2019 Ram 1500 First Drive: A Truck That Rides Like a Car


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You can read the market research data or just ask your friends who drive big trucks. Unless you hang out exclusively with people who work in construction or farming, they’ll admit most of the time the bed is empty. Some folks will take issue with that because full-size trucks were originally meant for work. But that’s not the way it is anymore. People today buy trucks for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with hauling stacks of Sheetrock, and folks don’t have to justify any of them. If you’re still wondering why automakers are putting heated and cooled leather seats and 1,500-watt stereos in trucks, it’s because customers are asking for them.

No automaker has taken this modern market reality to heart more than Ram. While it hasn’t yet mustered the nerve to charge six figures for a pickup like Ford has, Ram has been on the forefront of luxury truck interiors and features. Years before High Country Chevys, back when Denali GMCs were leather, grilles, and an optional engine, Ford rolled the dice on a Platinum F-150. Ram, though, took the idea and ran with it, launching the Laramie Long Horn—replete with southwest-inspired embroidery and embossing and even seat back pockets styled after saddle bags, with chrome buckles and all. Before that, Ram made the even bolder decision to junk the rear leaf springs in favor of smoother-riding coils and offer up a factory air suspension. Altogether, it’s paid off with several years of increased market share. With results like that, there’s only one way to go.

For the latest edition, Ram has doubled down on comfort, convenience, and style. After all, you ride a winning streak. But what’s impressive is Ram hasn’t traded capability for all that pizzazz. Last-generation Ram pickups were the heaviest in the class, and a fully loaded model left you just enough daylight in gross vehicle weight for people, much less cargo.

Ram hasn’t pulled an aluminum rabbit out of its hat like Ford, but it did find 225 pounds it could do without. High-strength steels that require less metal to do the same job, clever applications of aluminum in the engine and transmission cross members, and even composite upper control arms for the front suspension all contribute. Partly as a result, max payload is up to 2,300 pounds while trailering is up to 12,750 pounds max—both competitive with Ford’s and Chevy’s offerings.

Although there will be a plethora of powertrain combinations available, for this drive we only had a fleet of standard 5.7-liter V-8-equipped trucks in various trim levels. Ram predicts the unassisted V-8 will be the ticket for most private buyers, with the base eTorque V-6 and optional eTorque V-8 splitting the rest. We requisitioned both a lower-trim Big Horn and a top-shelf Limited to get a taste for the range.

In its effort to be friendlier to truck diehards and newcomers alike, Ram has pushed its style and comfort perks all the way down the ladder. Every trim level gets at least two interior options: one all-black and another light-colored option unique to each trim level. All models get an electronic parking brake. Everything but the base Tradesman gets more soft-touch materials inside. Every model save the specialty Rebel off-roader gets passive two-mode shocks for a better ride. All of them get a flat rear floor and bigger storage bins. Every Crew Cab is stretched 4 inches for more interior space, especially in the rear. Most interestingly, every model features Ram’s Active Tuned Mass Modules, or frame shakers, as I call ’em. They vibrate at the exact opposite frequency of the engine to cancel vibrations to allow more operation in four-cylinder mode and when “lugging” in higher gears to improve fuel economy. Combined with standard noise-canceling technology, they make even the low-spec interiors surprisingly carlike in their quietness and smoothness.

This is the biggest thing you notice about the new Ram—or don’t notice until you stop to think about it. The cab is a shockingly quiet and comfortable place by pickup truck standards, and it even puts some cars and SUVs to shame. It doesn’t matter if you bought the $33,000 truck or the $59,000 version. The ride over rough roads is surprisingly isolated and smooth for a 5,000-plus-pound vehicle. Combined with a naturally weighted and refreshingly direct steering rack, the new Ram is as easy and pleasant to drive as a car-based crossover.

Getting the work done is the 395-hp, 410-lb-ft V-8 you know, but thanks to the frame shakers, it can run in four-cylinder mode twice as often. An electric radiator fan reduces load on the engine, and improved aerodynamics (including an automatically deployed air dam) mean the engine doesn’t have to work as hard at higher speeds. All told, the cylinder-deactivation system is undetectable save for a tiny grumble from the exhaust when you lift off the throttle.

With all that torque on tap, the Ram gets up to speed briskly and smoothly with a pleasant little growl from the exhaust. The updated eight-speed automatic is better than ever, swapping gears like a seasoned card dealer—seemingly always in the right cog. Ram provided a farm tractor on a trailer for towing, and with 7,000 pounds (give or take) on the hitch, the truck was just as smooth, if a bit slower, as you’d expect. Equipped with optional towing mirrors, visibility around the truck and trailer is excellent, and the lines overlaid on the reverse camera screen make lining up the hitch a breeze. Likewise, the ability to extend the optional blind-spot monitor to cover a trailer up to 35 feet long is an appreciated safety net, as are the larger, stronger front brakes.

And you get all that on the nearly base model Big Horn, with its cloth seats and optional 8.4-inch touchscreen (5.0 inches is standard). On the other end, there’s the lifted luxury of the Limited trim. Ram claims that version has more leather and real wood and metal trim than any competitor, and I see no reason to doubt that. There’s a panoramic sunroof and a 19-speaker optional stereo. There’s an air suspension that makes it ride even better and levels the truck when loaded. To make life easier, there’s active cruise control with lane keeping assistance, a 360-degree camera, and semi-automatic parallel and perpendicular parking systems. Back-seat passengers won’t miss out, either, with the optional heated and cooled rear seats, which also recline.

The real party trick, though, is the 12.0-inch touchscreen. Running the latest, greatest version of Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect software and exclusively available with SiriusXM 360L on-demand satellite radio, it’s the closest thing you can get to a Tesla screen in a gas-powered vehicle at any price. Like Tesla’s, it can run a full screen or two smaller screens split horizontally. Unlike Tesla’s, it has lots of redundant buttons and knobs if you prefer. I do wish it were as configurable and intuitive as the Tesla screen, but it’s pretty close, especially after you dig through the menus a bit and get to know it. It would be nice if you could run the navigation in split screen rather than full screen, though. Its best feature, if you ask me, is its ability to run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in split-screen mode rather than have it take over the entire screen like nearly every other vehicle’s infotainment system.

The truck traditionalists among you have likely been rolling your eyes for nearly a dozen paragraphs, right? Who needs all these bells and whistles? Will it haul gravel and my Jet Skis? Look, if you want a base model with bench seats and AM/FM radio and CD player, Ram will gladly sell you one—and it’ll tow and haul more than last year’s truck. But if you’re like a lot of today’s truck buyers and want to replace one or more of your vehicles with a do-everything full-size truck that’ll be as comfortable and spacious as your luxury sedan, Ram has ticked every box on your wish list.

2019 Ram 1500
BASE PRICE $33,340-$59,035
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD/4WD, 2-5-pass, 2-4-door truck
ENGINES 3.6L/305-hp/269-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 plus 12-hp/90-lb-ft electric motor; 305 hp/269 lb-ft comb; 5.7L/395-hp/410-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8; 5.7L/395-hp/410-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8 plus 16-hp/130-lb-ft electric motor; 395-hp/410-lb-ft comb
TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto
CURB WEIGHT 4,800-5,400 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 140.5-153.5 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 228.9-241.8 x 82.1 x 75.9-79.7 in
0-60 MPH 6.5 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 15/22/17 mpg*
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 225/153 kW-hrs/100 miles*
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.11 lb/mile*
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently
*Base 5.7L, all others not yet rated
*SAE Certified

Ram Goes Hybrid

The first redesigned Ram full-sized trucks out the gate will be equipped with the tried-and-true 5.7-liter V-8, but it’ll have friends soon. In addition to the return of the EcoDiesel later this year, Ram 1500s will also be available with new “eTorque” V-6 and V-8 mild-hybrid powertrains.

Also known as a belt alternator starter, or BAS, the eTorque system replaces the alternator with a compact but powerful electric motor/generator. The liquid-cooled unit affixed to 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engines can produce up to 90 lb-ft of additional torque, and the air-cooled unit mounted to the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 produces up to 130 lb-ft.

The motor/generators have multiple jobs. While the engine is running, they feed in additional torque at low rpm to give the engine a boost. When the automatic engine stop/start system engages, they restart the engine much more quickly and smoothly than the starter motor. When they’re not adding power, they generate it when the truck slows down, enhancing engine braking. On the V-8 engine, the motor/generator also can add torque on demand to extend the range of conditions when the engine can run in fuel-saving mode with some of its cylinders shut off.

The motor/generators get their power from and supply their regenerative braking to a 48-volt battery sandwiched in the rear wall of the cab, behind the rear seats. From there, a DC-to-DC converter supplies 12-volt power to the truck’s electrical system and the 12-volt battery.