Payne: Ram 1500 goes to head of versatility class

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 23, 2018

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We motorheads like to say of our sports cars that we can track it Saturday, then drive it to work Monday. But pickup guys might have us beat. The modern pickup can carry ATVs to the country Saturday, take the family to dinner Sunday night, then drop the kids off at school on the way to work Monday.

Take the new 2019 Ram 1500. I recently tested Detroit’s latest pickup blockbuster from Phoenix highways to Arizona desert.

You know the 1500 from its Detroit auto show debut as the truck with the Tesla touchscreen. I used to lounge in the Tesla Model S sedan’s back seat on public days as show-goers climbed in and ogled the 17-inch vertical tablet. The Silicon Valley automaker didn’t make this year’s show, so I sat in the back seat of the Ram and watched a parade of attendees marvel at its 12-inch screen. The Ram may not match Tesla tablet’s Google Earth renderings — but it does feature exclusive Sirius radio archives content.

Ram isn’t a one-trick pony. This is a multi-trick workhorse that can tow ponies.

 luxurious are upscale Limited and Longhorn models that they inspire more comparisons to Tesla. That Ram back seat? Ten more inches of legroom in the Crew Cab compared to the famously cavernous Model S. Leather-wrapped interior from front to rear glass. Deep console storage with space-saving, dash-mounted rotary shifter and adjacent drive-mode buttons.

Heck, the Ram is even electrified with an eTorque 48-volt battery mated to its Hemi V-8 (only non-eTorque Hemis were available for our test). Tesla uses its electric torque for neck-snapping acceleration, the Ram for back-breaking tow numbers. The eTorque-equipped 1500 approaches the Ford F-150’s best-in-class 13,200 pounds towing and 2,470 payload with 12,700 and 2,300 pounds respectively.

We haven’t seen this kind of versatility since pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson turned comic “Jumanji” actor. Or since Ford’s pickup.

The “Built Ford Tough” F-150, of course, is the undisputed truck wrestling champ with nearly 900,000 units sold in 2017. Ram and Chevy know it and benchmark to the champ while also carving out their own signature moves.

Ram has gone to great lengths to catch up with the tech-tastic Ford in the towing and payload department, and with adaptive cruise-control, 360-degree camera (which makes tow hookups easier), blind-spot trailer-assist, and self-park assist. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a nearly 3-ton truck parallel-park itself into a cramped street space.

Having caught up on technology (at least until F-150 rolls out its new truck in 2020), Ram set out to extend its class lead in style and comfort. No doubt this is the most handsome, best-riding truck in the ring. While the latest F-150 staggered its rear shocks for a smoother ride, Ram remains the only truck in class with coil rear springs. Mated to adaptive shocks and a rigid 98-percent high-strength steel ladder frame, this 5,800-pound rhino glided around bends like a unibody SUV — not a ladder-framed pickup.

Ute-inspired similarities don’t stop there.

Ram boss Jim Morrison (no relation to the Doors) and his band took the opportunity of the first clean-sheet pickup remake since 2009 — and the first since the truck brand separated from Dodge — to redefine Fiat-Chrysler’s profitable truck brand. Gone is the imposing, cross-hairs Dodge grille. In its place is a sculpted mug that integrates grille and headlights not unlike an Audi A7 or Ford Edge SUV.

Ram designers carved a bold look while smoothing its rough edges. Bumpers are clean of sensor “bullet holes” (they are less-obtrusively integrated into plastic trims elements), the drag coefficient is a best-in-class .357, and the box raised 11/2 inches so that it mates with the cab’s big shoulders for one sweeping line from stem to stern.

The box, of course, is the defining trait of pickups and here Ram has long been a segment standout with its optional storage boxes which can secure everything from chainsaws to a picnic lunch. The 1500 also introduces a remote-operated drop tailgate, but the previous generation was challenged by a lack of bed access — especially compared to Chevy’s clever corner bumper-steps. Ram’s solution is effective. Its rear bumpers are now stepped in the middle, so I could get a good foothold with my size 15s to scale the gate.

Ram tag-teams with Chevrolet to body-slam the aluminum-bed Ford.

“We gave it high-strength steel around the cab and, of course, around the box. There won’t be any holes in our box,” Morrison said, referencing Chevy’s devastating ads that punctured Ford’s aluminum bed. “We talked to our customers and they want steel.”

Ouch. Here the gloves come off. Like The Rock circling John Cena circling Stone Cold Steve Austin, there is no fiercer rivalry than Ram vs. Ford vs. Chevy. Think Democrats and GOPers are polarized? They are pikers compared to pickup partisans.

Ford guy: I was the first to lightweight with aluminum.

Chevy guy: You’re a lightweight, all right. Let me tell you about my 450-pound diet.

Ram guy: Sit down dinosaurs, 21st-century coil spring suspension coming through!

OK, let’s take it outside, guys — outside and off-road. Ram shows off its ruggedness with the Rebel wardrobe, a swaggering brute of a truck with a black-painted face like a soldier on a special-ops mission. My Rebel attacked a challenging off-road course in the Arizona desert — proving its remake isn’t all fancy chrome and Tesla screens.

Building on its gym-toned frame, the Rebel adds Bilstein shocks, 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires and an electronic-locking rear differential for impressive control through sandy switchbacks. It’s no 450-horse twin-turbo V-6 F-150 Raptor, but the 385-pony V-8 gives the Rebel the V-8 growl many Ford fans miss. Note to Ram boss and off-roader Morrison: The Rebel is just an SRT Hellcat engine short of challenging the Raptor for Outback supremacy.

Speaking of engines, the 48-volt powered V-6 and e-Torque V-8 and diesel options will be available for testing later. But a volume 4X4 Big Horn Crew Cab was on hand — with essentials including Hemi V-8, eight-speed tranny, 8-inch Uconnect screen and subfloor storage bins for about 43,000.

Or you can upgrade to the Laramie model with the 12-inch touchscreen. Just like the one I saw you ogling at the Detroit Auto Show.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Ram 1500 pickup

VEHICLE TYPE

FRONT-ENGINE, REAR- AND FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER PICKUP

Price

$33,340 base (approximately $43,000 4X4 Bighorn as tested; $60,000 4×4 Limited as tested)

Power plant

3.6-liter V-6 eTorque mild hybrid; 5.7-liter Hemi V-8; 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 eTorque mild hybrid

Power

305 horsepower, 269 pound-feet of torque (V-6); 395 horsepower, 410 pound-feet of torque (V-8); 395 horsepower, 410 pound-feet of torque (V-8 eTorque)

Transmission

8-speed automatic

Performance

0-60 mph, 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver estimate for eTorque V-8); towing: 12,700 pounds; payload: 2,300 pounds

Weight

5,300-5,800 pounds (Car and Driver estimate)

Fuel economy

EPA fuel economy: 15 city/22 highway/17 combined (Hemi V-8 as tested)

Report card

Highs: Smooth ride; that 12-inch touchscreen

Lows: Drivetrain, noise abatement adds complexity; that 12-inch touchscreen not available except on upper trims

Overall:★★★★

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