Drive a half-ton pickup built just 10 years ago and you'll swear it's from the Cretaceous Period. The progress you see in the current generation of trucks is a product of the energy automakers have poured into expanding the appeal of pickups in order to stake a larger claim of this profitable (well, formerly anyway) segment of the vehicle market.
As a result, the half-ton pickup is ubiquitous, a development owed to the ongoing escalation of both capability and versatility. And put simply, Dodge has struck a keen balance between these two attributes with the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500.
Exercising the Coils
Pickups ride significantly better with weight in the bed than without. Virtually everyone who has driven a loaded pickup has observed this and accepted it as mantra. Yet this is not the case with the all-new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500. Instead, it just rides well all the time.
The newfangled (well, for pickups anyway) five-link coil-spring rear suspension for the solid rear axle in this 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Crew Cab 4x4 raises the bar for pickup versatility by providing a supple and refined ride no matter the terrain. Rough roads that send the solid rear axles of other trucks a-skitter don't even faze the Ram, even when there's no payload in the bed that would help keep the axle planted on the ground.
For us, an empty pickup bed is like a riderless horse — potential unexplored — so we sought to learn how well the Ram's coil-spring rear suspension really works by loading up the bed with whatever we could find. So we filled the bed with a pallet stacked with 27 bags of salt that totaled 1,100 pounds, or 81 percent of the Ram's maximum payload of 1,360 pounds. Then we drove it like this for about 50 miles.
When the Ram was initially loaded, its rear end dropped by 1.6 inches (as measured at the rear wheelwell), giving it a noticeable nose-up stance. Despite this, the truck behaved and maintained the compliant composure we observed when it was empty. Even bumps in the middle of corners were swallowed gracefully and the Ram gave little indication that it noticed the additional weight at all.
Brakes a Mixed Bag
Physics tells us that mass likes to remain in motion, and this tendency increases when there's more mass at play. This interplay, of course, taxes a vehicle's braking system, yet the Ram's brake pedal remained consistent and free of fade.
That's not to say the brakes were perfect — even when empty, the pedal feel during initial applications has a vague squishiness that serves no apparent purpose. What's more, the unladen Ram's stopping distances from 60 mph are long — our test truck traveled 154 feet before reaching a halt.
The knobby Goodyear Wrangler ATS tires that come with this 4x4 truck's optional off-road package are largely responsible for its unimpressive braking performance, and we blame this truck's equally tepid response from its rack-and-pinion steering on the same limited contact patch afforded by these tires. A pickup truck can handle pretty well (we've driven plenty of them that do), but appropriate tires are required.
Surprise and Delight
Our 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Crew Cab 4x4 came equipped with the new Rambox, a $1,895 option that provides a movable divider for the cargo bed, tie-down cleats and two lockable storage compartments incorporated into the walls of the bed. The bins are wide enough to be really useful, although this compromises the usable width of the cargo bed itself. Nevertheless, the available cargo box still measures 52 inches wide and 63 inches long, so it is still wide enough to swallow a 4x8-foot sheet of plywood (which is still the measure of cargo-carrying goodness).
The bed divider is clever. It is feather-light, stout, can be quickly slotted into various locations in the bed and you can even flip it around to create a bed extender. It's bound to become one of those things that you never knew you needed yet can't live without. Whether buyers will ante up the substantial bread required for the Rambox option is another question. It's handy, but at what price convenience?
The Ram SLT's interior, generally speaking, is a success. Adjustable front seats, steering wheel and optional extending pedals adjust to accommodate nearly any humanoid, and the four bins in the rear seating area are a neat touch. The rear seats flip up in one motion. The road noise that finds its way into the cabin is minimal, enhancing the Ram's overriding impression of chassis refinement.
Bright sunlight brings out the worst of the Ram SLT's cabin. The pale gray plastic atop the dashboard reflects the glare into the windshield, washing out the forward view. Perhaps the monochromatic dashboard treatment of the Sport package should be proliferated to the other trim levels, we think. And the various plastic-chrome accents do more than just look tacky — they send dazzling reflections into the driver's eyes.
Power and Smoothness
With 390 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque, this iron-block, 5.7-liter Dodge V8 appears on paper to have the measure of both the Silverado's 367-hp 6.0-liter V8 and the Tundra's 381-hp 5.7-liter V8. We ran the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 through our usual battery of acceleration tests to see how it really stacks up to its competition.
Our results show this 5,740-pound Ram Crew Cab to be somewhere between the 2007 Chevy Silverado and 2007 Toyota Tundra we've previously tested. The Ram reached 60 mph in 7.6 seconds (7.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and traveled the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 87.7 mph.
The activity of the engine's cylinder deactivation system, intended to improve fuel economy, is fairly unobtrusive save for a brief pause in waking up four of the cylinders when you goose the throttle. EPA numbers for our test truck are 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway, and our tester delivered an average of 12.7 mpg in mixed driving conditions. This result isn't exactly encouraging, and furthermore Dodge recommends 89-octane fuel for the Ram, while the Silverado and Tundra drink cheaper 87 octane.
A five-speed automatic transmission provides the Ram with a wider gearing spread than the Silverado, but it can't match the ability of the Tundra's six-speeder to have a gear for any situation. Nor do kickdowns in the Ram come quite as readily as they do in the Tundra, though the Dodge changes gears with uncanny smoothness.
Even if it can't trump the Tundra's best-in-class powertrain, the Ram's 5.7-liter V8 will easily meet the needs of most buyers. It serves up solid refinement and is more than capable of dealing with a fully loaded bed and cabin.
Silverado, pass your torch. Chevy's pickup has been the touchstone of chassis composure among half-tons since it was introduced in 2007, but the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 changes the pecking order. This is an impressive truck, one that bridges the divide between capability and comfort in a way that is sure to be the envy of other manufacturers.
With the introduction of the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 and an overhauled 2009 Ford F-150 on the horizon, our next pickup truck comparison test might hold some surprises.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says:
It doesn't have the most horsepower, it can't tow the most weight and there are bigger trucks than the new Ram. It doesn't matter, because I still like it better than anything else that's out right now.
My previous favorite — the Toyota Tundra — has a better drivetrain, but Ram's latest Hemi V8 isn't far behind. Smooth, quiet and strong enough to do just about everything short of yanking a 10,000-pound trailer around. That's enough for me. And as smooth as the Tundra rides for such a capable truck, the Ram's new suspension does it one better. It doesn't buck over concrete freeways and is less jittery on dirt roads. The steering and brakes are spot-on, too.
Dodge got the interior right as well; plenty of room, all the right features and a straightforward design. Sounds simple, but Toyota tried too hard with the Tundra, and the GM pickups all look plain in comparison. And when it comes to the always subjective exterior styling, Dodge nailed it there, too. Great proportions and distinctive enough to not get confused for anything else.
Of course, I haven't driven the new Ford F-150 yet, but it better be a big step up from the current truck to top this new Ram. We'll see.
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