Story and Photos by Dan Sanchez
At a time when just about every dollar of one’s paycheck is accounted for, people often save money by owning one vehicle that can perform a variety of tasks. This is a reason why truck sales, especially crew cabs, remain high. So it’s comforting to know that trucks like the 2012 Ram 1500 crew cab 4×4 have evolved into a vehicle that can haul cargo to the construction site, pick up the kids from school and tow your trailer to a campsite for a fun weekend adventure.
Despite the rise in luxury truck sales, truck enthusiasts who depend on their vehicles know that gas mileage and tow ratings matter more than leather seats and a wood-grain dash. Nevertheless, our Ram test vehicle was a fully equipped four-wheel-drive Sport crew cab with leather seating, navigation, sunroof and many more options that jacked up the sticker () above $51,000. That’s a whole lot of extras on a truck whose base price is around $40,000 and includes a 5.7-liter Hemi engine, a six-speed automatic transmission and a gas mileage rating of 19 mpg on the highway.
While the base model seems much more reasonable to anyone willing to give up some luxury items, like an $850 power sunroof or a $1,695 rear-seat video system, one of the more useful options is a 3.92:1 rear axle ratio and a limited-slip differential. With a standard payload capacity of 1,500 pounds, the added rear-axle options gave our test truck a towing capacity of 10,200 pounds. This would prove to be a great asset in the off-road conditions we put the truck through.
Although the bright Flame Red truck looked great with its color-matched bumpers, grille and sport performance hood, we got it covered in dirt and dust while traveling over several off-road trails that included deep ruts, river washes and loose terrain.
The Ram’s suspension hasn’t changed in several years, and it still proved to be capable. It uses aluminum A-arms, coil springs and twin-tube shocks in the front with a five-link suspension with coil springs, track bar and twin-tube shocks at the rear. We drove the Ram over a steep hill climb and washed-out trails that put the suspension into its maximum point of articulation. Despite the conditions, the Ram provided a predictable and well-balanced ride. The truck never felt unsteady or incapable of handling anything a stock-height truck could drive over.
The stiffer ladder-style chassis allowed the suspension to fully extend and compress while slowly crawling over deeply rutted areas. The only limiting factor was the P275/60R20 Goodyear Wrangler HP tires that were an option for our test model’s Sport package. The tires were mounted on polished 20-inch aluminum wheels that looked great, but the combination was better suited for high mileage and a smooth highway ride. It may not be enough traction to tread where Jeeps roam, but the Ram can still easily get you to any campsite off the beaten path.
The only other drawback we saw was ground clearance. You can simply never have enough of it, but we didn’t want to go into more rugged terrain and risk scratching the air dam. That in and of itself is not much to complain about, but we were well aware that if the truck were outfitted with a set of all-terrain tires and a 3-inch body lift, it would be dramatically more capable without any other changes. Nevertheless, we realized that the Ram was set up to be a good compromise that also offers comfort, smooth operation and capabilities in other areas, which we experienced on our test drive.
With the Ram’s crew-cab design, there’s plenty of room and storage areas in the doors, center console and under the rear seats. Our test model came equipped with a rear entertainment system that connected to a media center featuring a 40-gigabyte hard drive and GPS navigation. These are nice items to have so you don’t get lost finding that off-road trail off the highway or getting to a new restaurant you’ve always wanted to try. The truck also featured Uconnect, which allows you to make hands-free phone calls via Bluetooth and connects you to assistance when you need it. For daily driving, the interior is more than spacious and comfortable for driving with the family or taking your boss out for lunch.
But some truck owners also use their vehicles for work. In this case, the RamBox Cargo Management System comes in handy. The RamBox safely stores items in the sides of the bed with a lockable, weatherproof lid. The boxes can hold lots of 12-ounce beverages (140 total) for your weekend getaways. That was perfect for our off-road excursion, leaving more room in the cab for passengers and eliminating the chance of an ice chest bouncing around in the bed. The RamBox can also hold work tools, tow straps and other items you may want to keep in the vehicle. We liked that both boxes, and the tailgate, lock with the ignition key. It’s a great feature, especially when used with any aftermarket hard folding tonneau cover to secure tools and other items you may use to transport to and from the job site.
We took our truck on an exciting off-road trip, but we also saw how well it performs with a heavy load in the bed by hauling 1,000 pounds of scrap metal to the local recycling yard. We especially liked how the new 65RFE six-speed gave us access to all six gears when manually shifting with the console shifter, which came in handy with the heavier load.
Our test model had an optional urethane spray-in bed liner that worked exceptionally well; it didn’t leave any dents or scratches from the load. With the extra weight, the truck sank an inch or two but still drove and handled predictably. The Ram looked quite comfortable carrying the hefty load and it didn’t feel overly top-heavy, especially when maneuvering around corners and in stop-and-go traffic. In fact, several workers around the recycling yard gathered around to check out the truck, and they gave us a few thumbs-up. Others liked the tailgate assist that made it effortless to open and close the tailgate when moving the payload.
While the as-tested price gave us (and other truck owners we talked with) a little bit of sticker shock, the Ram 1500 crew cab is definitely a vehicle that proved it could take on mildly difficult off-road terrain, haul heavy loads and keep the family quiet and comfortable in a roomy cab. We also liked that our test truck managed to get 20 mpg on the highway and 15 mpg in combined off-road and street driving conditions. But with a moderate base price and lots of options, buyers can outfit the Ram 1500 crew cab to whatever fits their needs and budget.
With a stiff ladder-style chassis, the suspension can fully extend and compress while slowly crawling over deeply rutted areas. Ground clearance is an issue, and although the truck is capable of more rugged terrain, we were not willing to damage the front air dam.
The 5.7-liter Hemi is powerful, making 390 hp and 407 pounds-feet of torque. But it’s also more fuel efficient achieving 20 mpg (unloaded) on the highway during our test, largely due to the modified 65RFE transmission that gives the driver access (through manual shifting only–you'll use only five gears in "D") to all six gears.
Our test vehicle came equipped with P275/60R20 Goodyear Wrangler HP tires and polished 20-inch wheels. The combination is better suited for pavement comfort and traction rather than off-road conditions, but we didn’t hold that against it.
The interior of our truck had all the amenities, including leather seating. This made the ride seem a bit more comfortable, especially with the power 10-way adjustable driver’s seat and six-way adjustable passenger seat. A navigation system and a multimedia center keeps you and the family entertained.
With good looks and rugged capabilities, the 2012 Ram 1500 crew cab can meet the needs of truck enthusiasts who use their vehicles for work and play; it's more than just a four-wheel-drive truck with good off-road capabilities. It also functions well as a daily driver and heavy hauler when needed.