It's a tough time to be selling pickup trucks of any kind right now, and if you've been in the business as long as the folks at Dodge have, your likely reaction to a sharp economic downturn might be to batten down the hatches, hold onto your market share, and try to ride out the storm as best you can. But with new versions of the Chevy Silverado, Toyota Tundra, and 2009 Ford F-150 all trumpeting major changes in pickup-truck technology over the past 18 months, the folks at Chrysler knew they had to do something to keep the slightly stodgy Ram competitive and attractive in an increasingly squeezed 1/2-ton pickup segment. The most recent fruit of their labors is the new-for-'09 Dodge Ram-available in two wheelbases, with long- and shortbeds, and in three cab configurations-and long story short, it is an across-the-board improvement over the old truck in every measurable way. And it's not too bad looking, either, if we say so ourselves.
Powering the Ram is the 5.7L Hemi V-8 (a 4.7L V-8 and 3.7L V-6 are also available) coupled to the 545RFE electronic five-speed automatic transmission. The new-for-'09 version of the Hemi block now uses variable valve timing, increased compression (10.5:1), and dual-length intake runners to produce 390 hp and 407 lb-ft of torque. Claimed EPA mileage for the 5.7L is only 13 city, 18 highway, but on our daylong driving tour of the hill country near Nashville, we logged a solid 20 combined mpg on our (mostly highway) jaunt. Part of this we attribute to the engine's Multi-Displacement System, which has been retuned to allow for operation at road speeds of up to 70 mph (and which the driver can engage at will by clever manipulation of throttle), but we also suspect some of the truck's inherent new design features contributed as well.
Realizing that truck owners want big power and better mileage, Dodge engineers sweated every possible exterior detail to improve the truck's aerodynamics. Foglamps are now flush-fit inside the front bumper, the grille and hood were reconfigured for reduced drag, and side mirrors were notched and moved outboard of the doors. Side windows are offset from the door frame, wheelwell openings have been reduced, and an integrated rear tailgate spoiler improves airflow. All told, the truck now sports a class-leading .419 drag coefficient-and a correspondingly quiet on-pavement ride, with minimal wind resistance and road noise for a fullsize truck.
Complementing the relatively noise-free ride is the Ram's first-ever five-link/coil-spring rear suspension, which supplants the conventional leaf-spring arrangement traditional to pickup trucks. Besides improving overall ride and handling characteristics, and eliminating the rear spring-wrap/axle-hop phenomenon that has dogged fullsize trucks from the beginning of time, the new link suspension shaves 40 pounds of excess weight from the vehicle-win-win, in other words. We tried as hard as we could during our brief test to get the rearend to "bark" via abusive throttle, braking, and steering maneuvers, but whether the bed was unladen or filled with a thousand pounds of horse feed (no fooling), we weren't able to get the rear suspension to misbehave and lift off the blacktop, or spin a tire in protest, for even a moment. That kind of "stickiness" is a boon off the pavement, too, as the Dodge will keep its rears on the trail as far as the coils and links will droop. (And yes, we towed a 6,000-pound fifth-wheel behind the 5.7L Ram, too, with no discernible signs of sagging or sluggishness, though there was one thing missing we would've liked to have seen. Read on.)
Gripes? A few, though nothing serious. The Ram's new scalloped front end makes over-the-hood visibility a little challenging, particularly on off-camber sections of trail. (This could be partly perceptual, however, and we suspect we'd likely grow accustomed to this as we spent more time driving the truck.) We also wondered about the availability of an incab trailer brake controller such as Ford will offer with the new F-150. (Dodge reps later told us, they're still working on one.) The Ram's sub-20 approach and departure angles, while improving aerodynamics, suggest leaving this truck at the trail head for more difficult 'wheeling chores-or lifting it, to which the new suspension would seem to lend itself readily. And while the optional Trac-Lok rear limited-slip engaged as needed during our off-pavement fun in some tree-lined Tennessee hollers, we'd still like to see an honest-to-goodness locker back there as part of the TRX4 package.
Whether the new Ram-or any other fullsize pickup truck-becomes a runaway hit at dealerships this fall is doubtful, given current market conditions, but Dodge has at least managed to stay abreast of the competition-and perhaps even pull slightly ahead of it-in what is shaping up as one of the most competitive seasons for fullsize truck sales, ever. The new truck has been substantially upgraded in so many ways over the old model, we can only scratch the surface in the space we're allotted here, but we'll have a new Ram in our test stable for our 2009 Pickup Truck of the Year in the March '09 issue, and it's bound to be a serious title contender.
Exceptional on-road ride and drive; surprisingly good mileage; minimal road noise for a pickup truck; tons of storage space, inside and out..
Poor approach and departure angles; no rear locker available with the TRX4 package; where's the trailer brake controller?
By any measure, a quantum leap in refinement from Dodge. Will consumers respond in an era of $4.50 gas?
Vehicle/model: 2009 Dodge Ram
Base price: N/A
Engine: 5.7L 90-degree DOHC V-8
Max hp & torque (lb-ft): 390/407
Transmission(s): 545RFE five-speed automatic
Transfer case(s): NVG 243 (part-time), NVG 246 (full-time)
Low-range ratio: 2.72:1
Frame type: Ladder-type
Suspension, f/r: Upper, lower A-arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar/Solid axle, five-link, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Ring and pinion: 3.92:1
Max crawl ratio: 32.0:1
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Brakes, f/r: 13.2x1.1-inch vented disc/13.8x.87 disc
Wheels (tested): 17x8 cast aluminum
Tires (tested): P265/70R17 Goodyear Wrangler GSA
Wheelbase (in): 120/140
Length (in): 209/226.9
Height (in): 74.3
Base curb weight (lb): 5,390 (4x4 with 5.7L)
Max approach/departure angles (deg.): 17/19
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.1
Max GVWR (lb): 6,800
Max payload (lb): 1,850
Max cargo volume (cu ft): 74.9 (longbed)
Bed width x length x height (in): 96.3 x 66.4 x 20.2 (longbed)
Max towing capacity (lb: 8,550
EPA mileage figures, city/hwy (mpg): 13/18
Max Fuel capacity (gal): 32.0