Sponsored Links

10:06 AM

(0) Comments

First Drive: 2009 Dodge Ram 1500

Rafay Ansar

, ,



What’s the biggest difference between the Dodge Challenger and the Dodge Ram? More than 200,000 units of production volume. While the Challenger has captured the lion’s share of attention from car enthusiasts and automotive journalists, it’s the workhorse Ram that pays the bills and puts food on the table at Chrysler.

It’s not hyperbole to say the professional livelihood of almost every Chrysler employee could hang on how well the new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 is received by truck buyers. The Germans knew not to mess with the success of Chrysler’s big Dodge pickups when they owned the company. It was DaimlerChrysler chairman Dieter Zetsche who opened the corporate purse strings wide in 2004 to fund the Ram’s latest redesign.

But neither Daimler nor the hometown team in Auburn Hills, Mich., could have predicted how quickly the American full-size truck market would crater in the face of soaring fuel prices and a shaky economy. Ram sales are off 30 percent year-to-date through July 2008.

That makes launching this new Ram even more risky; design decisions made four years ago are going to have to be lived with for a long time to come. The biggest risk? The truck team’s decision to emphasize everyday usability over top-end capability. In short, there will be no chest-pounding ads that the Ram can pull the Titanic from the bottom of the Atlantic.

“Competing for the most towing is a battle of diminishing returns,” said Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s new design chief and the man responsible for leading the Ram’s redesign. “We wanted to make a truck our buyers can live with. One that’s well-rounded.”

Improved usability, according to Chrysler, started with replacing conventional leaf springs under the cargo box with five-link coil springs for improved ride and handling, particularly when the truck is unloaded.

“We’ve taken leaf springs as far as they can go [for ride comfort and handling],” said Scott Kunselman, Chrysler’s vice president of truck product development, and Gilles’ engineering counterpart. “Coil springs are the next step. We’ve made them without sacrificing any of the towing or payload [ratings] that we had on the previous Ram. Plus, we save 40 pounds in weight.”

Chrysler also overhauled the interior in every Ram model. No more gray wall of cheap vertical plastic or hard-to-the-touch surfaces. The composites are higher-grade. Exposed stitching across the dashboard, complimentary two-tone colors and molded shapes provide depth and are pleasing to the eye. Even truck guys want their pickups to look good on the inside.

Chrysler’s segment-exclusive RamBox has been molded into both sides of the pickup box. The two weatherproof, lockable storage trunks are large enough to hold a set of golf clubs on each side, or 240 12-ounce cans of your favorite beverage. Even with RamBox storage, there’s still 49 inches of horizontal space between the bed walls inside the cargo box to fit the most important cargo-carrying metric of any pickup: a flat 4x8 sheet of plywood. There’s also an integrated bed extender that acts as a bed divider. It can be indexed to almost any point inside the bed and stowed out of the way, near the cab.

We spent a day driving three cab configurations in four key scenarios a pickup truck owner can expect to use their rig: unloaded on-road, unloaded off-road, loaded with 1,000 pounds of cargo, and unloaded pulling a 5,800-pound camper.

Among the approximately 20 Dodge Rams that Chrysler provided for the media to sample, only one was a short-wheelbase regular cab with 20-inch wheels. Others might have missed it as they dove over each other jumping in the pretty, top-of-the-line Laramie Crew Cab 4x4s, but not us. The subtle R/T badge in the lower right quadrant of the crosshair grille confirmed the truck’s hidden 4.10 rear axle and high-stall torque converter. OK, the inferno red paint job helped, too.

The R/T comes standard with Chrysler’s reengineered 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 gas engine, rated at 390 horsepower and 407 pounds-feet of torque. That’s 13 percent more horsepower and 8 percent more torque than last year’s HEMI produced. It’s paired with the carryover 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission from last year’s Ram 1500, which is also shared with Dodge’s gas-powered heavy-duty pickups.

The R/T is built for speed. Chrysler says it will go from zero to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. We believe it, though the best we could launch on the truck was 6.1 seconds, forgetting to turn traction control off.

Assisting the HEMI at takeoff was the 4.10 limited-slip rear axle. It’s the right choice for a performance truck like the R/T. All other 2009 Ram 1500 models have taller (numerically smaller) final drive ratios, from 3.92 to 3.21, for better fuel economy. Even the max trailering (9,100 pounds) configuration only comes with a 3.92 back axle. The 4.10 ring and pinion helped the Ram overcome the 545RFE’s relatively short 3.00 first gear. Comparable 2009 V-8 pickups from Ford, GM and Toyota have six-speed transmissions with taller first-gear ratios to help with takeoffs and fuel economy.

Unloaded short-wheelbase regular cab pickups are notorious for ride hop on choppy road surfaces, whereas long-wheelbase extended and crew cabs leverage their extra frame length to soak up rough roads. Even though Chrysler drilled us about the benefits of the new rear suspension, it still took about five minutes driving the truck before our subconscious (or the coffee) finally broke through and shook our conscious mind like a rag doll: The R/T drove like no other full-size pickup we’ve ever been in, regardless of length or cab configuration. The 120-inch-wheelbase R/T felt like it was gliding over the freeway. Where was the harshness? The coil springs, linkages, stabilizer and track bars eliminated virtually all vertical and lateral axle hop. The 2009 Ram’s noise, vibration and harshness tuning is brilliant for a half-ton pickup.

We exited the freeway for the twisty turns and hill climbs of the Santa Ynez Mountains, just east of Santa Barbara, Calif. Again, the truck’s rear end remained firmly stuck to the tarmac, even as we took some of the corners aggressively. The coil springs made sure the rear tires weren’t going anywhere as the stabilizer and track bars held the rear axle in place. Gradually increasing understeer, instead of skipping rear tires, marked the point where the truck was starting to lose its battle with physics, making for more predictable mountainside carving.



The bucket seats were very comfortable in the R/T. Considering how poor the seats could be in the old Ram during long-distance drives, the new seats are almost as big a breakthrough as the improved ride from the rear suspension.

The trip computer mounted in between the gauges in the instrument panel provided a lot of useful information, from average fuel economy to transmission and oil temperatures and range until empty. The R/T also had an optional 6.5-inch navigation display. While friendly and an improvement over the old nav system, it’s too small. A GPS display should be at least 8 inches in a full-size pickup.

Another gripe -- the RamBox storage option isn’t available on the regular cab Ram. RamBox only comes in the Crew Cab’s 5-foot, 7-inch box, not the 6-foot, 4 inch one found on our R/T.

Passing real-world Dodge truck owners in small towns, the little red truck caught many of their eyes. It also caught the attention of the California Highway Patrol, who cited us for exceeding local laws governing vehicle velocity. We’ll keep quiet about our forward momentum rating until we plead our case before a judge. On the bright side, we’ll be framing the first (but likely not the last) speeding ticket for the Ram R/T.

During our approximately 75-mile drive in the Ram R/T we averaged 15.2 mpg, according to the trip computer. Not great, but not bad for an aggressively geared half-ton with a hopped-up torque converter, which we exercised heavily several times.

Dodge Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4x4, 1,000-Pound Payload



Next, we planted ourselves in a 5.7-liter HEMI Laramie Crew Cab short box 4x4 with 20 50-pound bags of horse feed in the bed.The crew cab configuration is new for 2009, replacing the 2008 Mega Cab version that never sold large numbers in the half-ton segment. The Mega Cab option continues to be available for the 2009 Dodge Ram heavy-duty pickups.

While the rear coil-spring suspension won’t misbehave on the road, the single-stage spirals showed the vertical strain of 1,000 pounds of payload, letting the back end sag noticeably (see picture). The weight in the cargo box was still 640 pounds shy of this configuration’s maximum 1,640-pound payload capacity.

Kunselman said the squat amount was normal. Gilles made a conscious decision to remove static rake from the truck when it was designed, for aerodynamic and lateral stability reasons. Most unloaded half-tons sit with their tails high and noses low (like they’re suddenly braking), settling into a level posture when a heavy load has been placed in the bed. The Ram sits level at rest.

Like the unloaded Ram R/T, the Laramie Crew Cab had excellent ride quality, particularly in terms of lateral control over cracked and patched two-lane roads. We weren’t beaten up when the feed bags shifted their mass to the left or right on larger bumps.

Acceleration with the 5.7-liter HEMI was good, though we could clearly feel the extra mass from the two back doors, the half-ton of payload and the 3.92 rear axle slowing things down greatly, based on our experience in the R/T.

The Laramie interior was another step up from the Sport-trimmed insides of the R/T. It featured better textures, material pairings and dark wood graining. The leather seats offered both heating and cooling. When the outside temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, the truck will automatically activate the heated seats and heated steering wheel when it’s started. Seat ventilation can be set to cool your backside automatically if it’s 70 degrees or hotter.

It’s amazing how much Chrysler has closed the gap with Ford in terms of interior fit, finish and aesthetics. Note to Ford: The Laramie’s wood laminate around the center stack is better-looking than the faux timber in the top-of-the-line 2009 F-150 Platinum edition.

Dodge Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4x4, 5,800-Pound Trailer






Page: [Previous] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [Next]

Kunselman said the squat amount was normal. Gilles made a conscious decision to remove static rake from the truck when it was designed, for aerodynamic and lateral stability reasons. Most unloaded half-tons sit with their tails high and noses low (like they’re suddenly braking), settling into a level posture when a heavy load has been placed in the bed. The Ram sits level at rest.

Like the unloaded Ram R/T, the Laramie Crew Cab had excellent ride quality, particularly in terms of lateral control over cracked and patched two-lane roads. We weren’t beaten up when the feed bags shifted their mass to the left or right on larger bumps.

Acceleration with the 5.7-liter HEMI was good, though we could clearly feel the extra mass from the two back doors, the half-ton of payload and the 3.92 rear axle slowing things down greatly, based on our experience in the R/T.

The Laramie interior was another step up from the Sport-trimmed insides of the R/T. It featured better textures, material pairings and dark wood graining. The leather seats offered both heating and cooling. When the outside temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, the truck will automatically activate the heated seats and heated steering wheel when it’s started. Seat ventilation can be set to cool your backside automatically if it’s 70 degrees or hotter.

It’s amazing how much Chrysler has closed the gap with Ford in terms of interior fit, finish and aesthetics. Note to Ford: The Laramie’s wood laminate around the center stack is better-looking than the faux timber in the top-of-the-line 2009 F-150 Platinum edition.

Dodge Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4x4, 5,800-Pound Trailer

The second HEMI V-8 Laramie Crew Cab we sampled was identical to the truck loaded with horse feed, only the bed was empty and it was hooked to a 5,800-pound Airstream trailer. The Ram is capable of towing 5,000 pounds from the factory, but this truck was configured with Dodge’s optional trailer tow group, which adds a class IV trailer hitch receiver. Four- and seven-pin trailer connectors are standard.

Maximum towing for the new Ram is 9,100 pounds, in a HEMI-powered regular cab short-box 4x2 running on 17-inch wheels and a 3.92 rear axle, and outfitted with a class IV receiver and tow package. The small print in the Ram’s specs states maximum towing capacity assumes the truck has a gross combined weight rating of 14,000 pounds, with a 150-pound driver. Options, equipment, cargo and passengers must be deducted.

Tire size and rear axle ratios make a big difference pulling a trailer. If you switch from 17-inch to 20-inch wheels, keeping the 3.92 final drive ratio, you’ll lose 1,100 pounds of towing capacity. If you keep the 20s but select a 3.55 rear axle instead of a 3.92, for better fuel economy, it drops another 1,000 pounds, for a max of only 7,000 pounds, in the regular cab.

Our Ram Laramie Crew used a 3.92 rear ring and pinion and blinged-out 20-inch wheels. Maximum towing was rated at 7,300-lbs. If the truck had been equipped with 17s and a 3.92 back axle, we’d have gained more than 1,000-lbs. of towing, to 8,400-lbs.

The Ram’s five-speed automatic transmission includes a tow/haul mode to help get things moving. It holds engine RPMs longer before upshifting. It also has trailer-sway control, which uses the truck’s antilock braking and traction control systems to apply individual wheel brakes and/or reduce engine power to eliminate trailer sway. However, the 2009 Ram is missing two important factory options: an integrated trailer brake controller and towing mirrors.

Dodge will offer towing mirrors as Mopar accessories that can be added by the dealer. Because our truck was missing towing mirrors, it was very difficult to see around the silver curve of the Airstream trailer as we pulled away from the curb. We used an aftermarket trailer brake controller to integrate the Ram’s brake system with the electric brakes on the Airstream.

The HEMI’s newly added power was appreciated when accelerating the Ram from a side road onto the busy 101 freeway. It helped overcome -- but not completely eliminate -- the large gap between the five-speed automatic transmission’s 3.00 first gear and 1.67 second gear. The HEMI lugged a bit after shifting into second. We never felt like we were holding up traffic or had safety concerns about hitting highway speeds. We’d have been more concerned if we’d started out on a grade rather than level ground.

We didn’t test the truck’s grade braking, as the four-mile circuit we drove with the trailer was mostly flat.

Interestingly, our trailer-pulling Ram showed 2,505 miles on the odometer when we arrived back at the trailering staging area, causing the “oil change” light to pop on in the truck’s information display. A Chrysler engineer there said the truck uses an algorithm to tell the driver when to change the oil depending on its duty cycle. During frequent towing, oil changes are recommended every 2,500 miles. The truck has a 5,500-mile oil change interval for light-duty non-towing applications.

We missed trailer towing mirrors again when we backed the rig into its parking spot – very slowly.

Dodge Ram TRX Quad Cab 4x4, Unloaded



The last 2009 Dodge Ram we drove was the TRX Quad Cab 4x4. The TRX package adds upgraded shocks, underbody skid plating, slightly more ride height and a limited-slip rear differential to gain offroad credibility. Seventeen-inch Goodyear all-terrain GS-A tires are standard.

We're lukewarm about the TRX. It tries to pass itself off as a serious off-roader, but it offers only marginally better capabilities than a standard Ram 4x4. At a minimum, this truck should have been equipped with an optional electrically activated rear diff locker that could be used in either 4WD High or Low, like the 2009 Ford F-150 FX4.

The Ram's five-speed transmission also hampers low-speed rock-crawling capability. Its crawl ratio is only 31.99:1 (3.00 first gear * 2.72 transfer case ratio * 3.92 rear axle). In comparison, the 2009 F-150 FX4 offers a 41:1 crawl ratio, relying on a 4.17 first-gear ratio in Ford's six-speed transmission to hit the shorter number for better control in the dirt at low speeds.

If you need heavy-duty offroad capability in a Dodge pickup, go with the Ram 2500 Power Wagon instead of the TRX.

We put the TRX through its paces on dirt trails that crisscrossed a 300-acre ranch. Nearly all of it was light-duty off-roading. Only once did we use 4-Low to crawl down a steep portion. We had to keep our foot on the brakes to slow the truck rather than letting it crawl on its own using engine braking. The rear linkages and stabilizer bars did well controlling lateral motion when we hit rutted spots in the trails. Ride quality on the fire-road portions of the trail was excellent. There was no noticeable bed bounce over the dirt.




Page: [Previous] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

The Ram’s five-speed automatic transmission includes a tow/haul mode to help get things moving. It holds engine RPMs longer before upshifting. It also has trailer-sway control, which uses the truck’s antilock braking and traction control systems to apply individual wheel brakes and/or reduce engine power to eliminate trailer sway. However, the 2009 Ram is missing two important factory options: an integrated trailer brake controller and towing mirrors.

Dodge will offer towing mirrors as Mopar accessories that can be added by the dealer. Because our truck was missing towing mirrors, it was very difficult to see around the silver curve of the Airstream trailer as we pulled away from the curb. We used an aftermarket trailer brake controller to integrate the Ram’s brake system with the electric brakes on the Airstream.

The HEMI’s newly added power was appreciated when accelerating the Ram from a side road onto the busy 101 freeway. It helped overcome -- but not completely eliminate -- the large gap between the five-speed automatic transmission’s 3.00 first gear and 1.67 second gear. The HEMI lugged a bit after shifting into second. We never felt like we were holding up traffic or had safety concerns about hitting highway speeds. We’d have been more concerned if we’d started out on a grade rather than level ground.

We didn’t test the truck’s grade braking, as the four-mile circuit we drove with the trailer was mostly flat.

Interestingly, our trailer-pulling Ram showed 2,505 miles on the odometer when we arrived back at the trailering staging area, causing the “oil change” light to pop on in the truck’s information display. A Chrysler engineer there said the truck uses an algorithm to tell the driver when to change the oil depending on its duty cycle. During frequent towing, oil changes are recommended every 2,500 miles. The truck has a 5,500-mile oil change interval for light-duty non-towing applications.

We missed trailer towing mirrors again when we backed the rig into its parking spot – very slowly.

Dodge Ram TRX Quad Cab 4x4, Unloaded

The last 2009 Dodge Ram we drove was the TRX Quad Cab 4x4. The TRX package adds upgraded shocks, underbody skid plating, slightly more ride height and a limited-slip rear differential to gain offroad credibility. Seventeen-inch Goodyear all-terrain GS-A tires are standard.

We're lukewarm about the TRX. It tries to pass itself off as a serious off-roader, but it offers only marginally better capabilities than a standard Ram 4x4. At a minimum, this truck should have been equipped with an optional electrically activated rear diff locker that could be used in either 4WD High or Low, like the 2009 Ford F-150 FX4.

The Ram's five-speed transmission also hampers low-speed rock-crawling capability. Its crawl ratio is only 31.99:1 (3.00 first gear * 2.72 transfer case ratio * 3.92 rear axle). In comparison, the 2009 F-150 FX4 offers a 41:1 crawl ratio, relying on a 4.17 first-gear ratio in Ford's six-speed transmission to hit the shorter number for better control in the dirt at low speeds.

If you need heavy-duty offroad capability in a Dodge pickup, go with the Ram 2500 Power Wagon instead of the TRX.

We put the TRX through its paces on dirt trails that crisscrossed a 300-acre ranch. Nearly all of it was light-duty off-roading. Only once did we use 4-Low to crawl down a steep portion. We had to keep our foot on the brakes to slow the truck rather than letting it crawl on its own using engine braking. The rear linkages and stabilizer bars did well controlling lateral motion when we hit rutted spots in the trails. Ride quality on the fire-road portions of the trail was excellent. There was no noticeable bed bounce over the dirt.

Summing It Up

After driving several Ram models in a variety of scenarios, we're still as enthusiastic about the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 as we were when it was first revealed at the Detroit auto show.

Most half-ton-truck buyers don't need three-quarter-ton capability in their pickups. We think new Ram owners will find the improved ride comfort and handling a more-than-fair tradeoff for trailering and payload ratings that just equal what the Ram could do in 2008, rather than chasing ever-higher towing and hauling numbers, trying to beat the competition.

We know some buyers may wait on the sidelines to see how the trucks stack up head-to-head with competitors. We'll answer that question in the next several months when we test all the 2009-model-year half-tons in our 2008 Shootout.
0 Responses to "First Drive: 2009 Dodge Ram 1500"