For decades, the battle for pickup truck supremacy has been fought between the Ford F150 and GM's Sierra and Silverado. But in 1994, Dodge entered the fray with a bold new Ram pickup that grabbed immediate attention and began a steady climb in pursuit of the leaders. Today, with the recently announced award as "Best New Pickup for 2009" by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, the Dodge Ram has not just caught up, but has grabbed a lead in this highly competitive market.
The award is all the more significant because the Ford F-150 is also completely redesigned for 2009. It was a close battle with the Ram coming out on top.
For 2009, 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. 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 8-footer is only available on the Regular Cab.
Our tester was the Hemi-powered Ram 1500 short box Crew Cab SLT 4x4, finished in Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl Coat with Grey (Stain Repel) cloth-trimmed seats. The monochrome SLT featured a front grille with bright billets, fog lamps, chrome bumpers and door handles plus full-length side steps that make entry and exit for front and rear occupants a snap. I particularly like the grab handles built into the A and B pillars instead of being roof-mounted.
A subtle rear spoiler is integrated into the tailgate to reduce aerodynamic drag while chrome-tipped dual tail pipes and optional 20-inch, six-spoke aluminum alloy rims complete the picture. The cab is a true, full-size, four door, five/six seater providing ample rear seat head and legroom with a 60/40 split, folding rear seat and a 40/20/40 front bench.. Dodge has really set a new standard for pickup cabin design. The quality of materials and the fit and finish would do justice to many import luxury sedans while the generous use of sound deadening materials creates a limo-like sensation.
Driver comfort and convenience is enhanced with power adjustable pedals (optional) and a manual tilt steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls. The driver can tailor a perfect position with 10-way power adjusters plus lumbar support while the front passenger has 4-way manual seat controls. The cabin features a rich duo-tone colour scheme of Dark Slate Grey and Medium Greystone with brushed metal 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 front 40/20/40 bench seat provides a centre backrest that does double duty as a seatback or folds down to provide an armrest with ample storage capacity.
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, UConnect Hands-Free Communication 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 any 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 5-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 ESP (Electronic Stability Program) helps to maintain traction and directional control on loose or slippery surfaces. Electronic Roll Mitigation, Hill Start Assist and Trailer Sway Control are standard along with the Trailer Tow Package that includes 7 and 4-pin connector wiring. Properly equipped, the Ram 1500 can tow 4,128 kg and has a maximum payload of 644 kg, making it work-ready for the toughest jobs. 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 Tire Pressure Monitoring System are standard. Dual-stage front airbags, front seat side airbags and side curtain airbags are also standard.
Kevin O'Byrne believes the AJAC Award is more than justified, "Recently in Vancouver, we had a comparative ride end drive test with all the competitive trucks. I can honestly say that the Dodge Ram was quicker, more agile, smoother riding and generally the most civilized and capable of the pack. And they've never been more affordable."
Alan McPhee is a Canadian automotive journalist and is former editor of Carguide Magazine. His articles appear each week in this space.
DODGE RAM SLT CREW CAB
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 -- 16.2L/100 km; hwy -- 10.8L/100 km
Base price: $37,490
Price as tested: $43,590
Vehicle provided by
Nanaimo Chrysler Ltd.
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