By Mike Hanley on January 23, 2008
The 2008 Detroit auto show was the venue for two important redesigned-pickup-truck debuts: the 2009 Ford F-150 and the 2009 Dodge Ram. They are two of the best-selling vehicles in the country, and we've taken a look at what the new trucks have to offer, category by category.
Both the Ram and F-150 sport tougher new looks — not that either really needed them. The F-150's hood is taller than before, and it's now offered with even more distinctive grille designs that help separate the various trims. There are also new headlights, and all of these elements give the F-150 a look that's more similar to its Super Duty big brothers.
The Ram also has new headlights and a new take on its trademark grille. Dodge has given the Ram's grille a forward lean for 2009 that's a radical styling element for a pickup, even though it's appeared on sporty cars before. The look is traditional yet stylistically interesting, and that's what gives the Dodge the edge in this category.
To see how important the issue of interior quality has become, look no further than these new pickups. Luxury-themed interiors have been creeping into pickups, and the ones in uplevel trims of the F-150 and Ram take the concept to new heights, with details like real stitching on the dashboard that, until recently, had been reserved for pricey luxury cars. Premium materials are also out in force, which makes these feel even more luxurious.
After seeing the best of what both of these trucks have to offer, it came down to sensible button size and location, and the Ram seemed to offer a more logical control layout in the center of the dashboard. It's a minor thing, for sure, but it's enough to tip this category in the Ram's favor.
Pickups have been slow to adopt safety features that are now common in other vehicles, but now they're starting to catch up, and these two trucks are evidence; both the F-150 and Ram can have side curtain airbags and an electronic stability system.
The F-150's stability system, however, has an important element — Roll Stability Control — that sets it apart from the Dodge's. That system has an additional gyroscopic sensor that's used to measure roll rate. If it becomes excessive, the stability system acts to reduce the likelihood of a rollover. RSC makes a lot of sense on a vehicle with a high center of gravity, like a pickup truck, and it puts the F-150 ahead here.
I know, I know. You don't care about the new styling or pretty interiors, you just want to know which one is the towing king. Dodge says the maximum towing capacity for the Ram is 9,100 pounds when properly equipped, the same as it was before. In a change from last year, the Ram now has a coil spring rear suspension rather than the customary leaf spring design. Dodge says the change benefits ride quality.
Ford is being secretive about what the new F-150 will pull, and hasn't released any figures for it yet. However, the automaker says the truck will be able to pull more than its predecessor — which maxed out at 11,000 pounds — and that makes the Ford an easy pick here.
Both the Ram and F-150 have features that are new to light-duty trucks. The Ram is available with Sirius Backseat TV, which debuted in Chrysler's minivans. For buyers who carry kids in their truck, this could be a must-have feature. There's also a new RamBox storage system that features two lockable storage bins built into the sides of the cargo box.
As for the F-150, it gains a tailgate step and handrail that's been used on the automaker's Super Duty trucks, and they make getting into the bed a much more graceful affair. There's also an available step on the side that makes it easier to reach into the bed. Power-retractable running boards are offered, too.
Depending on how you use your truck, either set of features may be of more value to you than the other.
Loyalties run deep in the full-size truck segment, and enthusiasts of each brand likely have plenty to say about these new models. If you do, leave a note in the comments.
Senior Editor Mike Hanley is a father of three boys; he reviews new cars, admires classic cars and has embraced the minivan lifestyle. Email Mike