The merest glance at the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Crew Cab suggests that this is one mean truck. Maybe it's those aggressively angled headlights, glaring imperiously at anything that crosses the Ram's path. Or maybe it's that cartoonishly muscular grille, bristling with the optional 5.7-liter V8. Whatever the case, the Ram's cocky countenance issues a challenge of Eastwoodian proportions. Go ahead, it growls. Make my day.
It's a bit ironic, then, that the big news about the new-for-'09 Ram is its unprecedentedly civilized ride. The phrase "tough cookie with a soft center" has never been relevant to the full-size pickup segment — until now. The Ram will happily perform the various utilitarian duties for which these beasts of burden are intended, but the ace up its sleeve is its first-in-class coil spring rear suspension. Technical details aside, here's what you need to know: No large truck currently in production comes close to this Dodge's extraordinary composure over a variety of surfaces, paved or otherwise.
Dodge could have stopped right there and still had a compelling product on its hands. But as it turns out, there's plenty more to like about the new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 than just its revolutionarily relaxed ride. The spacious interior is full of useful storage nooks and thoughtful touches, and its materials are generally on par with the segment's best. The Ram is also strikingly quiet inside for a truck, with minimal road and wind noise. At the same time, it gives up nothing to its rivals in terms of functionality, even trumping them with a handy "RamBox" storage system inside the walls of the bed.
We despised our Ram's disembodied steering feel, and we weren't enthused about its braking performance. But other than that, it's hard to come up with anything this Dodge does wrong. For the time being, the verdict is in: Full-size truck supremacy, thy name is Ram.
Our four-wheel-drive 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Crew Cab was powered by the 5.7-liter "Hemi" V8, which cranks out a robust 390 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque. A mandatory five-speed automatic with manual-shift capability routes this power to all four wheels, with selectable low-range gearing. At our test track, the Ram roared from zero to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, respectably quick given its colossal 5,740-pound curb weight. Its slalom speed of 54.6 mph didn't exactly set our hair on fire, but the Ram's ponderous handling characteristics are expected for a vehicle of this nature.
Braking performance was an area of concern. Although our Ram's brakes felt fine, they required 154 feet to stop from 60 mph, which is frankly an unacceptable showing. The optional off-road tires likely had something to do with it, but we're not letting the Ram off the hook that easily. A modern pickup truck shouldn't require much more than 140 feet in this test, regardless of the shoes it's wearing.
Those knobby tires probably exacerbated our Ram's wonky steering feel, too — but again, that's really no excuse. We've rarely experienced steering effort as artificially light as this Dodge's, or a steering wheel so devoid of information about what's going on below. Something's amiss here, unless the Ram's engineers benchmarked the steering system of an old Dodge Dynasty.
Having aired our two main complaints, we should hasten to add that the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 is really a pleasant truck to pilot. Although its transmission has only five speeds, a big V8 doesn't really need six gears anyway, and Dodge's five-cog unit works effectively and unobtrusively under most circumstances. Our test truck was a bit soft accelerating off the line, but the V8 was a model of refined muscularity once we found its midrange sweet spot, whisking the Ram past slow-moving traffic with remarkable ease.
Our tester's top-dog engine and 3.92:1 axle ratio endowed it with the maximum possible tow rating for a Ram 1500: 9,100 pounds. They also helped the Ram record a dismal 12.7 miles per gallon during its stay in our office, against EPA estimates of 13 mpg city/18 highway and 15 mpg combined. Bear in mind, though, that the Ram spent some of its time with us hauling around 1,100 pounds of cargo — effortlessly, we might add. The usual caveat about our affinity for floored accelerators also applies.
The new Ram's calling card is its ride comfort, which is downright amazing for a truck. Whenever body-on-frame construction and a solid rear axle are in the mix, some freeway hop and general jiggliness are inevitable, but the Dodge minimizes these issues like no other truck we've driven. Impacts are distant and muted, not sharp and jarring, and the Ram shrugs off broken pavement like a softly sprung family sedan. Despite those chunky tires, it's also strikingly quiet at speed — a Nissan Titan we drove recently proved a comparatively raucous companion on the highway.
It was easy for everyone to find a comfortable driving position thanks to a tilt-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat and adjustable pedals. Our Ram's upgraded cloth front seats weren't quite as impressive. We found them a bit soft for our tastes, and the support they provided on long trips was unremarkable. The backseat, however, was beyond reproach — the Crew Cab affords near limolike rear legroom, and a high cushion and agreeable seatback rake ensure superior comfort.
From a truck shopper's perspective, the Ram's functionality index is high. Outside, the innovative RamBox storage system transforms the interior spaces of the bed walls into roomy lockable cubbies. Bed width suffers slightly as a result, but the standard 4-by-8 plywood sheet will still fit without issue. We like that the RamBox package includes a sliding bed divider that doubles as a bed extender; however, you'll have to decide for yourself whether the extra storage provided by the RamBox is worth the nearly $2,000 that Dodge charges for it. Further back, we noticed that the tailgate doesn't lower itself softly — a damped tailgate is a feature we've appreciated on rivals like the Tundra and Titan.
Inside the Ram, we often found ourselves wishing for a back-up camera, but that's easily rectified — you can order one if you so desire. Rear passengers are treated to no fewer than four cupholders, and the rear seat flips up with ease, revealing ample storage bins underneath. Up front, opinions were split on the Ram's center-stack controls — while the climate knobs are idiot-proof, our test truck's upgraded Alpine stereo's touchscreen interface left some wishing for more straightforward commands. As for the stereo itself, its built-in hard drive allowed us to rip our favorite tunes for easy playback, and we appreciated its above-average clarity; however, it lacked the full sound and hearty bass response we'd expect in a big truck.
In our real-world usability tests, it was a cinch to install a rear-facing child safety seat in the Ram's cavernous rear compartment. The elevated storage bins under the rear seats eat into maximum cargo capacity, but our golf clubs and standard suitcase fit just fine behind the front seatbacks, and a compact golf bag can even be squeezed into one of the RamBoxes. Weather permitting, of course, you could simply toss such items into the bed, employing the bed divider to keep them in place.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2009 Dodge Ram's aggressive exterior design is a success, conveying a rough-and-tumble attitude without going over the top. The interior is another high point, featuring low-gloss plastics and perhaps the most attractive overall design in this segment. Fit and finish was acceptable, although the driver door had a penchant for creaking when we pulled on the handle, and the front passenger window closed lethargically.
Who should consider this vehicle
Consumers who want full-size-truck functionality without the expected penalties in ride comfort and overall refinement.
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