with this category of vehicle - including the latest and greatest updates to the technology.
One area where the RAM 1500 does fall short is the lack of safety features such as blind spot monitoring, which are increasingly being offered on all kinds of vehicles as a way to avoid accidents.
In the past, trucks were bought primarily for work purposes, and for the most part that remains true. But that's not always the case nowadays.
"Now more than ever, because of the features we offer (connectivity, WiFi, how it rides, nice interiors compared to 10 years ago), we're hitting a different segment," Nick Cappa of Ram Truck Media Relations said. "It's good for family vacations, more and more use it as a family-type vehicle since it has 4 doors, ability to tow, and comfortable features."
The RAM 1500 is turning heads this year, having taken the major awards this year.
Winning the Truck of Texas award was an early win for the RAM 1500, then it took Motor Trend truck of the year and 2013 North American Truck of the Year at NAIAS.
Cappa said that with this kind of recognition: "It's tough to argue we don't have the best truck. Best-in-class fuel economy. Ride quality is much better. With the technology we put in - 8-speed transmission, UConnect system and other tech inside, air suspension technology - It's tough to argue against what we've delivered."
He certainly has a solid argument there. But of course, truck owners are very loyal, and if you've been driving a Ford or Chevy for years and that's what you're used to, it's not going to be easy to change your mind.
Still, you can't deny that RAM has come on strong here with this new flagship vehicle and it certainly should help push market share higher, even if they don't make it to the top of the truck market anytime soon.
The RAM 1500 starts off at $23,585 for the base offering, a regular cab Tradesman model with 310 horsepower.
My Laramie was one of the higher-shelf offerings and was decked out pretty good and came in at $43,615 base price, plus the trimmings brought it to $50,865. So you can see there is a lot of range offered here depending what you want to spend. The base models will lose a lot of the technology, but still offer a great ride and towing capacity.
The fanciest of fancy offerings is the new Laramie Limited, which comes in at close to $60K.
The RAM 1500 is an very impressive debut for the newly named RAM line of trucks, and sets up some serious competition for the traditional front-runners in the category.
The ride is smooth, the features offered are impressive, and whether you want a truck for work or play, RAM did a lot here to try to entice customers to choose them over the other brands.
The amount of awards it has won is not a fluke - it's an enjoyable experience to take this vehicle on the road.
If the the 2013 RAM 1500 is any indication, RAM is going to be among the industry leaders in the coming years in terms of pushing the envelope of what their trucks offer.
Many truck owner won't shed their loyalty and think of switching, but there's enough here to like that many may have to think quite a bit before deciding what truck they'll choose for their next vehicle.
ON THE WEB
For more information on the 2013 RAM 1500, visit www.ramtrucks.com.
Matt Myftiu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page "OPTechTime". Check out his blog at realtechtime.blogspot.com.