You've probably heard a lot about Dodge's redesigned '09 Ram 1500 pickup trucks and how nice they are, and maybe you've seen one or two since they've begun to appear on dealers' lots. The new light-duty Rams have five trim levels that go from base to posh, and what you've most likely seen or read about are the more upscale versions. But what would you buy for work?
If you run a fleet, you're likely to choose the basic-trimmed ST, and that's what I grabbed to drive during a show-and-tell event near Santa Barbara, Calif., late last summer. The truck was a plain, black Regular Cab with the standard V-6 engine and a short, 6-foot-4-inch bed. Specifications charts give this truck's gross vehicle weight rating as 6,025 pounds and its payload as 1,490 pounds (including passengers). With the 215-horsepower V-6, it's rated to tow 2,950 to 3,800 pounds.
To me the ST interior looked good and felt fine. Seats had attractive two-tone grey cloth coverings that were comfortable to sit on and will probably wear well. Bolsters provide good lateral support for driver and passenger, and there's a center area for a third person who won't feel cramped because the cab is plenty wide. Without him or her you can fold down a big center armrest that has a compartment large enough to store a laptop computer or a bunch of upright files, separated by built-in fold-up dividers.
Controls for the radio and heater-air conditioner are big, well-marked knobs that can be understood at a glance and operated with little conscious thought, meaning the driver can keep his/her mind on the road. In the dash to the far right was a big, rectangular cubby hole that on higher trim levels has a hinged cover; below that is a large, locking “glove box” that would hold a couple of dozen gloves if that's what you'd put in there. And there's more than a foot of fore-aft room in a full-width tray behind the seat, enough for small tool boxes, paint pails or other stuff you don't want to throw in the wide and roomy bed.
The 3.7-liter (226-cubic-inch) V-6 was surprisingly quick from the get-go and still healthy at freeway speeds. It runs through a smooth-shifting 42RLE 4-speed automatic; a 6-speed Getrag manual is standard, but few are sold, marketers said. A 5-speed auto is used with the optional V-8s. While the V-6 could benefit as much or more from the added ratio, the 4-speed tranny and the six-cylinder engine help hold down the ST's list price to around $21,000.
If you remember old, reliable 3- and even 2-speed automatics, you know that a modern 4-speed slips less and its overdrive top gear — this one's ratio is 0.69:1 — lets the engine loaf at highway speeds. Yeah, its electronics can act up, but they pay their way with efficient operation. Both 4- and 5-speed automatic trannies have a neat spring-loaded thumb switch on the selector lever that lets you downshift and hold lower gears for braking on long downgrades; thumbing up causes an upshift to the next gear, and an LED indicator in the instrument panel shows which gear is engaged. There's also a Tow-Haul switch on the dash that delays upshifts and quickens downshifts.
With an empty bed, this truck's ride was appropriately firm. But the coil-link rear suspension smoothed out undulations in patchy pavement and, more noticeably, eliminated lateral hop over bumps. Remember that the truck still uses a solid rear axle, so side-hop is theoretically possible; however, engineers have arranged the five links and tuned the coil springs and shock absorbers to almost eliminate hopping. I drove another Ram that was loaded with a half-ton of bagged horse feed, and it was a bit better than a similarly loaded '08 Chevy 1500.
Nicer inside and out was an SLT Regular Cab with an 8-foot long bed that I drove later. Its 390-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 easily dragged around an empty horse trailer weighing 2,900 pounds. This truck is tow-rated at 5,100 to 9,100 pounds, depending on axle ratio and other equipment. The latest Hemi has variable valve timing and V-8/V-4 operation that put its EPA fuel-economy rating within 1 or 2 mpg of the 310-horsepower, 4.7-liter V-8 and even the 215-horsepower V-6. But the smaller engines cost less upfront.
Another ride was a sporty R/T iteration of the Regular Cab, short-bed Ram. Its Hemi runs through a 4.10 axle ratio that will let the truck dash from 0 to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, according to our enthusiastic hosts, and yes, it sure was quick. The engine didn't race at highway cruising speeds, either, because a 0.67 overdrive 5th gear let the Hemi loaf at about 2,000 rpm at 65 mph.
The SLT and R/T have more exterior niceness, such as chrome-tipped dual exhausts coved into the rear bumper. And their plusher seats have power adjustments, while fancy faced instruments ringed with chrome bezels almost smile at you. If you're the boss, you might choose one of these. It'd beat wearing a neck tie.