We are no strangers to Dodge's fullsize Ram pickup, especially since we have had one in the long-term fleet each of the last two years. In our January '06 issue, we again selected Dodge's Ram as a winner, this time awarding the Ram 1500 TRX4 our coveted 2006 Pickup Truck of the Year. As with all winners, the manufacturer loans us a vehicle for a one-year evaluation, enabling us to see how our winners fare in real-world use. New to the Ram 1500 for 2006 are an upgraded hydroformed frame, new coilover front suspension, freshened front-end styling, an updated interior, full screen navigation, and the gas-saving Multi Displacement System on vehicles equipped with the Hemi.
Our Inferno Red Ram came to us equipped identically as our PTOTY contestant, bumping the $30,760 base price to $41,995. This included the TRX4 Off-Road group, which added to our truck 17-inch aluminum wheels, tow hooks, a tight rear limited-slip differential, 3.92:1 gears, skidplates, and P265/70R17 Goodyear Wrangler tires. We also added the 345hp 5.7L Hemi, backed by the 545RFE automatic transmission, the Trailer Tow Group, full screen navigation, Sirius satellite radio, rear-seat entertainment, and a few other comfort and convenience features, such as Bluetooth, power sliding rear window, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
As soon as the TRX4 was entered into the fleet, it hit the ground running with several trips to San Diego, where we logged some impressive fuel economy numbers. Once it was broken in, we put it to work with some trailer towing chores. Staffers immediately commented on the quiet and very smooth ride. The only thing that interrupts the impressive ride quality is the occasional front-end oscillations on California's expansion-jointed sections of freeway, something we noted on the Dakota as well.
The 5.7L Hemi in our TRX4 feels great, and has a nice muted growl. Not quite as loud or throaty as the Nissan Titan, but satisfying just the same, with the bonus of no resonance in the cab. However, we noticed that the TRX4 doesn't seem to have the oomph of our long-term Power Wagon, which we attribute to the 3.92:1 gears versus the Power Wagon's 4.56:1s. We'll see if the power feels better once the engine has some miles on it.
The Hemi's MDS four-cylinder mode operates as advertised, which means it is imperceptible during its operation (unless, of course, our lead feet just don't activate it very often). However, a slight vibration can be felt at idle, which takes a little getting used to. We wish Dodge would add a "4-cyl Mode" indicator, so you can tell when you are driving in economy mode. As part of the fuel savings strategy, we also noticed that the transmission seems to short-shift, relative to previous model-year Rams we have tested.
Inside the cab, the new interior has received mixed reviews. The dash design and materials don't seem as nice as the outgoing model's, but it does have some nice faux wood accents and the aforementioned full screen navigation with a very nice-sounding Infinity seven-speaker system and Satellite radio. The seats aren't as hard as before, but some staffers still commented about finding a comfortable seating position. Visibility, as with all Rams, is fantastic, and it is very maneuverable, especially for its size.
As for ownership expenses, we expect this Ram to be easy on the pocketbook over the next year, as services are only scheduled for every 6,000 miles, and MDS has the fuel economy rating bumped up to 14 mpg city/18 highway. Our Ram's engine was still pretty green for this report, but once it is broken in fully, we'll see if we can get anything close to those mileage numbers during the year.
We have some big trips planned for our new Ram, and we can't wait to break it in on the trail soon. If the experience of ownership is anything like our Power Wagon, Dodge has another hit on its hands.
Previous reports: None
Base price: $30,760
Price as tested: $41,995
Four-wheel-drive system: Electronic part-time two-speed
Miles to date: 4,796
Miles since last report: First report
Average mpg (this report): 13.28
Test Best tank (mpg): 14.8
Test Worst tank (mpg): 12.13
No maintenance this report
Problem areas: None this report
Hot: The '06 Ram has a great deal of refinements to the chassis, interior, overall comfort, and ride. The Hemi is powerful, and the cruising range can be over 400 miles. We also love having Bluetooth for our cell phones, and the new full-screen navigation is great, if not a little cumbersome to use at first.
Not: While you really have to pay attention to notice it, there is a slight vibration at idle, and some testers had problems finding a comfortable seating position.
* "There is a funny vibration at idle--4-cyl mode?"
* "Wow, you can really feel the limited-slip work in this truck."
* "Not as quick as the Power Wagon, but great range!"
* "Front suspension feels too soft and bouncy at times."
* "Super-nice ride on-road."
* "I really like the hands-free Bluetooth feature for my phone."