Ever since the redesigned Ram pickup was introduced in 1994, it has been nipping at the wheels of the perennial best-selling Ford F-150.
But the recently announced award as "Best New Pickup for 2009" by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, signifies that the Dodge Ram has not just caught up, but has grabbed a lead in this highly competitive market.
The award is more significant because the Ford F-150 is also completely redesigned for 2009. It was a battle of equals with the Ram coming out on top.
Start with the styling.
Dodge designers took the already bold, broad-shouldered look of the existing pickup and tweaked it by giving the quadrant grille a forward tilt and using the halogen Quad headlamp clusters to redefine the fenders.
The new design was subjected to more than 300 hours of wind tunnel testing in search of every last L/100 km and the result is improved fuel economy and a much quieter cab.
And to remove any possibility of mistaken identity, the Ram's head on the grille and tailgate are about four times the previous size.
Better still, while they are better in every way, the 2009 Rams are, on average, about $2,000 less expensive than the previous generation.
Four models are offered: ST in Regular and Quad Cab; SLT and Sport in Regular, Quad and Crew Cab and the top of the line Laramie in Quad and Crew Cab.
Three engines power the line starting with the 3.7-litre Magnum V6 and moving up to the 4.7-litre Flex-Fuel V8 and the 5.7-litre Hemi V8 which gets Variable Valve Timing for 2009. Quad and Crew Cabs can be ordered with the 6'4" or 5'7" boxes respectively while the long eight-footer is only available on the Regular Cab.
Our tester was the Hemi-powered Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4, finished in Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat with Pebble Beige leather trimmed bucket seats.
The Laramie features chrome bumpers and door handles plus Light Greystone Pearl wheel flares and side skirts, giving it a very sporty two-tone finish.
Dual chrome-tipped tail pipes and 20-inch, chrome clad six-spoke wheels complete the picture.
The cab is a true, full-size, four door, five seater with ample rear seat head and legroom and well-bolstered front buckets featuring the embossed Ram's head in the seatbacks.
Dodge has really gone full out to make this cab interior the most comfortable, convenient and luxurious of any pickup in this price range.
Both front seats are heated and ventilated with 10-way power adjustment and memory feature for the driver and six-way power adjustment for the passenger.
And who needs gloves when the steering wheel is heated? Yes, the rear seats are heated too.
Driver comfort and convenience is enhanced with power adjustable pedals and a manual tilt steering wheel with fingertip audio controls.
The cabin features a rich tri-tone colour scheme of pebble beige and bark brown with faux wood veneers in the doors and centre console.
Hard plastic surfaces are replaced with softer touch materials featuring elegant double stitching across the top of the dashboard.
Chrome accents highlight the main gauges, gearshift quadrant, steering wheel controls, door pulls and centre stack.
The fit and finish rivals the quality found in many luxury import sedans. The centre console between the front seats is a veritable 'office on the go' featuring a deep storage bin for files and a second tier, non-slip work surface.
Three 12-volt outlets let you stay "plugged in" to your electronic devices. With its large bi-level glovebox, twice as many cubbies and pockets, two under-floor bins behind the front seats and additional storage under the rear seats, this Ram takes convenience to a new level.
The 10-speaker, premium sound system includes AM/FM/CD/DVD with 30GB hard drive/ MP3 radio with touch screen and one year Sirius Satellite Radio service.
Along with the luxury interior comes a luxury ride. Rear leaf springs, with their tendency to do a sideways hop on rough roads, have been replaced by coils that soak up the bumps while keeping the rear wheels in line. This is about the most civilized ride you will experience in a truck.
The new Variable Valve Timing in the 5.7-litre Hemi bumps horsepower from 345 to 390 while torque is improved from 375 to 407 lb-ft.
But fuel economy doesn't suffer; in fact it's slightly better than the previous model. The five-speed automatic (with manual mode) drives the rear wheels but a simple dial on the dash lets you shift-on-the-fly into 4WD (full or part-time) or low range as needed.
According to AJAC test results acceleration is brisk with 100 km/h coming up in 7.4 seconds (2.0 seconds quicker than the Ford F150) while huge power-assisted disc brakes with ABS haul it to a stop from 100 km/h in just 43.2 metres (nearly 3.0 metres shorter than the Ford F150).
The power rack and pinion steering is light and direct with a strong on-centre feel in city traffic and straight line tracking on the highway while standard electronic stability program helps to maintain traction and directional control on loose or slippery surfaces.
Electronic roll mitigation, hill start sssist and trailer sway control are standard along with the trailer tow package that includes four and seven-pin connectors with sensible caps, neatly integrated into the rear step bumper making it easier to access the Laramie's towing capability (9,000-lb or 4,128 kg).
All the usual power amenities like power windows (one-touch up and down), power door locks, power, heated multi-function outside mirrors with puddle lamps, remote keyless entry with theft deterrent system and audible rear parking warning are standard.
Even the rear sliding window is power operated. Dual-stage front airbags, front seat side airbags and side curtain airbags are also standard.
"The Dodge Ram has been a growing success story since the '94 models with their breakthrough styling," says Andrew Heys of Woodgrove Chrysler.
"But it takes more than a pretty face. Today's lineup has raised the bar on performance, convenience and comfort to a whole new level. And it's more affordable than ever."
Alan McPhee is a Canadian automotive journalist and is former editor of Carguide Magazine. His articles appear each week in this space.
LARAMIE QUAD CAB 4X4
Type: half-ton pickup
Engine: 5.7-litre Hemi V8
Horsepower: 390 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 407 lb-ft @ 3,950 rpm
Fuel economy: City - 16.2 L/100 km; hwy - 10.8 L/100 km
Base price: $45,490
Price as tested: $48,440
Vehicle provided by Woodgrove Chrysler
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