Dodge gathered a number of journalists in Santa Barbara, California in August for a chance to get behind the wheel of the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500. Like a lot of press launches, the program consisted of a vehicle walkaround with marketing, design, and engineering representatives, then a drive in the vehicles out to a central location where a number of variations of the Ram 1500 were available to take out on test loops, as well as opportunities to tow and haul and to drive competitive products.
Patton, St. Laurent, Whale and I covered the introduction of the Ram 1500 at the Detroit auto show in Issue 60, pages 120-125. That information stands, but I would like to clarify a couple points:
The 1500 truck has two frame sizes, a 120-inch and 140-inch wheelbase. From these wheelbases the various cabs and beds will be fitted.
How so? The short 120-inch wheelbase architecture will be for a Regular Cab, 6’ 4” box economy-type truck. The 140-inch wheelbase architecture is the basis for all of the other cab and box configurations:
Regular Cab with 8’ Bed
Quad Cab with 6’ 4” Bed
Crew Cab with 5’ 7” Bed What frame sizes will we see with the HD trucks? Obviously a longer frame for Quad Cabs and Crew Cabs with 8’ beds. How about the Mega Cab? Mega Cab with an 8’ bed? I wish I had some insight. The HD trucks will be unveiled at Detroit’s North American auto show in January, 2009. I guess we’ll have to wait until then to find out.
Other details: the center console with floor shifter is an option. The cargo management system is included with the RamBox. The RamBox is only offered with the Crew Cab with 5’ 7” bed. And the future light-duty Cummins diesel engine is reportedly a V6. Thoughts on Design
Since a number of Rams were traveling on the same route, one thing a ride-and-drive event like this affords is an opportunity to see the vehicle out in its natural habitat for the first time. Sometimes impressions of a design can be quite different from seeing it on a lit-up auto show stand (or in the middle of herd of cattle!) to what it looks like out on the road. Now that I have become more used to what it looks like, the 2009 Ram is still a handsome truck. I’m even getting used to the enormous Ram badges. One thing I hadn’t noticed, however, is how squared-off the roofline looks when viewed from the rear. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for a truck, but I’m seeing a design theme similar to boxy look of the current minivans, which I don’t care for.
Another somewhat interesting design point was made by head designer Mark Allen, who claimed the beltline was not raised, but rather the sill was lowered 40mm, giving the illusion of a higher side, while offering a lower step-in height, helping aerodynamics, and hiding the frame. The latter seems important to them, as wheel well liners are also standard equipment on all models, which I suppose does contribute to a more finished look. A curious detail noticed was the rear contour of the chrome bumper on higher end models does not match up to the wheel well, though it does match up on other variations.
The interior is magnificent. Still made of plastic, but of high-quality soft touch materials. Even things like the air vents have a substantial feel, though are also still plastic. I still think the optional console takes up too much space, visually and physically. Control layout is intuitive, with the minor exception of the adjustable pedal switch (if equipped.) It’s out-of-sight above the tilt wheel lever; I admit to driving 50 miles and not being able to get comfortable, and later locating the switch via the owner’s manual. However, this qualifies as one of those things that’s only annoying the first time. Once you knew where it was, it wouldn’t be a problem. One quality issue was that the silver painted trim piece that goes around the center stack was rather ill-fitting on the handful of trucks I looked at. Though it should be noted here that these were said to be “one iteration away” from production trucks, so issues like this are not unusual and will hopefully be rectified. Driving Impressions
We grabbed a top of the line Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 which stickered out at $44,935 including $795 in options, and $900 destination. No RamBox, though there were Ram Box equipped trucks on hand. Interestingly, as of this writing Automotive News is reporting RamBox won’t have a price tag until October and won’t be available at the initial launch, which has some dealers miffed. They speculate it would be popular if priced cheaply, though the fact they are bundling it with the cargo management system might make it pricey.
On to the first part of the drive, it was about 100 miles of smooth California highway, which didn’t tell me a whole lot about the truck other than it was quiet. A few nice comfort and convenience things jumped out. The gauge cluster is really nice to look at, with white on black numbers with a sort of backlit effect. Front windows are one-touch up and down.
All new half-ton trucks ride smoothly on smooth roads, so I was happy to see the afternoon’s activities would take place around a ranch in a rural area with a variety of less than smooth road surfaces. The true test of the new link coil suspension would be how it rode empty, and by extension, if it would maintain good ride quality when loaded. I probably don’t have to remind this audience that leaf spring suspensions are tuned to ride smoothly when loaded, at the expense of a bouncy ride when empty. One of the Dodge guys quipped that there’s a factual basis for the expression “rides like a truck.” In addition to the points we discussed in Issue 60, Steve Williams, senior manger of Dodge Ram synthesis put it very succinctly when he said the key advantage of the link coil setup was that it separated the duties of suspending and locating the axle.
As we rolled in to the ranch at lunchtime, I eyed the lineup of competitive trucks from Ford (a 2008 as ’09 aren’t out yet), Chevrolet, Nissan, and Toyota available for drives. I said to the Dodge folks they should have had an ’08 Ram, to which they replied they did. I’m not sure how I missed the “Detonator Yellow” 2008 Ram 1500 Quad Cab Sport Hemi 4x2 sitting out there. This will make for a good comparison.
In any case, I took the 2008 Ram out after lunch on a recommended drive loop. My first thought was this really isn’t too bad. I was even thinking I could live with one at the bargain basement prices I’ve been hearing about as they close out the 2008s. The white-faced gauges looked a little glaring to me, but the plastic factor of the interior and the relative bounciness of the ride seemed fairly normal to me as a truck guy.
Upon returning, I was pleased to find an equivalent 2009 Ram, a Sport Quad Cab Hemi 4x2. It was at this time I blew what was to be my only chance to drive the one R/T package truck they had available. It has unique R/T badges, a 4.10 rear axle ratio, a special torque converter and is said to do zero to 60 in under six seconds. But, I wanted to be fresh in my comparison to the 2008 on the same roads. The verdict? Big difference. It’s not that the bumps disappear, you still feel it in the suspension, but the body doesn’t move nearly as much. Additionally, the front end feels a lot more stable and planted since the rear isn’t bouncing around.
While I was most interested in driving the new generation Hemi, my next experiment was to drive a stripper 3.7-liter V6 Crew Cab. There was no sacrifice in ride quality. At this point, I stopped at the off-site towing demonstration. There were Rams hooked to a boat and a horse trailer, but I took a 20-mile drive in one towing a 5800-pound Airstream. A vehicle synthesis engineer who had been working on the Ram suspension and steering for the last three years rode along. We discussed my observations, and he added that with the improved ride quality of the link coil suspension, they were able to make the steering more responsive and dial in less understeer, which results in a better handling truck. He also said there are some tuning differences for different models, but that is so the different size trucks and tires have similar ride and handling qualities.
As far as towing, I could definitely feel the trailer, whereas I may not have in a Heavy Duty, but it felt stable, and ride quality was smooth. The ESP, Electronic Stability Program, includes trailer sway control, but I didn’t feel it engage. Running at the 55 mph speed limit, the transmission was fishing in and out of overdrive quite a bit. Judging by brisk acceleration with the trailer, the Hemi wasn’t lacking power, so I think that speed was in between the ideal gears. I couldn’t help but think it would have been happier at 70 mph.
Next, I did the drive loop in a Crew Cab Hemi with 1000 pounds in the back. That cinched it for me. There was no appreciable difference in ride quality loaded or unloaded. On a side note, this truck had the heated and ventilated front seats. It was parked in the sun, but the ventilation feature cooled the seat very effectively. This option will automatically cool the seats when the optional remote start is used above 70 degrees. Similarly, it will automatically heat the seats below 40 degrees. Nice touch.
Since this is a diesel magazine, just a few notes on the gas engines. The 3.7-liter V6 and 4.7-liter V8 are carried over. The next generation Hemi with variable valve timing boasts some pretty impressive numbers on paper, with horsepower and torque up to 390/407 from 345/375. My initial seat-of-the-pants impression was there was not a significant difference in acceleration, though to be fair, I had less than 20 miles in the 2008. The biggest advantage seems to be that the four-cylinder mode can be used longer and more often. EPA estimates jumped one to two miles per gallon depending on configuration.
That basically concluded the day’s activities. My driving partner from the morning and I were the last journalists there, and were left with the only Ram available –the same stripper Crew Cab I drove earlier – for the drive back to the hotel. Good thing we started the day in a Laramie instead of working our way up! We compared notes on the way back as he had done the opposite of what I had and drove all of the competitive trucks. I have driven them all in the recent past with the exception of the Toyota (not for lack of trying.) He felt the Ram was by far the quietest, thought the Chevy had the worst steering, and that the Toyota Tundra with the 5.7-liter V8 had the best engine and transmission.
The 2009 Ram 1500 banks heavily on appealing to personal use owners. It’s a sound idea to differentiate more from the Heavy Duty lineup. Anyone towing and hauling a lot can pick up a 2500 or 3500. Unfortunately, that type of private half-ton buyer is becoming more rare in the current economic climate, and forecasts for long-term gas prices don’t bode well for the future of pickups in general. But there are still a lot of pickups being sold, and the Ram 1500 will certainly win some people over from the competition. I wish them luck with the Ram 1500 - it’s a great product. And one thing’s for sure: it’ll make a fine platform for a light duty diesel.
Report submitted by TDR Writer, Andy Mikonis.