Dodge Ram 1500 TRX
What's Hot: Great ride, Ram Box, styling, Hemi
What's Not: Some cheapness, missing fuel-tank skidplate, front suspension, too low
Our Take: No longer a truck that only Dodge guys will love
From the Logbook:
* "Low sills drag on rocks"
* "New frontend design is beautiful, but the truck looks under-tired."
* "The Ram Box is a great-and useful-idea."
* "Rear suspension is amazing on the trail, front needs to be stiffer."
* "Well thought-out interior."
Right out of the box, logbook and staff comments started piling up about the Dodge Ram. With its new suspension out back, we can confidently say that it rides better than any pickup we have ever tested, including other "pickups" using multilink rear suspensions. It is better than an H2 SUT with airbags, better than an Avalanche with coils and even better than the car-based and all-independently sprung unibody Honda Ridgeline. We are convinced that Dodge is going to sell a lot of these trucks based solely on the 1-mile test loop around the dealership.
Our staffers didn't halt their comments at the ride, they were also impressed with the Ram's new styling-inside and out. While the exterior has a sinister look about it, we all agreed that the tires look two sizes too small on the Ram, despite being the exact same size as the blocky F-150, which didn't seem to suffer from the same criticism.
Inside the Ram, it is a smorgasbord of features with a layout and design of the dash that is so far ahead of the old Ram to have comfortably lapped it. Finally we get a beautifully designed interior from Ram. Unfortunately there were still elements of cheapness to the execution in our SLT-grade model, such as a chintzy headliner that snitches on Dodge's bean counters like an informant with a plea deal. Despite a few rough details, there are soft touch and nicely grained plastics throughout the cab, although most of our testers considered it a step behind the Ford. At least the Ram delights in the layout of the interior with storage and cubbies plentiful and a nine-speaker MyGIG stereo that was judged in the top half of our group.
While the ride was universally praised, the handling took a few shots from our testers as being a bit too soft and wallowy at times, exacerbated by steering that is quite quick off center, often leaving the driver feeling like the back of the chassis was catching up to the front in abrupt highway corrections. The Ram did offer the greatest visibility in the test, but it was also the most expensive rig, and unlike the F-150, came without leather or navigation-two things that should be part of any automotive transaction that requires more than 400 Benjamins.
Offering a lot of content for its asking price, the F-150 was definitely the truck all of our tech savvy staffers wanted to spend time in. With a navigation system that featured Sirius Travel Link, gas prices, sports scores, and yes, even weather and radar maps were at our fingertips in the Ford. Our F-150 was also equipped with Microsoft Sync 2.0 that made pairing our phones as easy as teasing Brubaker for cutting the sleeves off all of his shirts. Sync also allowed our iPod play lists to be wholly integrated into the F-150's incredible Sony sound system-a 700-watt auditory wonder that was one of the best car stereos we have ever enjoyed. Add to that arguably the most comfortable seats in the test and an incredible interior that isn't likely to look dated anytime soon, and you have a truck that walked away with interior points and logbook comments singling the F-150 out for a road trip.
While the interior bested the other vehicles, there are still some areas that could be improved, such as the rear cargo area on the Super Cab models, that unlike the SuperCrew, doesn't have a flat load floor, making the fold up rear seats relatively useless. We'd like to see some sort of shelf or tray system to give Super Cab buyers greater cab storage flexibility. Our testers also felt that the HVAC interface and center stack that made us want to run out and buy stock in Ford's button supplier, had a slightly steep learning curve. Although after a week behind the wheel the controls became second nature. One last interior curiosity, the F-150 is devoid of a driver-side grab handle, making ingress unnecessarily difficult for shorter folks.
The ride of the F-150 is improved over the last generation, but with the bragging rights for best-in-class payload and towing, the Ford makes a compromise in ride quality, ensuring that no blindfolded passenger will mistake it for a crossover. The stiff-legged chassis needs a payload to smooth out, not a big deal on its own, but when driven back to back with the Dodge, it is very apparent.
Hummer's H3T is every bit as comfortable as the H3, and then some. The longer wheelbase helps to smooth out an already decent ride, and the H3T still maintains excellent low-speed maneuverability, despite its added length. Just as it is on the H3, the H3T's suspension remains supple, soaking up road imperfections with ease.
Our tester's criticism of the H3T, focused on the interior storage, which is no surprise, given that it shares an interior with the H3. The dash fit and finish is high quality, but the map pockets are useless and there are few places to put wallets, keys, phones, and so on. We also found the H3T lacking in instrumentation and we are curious as to why Hummer still doesn't offer an auxiliary jack or iPod integration.
We praised the H3T for its seat comfort, easy-to-operate HVAC controls, and for a functional bed that includes a rail system and weather-resistant storage in the bedsides. But with high bedsides and a tall ride height, they should explore a Ford-like tailgate step.
Suzuki's Equator on the other hand, with its low ride height and short bedsides, had the easiest bed to access, and with a factory spray-in bedliner and rail system, it was one of the user-friendliest beds in this test. The Suzuki was also the most fun to drive on the pavement, aided by the powerful V-6. Also winning the testers over was the Equator's just get in and drive simplicity.
Styling, however, was a bit more controversial. While there is only so much you can do to a badge-engineered truck in the restyling department, we felt that the Tacoma-like headlights, and horse-collar grille did little to differentiate itself in a field of trucks, each representing with its own strong design language.
The Equator interior is simple in execution and reminds occupants of its low price point by its unexciting interior design and materials, but it is at least comfortable, well laid out, and easy to wipe down. Too bad the premium Rockford Fosgate stereo suffered from lackluster performance or we would have wanted to spend more time in the Equator.