Editor's note: This review was written in May 2016 about the 2016 Ram 1500. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2017, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2016 model year sees the introduction of a new top trim level, the Laramie Limited, which shares an updated grille design introduced by the Rebel trim last year and incorporates Argento wood and premium leather inside. See 2015 and 2016 model specifications compared side-by-side here.
Exterior & Styling
Like the other domestic full-size pickups, the Ram 1500 comes in different cab styles, most with a choice of wheelbase and bed length. The regular cab comes with a 6-foot-4 cargo box or an 8-foot box. The latter adds 20 inches of wheelbase and 22 inches from bumper to bumper.
The extended cab, or Quad Cab, comes in only one wheelbase and the 6-foot-4 cargo box. The full crew cab's cargo beds are 5-foot-7 or 6-foot-4, the latter version of which adds roughly 9 inches to both the wheelbase and the overall length.
Ram (formerly Dodge Ram) trucks fought their way into the big leagues partly on the strength of bold styling like no one had seen before, and derivations of that so-called big-rig styling have lasted through today, but some would argue Chevrolet and GMC now have the boldest-looking half-tons.
The Rebel trim level, introduced as a late 2015 model, and the new-for-2016 Laramie Limited trim level have a new grille that replaces the long-standing crosshair design with a large RAM logo. The classic styling still looks good, but we suspect these two predict coming changes for the whole line.
The Rebel rides higher on standard 33-inch wheels and has off-road provisions like skid plates and tow hooks (see the 2015 Rebel take on Toyota's designated desert-runner, the Tundra TRD Pro, here).
How It Drives
What has defined the Ram 1500's past few model years, and in my opinion dulled the impact of the Chevrolet Silverado's and GMC Sierra's 2014 redesigns, has been its ride quality and efficiency. The truck owes these attributes, in part, to early adoption of an eight-speed automatic transmission (with some engines) as well as an optional air suspension system that was unprecedented and remains exclusive in this class: In addition to providing a smooth ride, the air springs allow the driver to select various ride heights, including an access height and two off-road heights (it's standard on the Rebel). The system also can automatically lower the truck at highway speeds for better fuel efficiency. In our experience, the 4-Corner Air Suspension option delivered the goods, but unfortunately two things have stolen some of its thunder.
First, some versions of the redesigned Ford F-150 and GM trucks ride as comfortably without air springs and their added cost. Second, we've found that the ride quality goes south when towing. First time out, we noticed it while towing a 6,700-pound horse trailer with a Ram 1500 Laramie minus the weight-distributing hitch recommended for trailers of this size. An F-150 we tested alongside the Ram, which also called for a weight-distributing hitch, performed fine with the same trailer. Later tests with the air suspension and the proper hitch didn't solve the problem. No matter how the trailer was set up, there was too much sag.
The Ram's mileage is led by the stout base gasoline 3.6-liter V-6 and a 3.0-liter diesel V-6 that counts Cars.com editors among its fans. The top EPA-estimated mileage comes from HFE (high fuel efficiency) versions powered by gasoline (18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined) or diesel (21/29/24 mpg) engines. Note that the HFE treatment comes only with rear-wheel drive and at added cost. Non-HFE versions of the Ram lose 1 mpg city and highway in diesel and 1 mpg city and combined in gas versions. Four-wheel drive shaves an additional 1 mpg combined from the V-6 engines.
For comparison, the most efficient rear-wheel-drive competitors are the Silverado with the V-6 (18/24/20 mpg), the F-150 with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 (19/26/22) and the Tundra with the 4.6-liter V-8 (15/19/16).
Typical of diesels, the Ram sacrifices horsepower, though, with just 240 hp at 3,600 rpm despite 420 pounds-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. This translates to slower sprints: In the Showdown against the models listed above, our Ram EcoDiesel hit 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, behind the gas Tundra at 7.7, the Silverado at 6.96 and the F-150 at 6.36 seconds. Adding 1,500 pounds of payload added more than a second but made no great difference in the intervals between the contestants.
In braking, the Ram came in third in our recent Texas Truck Showdown when empty and really struggled with payload, coming in fourth to zero from 60 mph, at 157.7 feet. Perhaps our Ram's curb weight, the highest of the four at 5,460 pounds, as measured, played a part. Its payload rating, calculated and rated, was indeed the lowest of the bunch.
As for the Ram's V-6 gas engine, competitors have closed the gap with its 21 mpg combined rating over the past few model years. Equipped with a V-6 engine and rear-wheel drive, the GM pickups are rated an EPA-estimated 20 mpg combined. With turbocharged 2.7- and 3.5-liter V-6 engines, the F-150 gets as high as an estimated 22 and 20 mpg combined, respectively. Our testing last year bore out these estimates roughly, with the exception of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost, which was more than 1.5 mpg short of its EPA estimate.
The Ram's 5.7-liter V-8 generates 395 hp and 410 pounds-feet of torque, which compares to competitors' entry-level V-8s but is lower than an optional 6.2-liter V-8 that delivers 420 hp and 460 pounds-feet of torque in the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500.
In the Showdown testing of a different set of trucks equipped for maximum towing, a Sierra with the 6.2-liter took first in the zero-to-60 in just 5.9 seconds (rounded to tenths), empty. The Ram V-8 essentially tied with the 5.3-liter Silverado and 5.7-liter Tundra at 7.0 seconds. But second place went to the F-150, again with an EcoBoost V-6 rather than the available 5.0-liter V-8, at 6.4 seconds.
Carrying 1,750 pounds of payload, again the GMC came in first (6.9 seconds) followed by the Ford (7.2), the Chevy (8.3), the Toyota (8.4) and finally the Ram (8.7 seconds). In our experience, the Ram 1500's eight-speed automatic is very well behaved when towing and hauling, and its short initial gear ratios give it a nice, quick pop off the line — as do the GM trucks' eight-speeds — but unfortunately the Ram tends to lose ground after roughly 30 mph.
As with the EcoDiesel, the V-8 Ram's braking was middling when empty but the longest from 60-to-zero mph when loaded, at 161.6 feet, perhaps reflecting its relatively high weight and a calculated 1,300-pound payload capacity, below the load weight. (The Tundra's capacity was even lower, at 1,200 pounds, but it accelerated a few tenths quicker and stopped a few feet shorter.)
The V-8 Ram 1500's eight-speed transmission provides a maximum EPA-estimated 17 mpg combined, which kept the 2013 model competitive, but now that the other domestics have been redesigned, it falls behind: The 5.3-liter V-8-powered Silverado makes up to an estimated 18 mpg combined, and the F-150 with EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6 is rated 20 mpg, both with rear-wheel drive. (Ford positions its turbo 3.5-liter against competing V-8s — legitimately, because it produces 365 hp and 420 pounds-feet of torque, but as stated above, its real-world efficiency has fallen short in testing.) The Tundra gets an estimated 16 mpg combined with the smaller V-8 and 15 mpg with the larger one, regardless of driveline. Note that the Ram V-8 prefers midgrade gasoline for rated output while the others call for regular octane.
Even the Ford 5.0-liter V-8 (385 hp and 387 pounds-feet) gets an estimated 18 mpg combined versus the Ram's 17 mpg, but ties it with four-wheel drive. The non-turbo 3.5-liter Ford V-6 4x4 rates 19 mpg.
In our real-world Showdown testing, the Ram V-8 came in last with 17.7 mpg combined, behind the Tundra (17.9), F-150 3.5-liter EcoBoost (22.8) and the Silverado and Sierra (23.9 mpg). When towing a 10,100-pound trailer, the Ram beat the Tundra for fourth place by 0.7 mpg at 10.7 mpg.
None of the full-size pickups are small inside, but if you're looking strictly at the seating dimensions, the Ram is a bit shy on legroom, including the crew cab's backseat. In this field, the best place for the tallest occupants is the front seat of the current GM trucks and the backseat of an F-150 crew cab.
Despite its years since a redesign, the Ram's cabin remains a very nice place to be. All told, the entry-level Rams aren't bad, but there's no mistaking the plain gauges, small radio and minimalist console in an Express from the equivalent in higher trim levels, such as the Laramie Longhorn, which has high-quality, aromatic leather and generally high-class materials. It isn't all a step up, though: The Laramie's gauge faces are too ornate for their own good; legibility is lost amid the filigree. The large, full-color display between the gauges, however, is a winner, offering a wealth of information — though the same feature in the F-150 offers even more.
I know some disagree, but I like the rotary gear-selector knob, primarily because it enables operation without looking; just feel the clicks. It also takes up minimal space, providing plenty on the console.
Over the past two years, since the GM and Ford competitors have been redesigned, our editors have continued to give the Ram top ratings for outward visibility, comfort, ergonomics and interior quality, especially for the price. The steering wheel is even in the right place — Chevrolet and GMC still aim theirs slightly toward the driver's door — but a telescoping adjustment to accompany the tilt is overdue. Power-adjustable pedals are included in higher trim levels.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The Ram's various controls are well laid out; the optional trailer-brake controls are in sight and within reach, unlike the Tundra's. The Ram's multimedia offering also remains strong — in the form of the optional 8.4-inch touch-screen Uconnect system. In addition to a large screen with a configurable home row of icons at the bottom, Uconnect 8.4 — available with or without built-in navigation — has clear, easy-to-use menus and reacts quickly in response to touch when new (sadly, we've found some of the more elaborate systems get slower with age like a smartphone). Freezes and other glitches with the 8.4 system in other Fiat Chrysler Automobiles vehicles have been rare, though we've seen them.
The lesser systems include Uconnect 3.0 and 5.0, both named for their screen sizes (display only, not touch-screen), which have AM and FM. New for 2016, Bluetooth hands-free telephone and audio streaming is available across the lineup, but not always standard. A CD player is optional across the board, but USB and analog input jacks are standard. Add option packages or move into higher trim levels, and you'll see additional USB ports, including one added data port and another powerful enough to charge tablets. When installed on the owner's smartphone, the Uconnect Access app allows internet radio like Pandora, iHeartRadio and Slacker to play through the stereo using the phone's data plan. Aha provides additional entertainment and information sources.
Optional Uconnect Access Advantage adds built-in cellular hardware that, under subscription, provides collision notification, roadside assistance, monthly vehicle health reports and an optional Wi-Fi hot spot. Though GM has implemented 4G LTE connectivity, the Ram's hot spot remains 3G, which we find is often too slow for video viewing.
Ram still doesn't offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, features that are making their way into GM trucks and will join the F-150 at the start of the 2017 model year. Ford says they can be added to existing 2016 models at that time.
Cargo & Towing
The Ram 1500's standard and optional cargo provisions are many, starting with large center console bins and door pockets, and a bilevel glove compartment. In the back of the crew cab, once you raise the rear seats' bottom cushions, you'll find they incorporate handy lights that shine down at the floor where you also can fold an available platform forward to provide a wide in-cabin cargo floor.
Most intriguing may be the optional RamBox storage bins in the cargo box walls, available with the two shorter bed lengths but not the 8-foot. Fitted on both sides, the bins each provide 8.6 cubic feet of volume with the 6-foot-4 bed and 7.3 cubic feet with the 5-foot-7 bed. They're good for anything from sports equipment or beverages on ice (there are drain holes) to tools or rifles. As of a few years ago, the boxes remote lock and unlock along with the doors and are illuminated.
If I have a complaint, it's that Ram hasn't provided more of these nifty features — something its sister brands have long done, especially in minivans. Ford has detractors for the F-150's retractable side and tailgate steps, but I'm a fan. Mopar offers some nice add-ons for Ram, but they're not long on innovation.
As noted above, we've been disappointed by how the otherwise sublime air suspension responds when towing, but fortunately it's not standard equipment. Beyond that, the domestic competitors have passed the Ram's maximum towing capacities. With a gasoline V-6, the 2016 Ram 1500's maximum trailer ratings range from 4,170 to 7,470 pounds. (Cargo ratings vary with axle ratio and bed length as well as engine, cab style and rear- or four-wheel drive.) The EcoDiesel ranges from 7,540 to 9,210 pounds, and the V-8 ranges from 6,730 to 10,640 pounds. (With a few exceptions, four-wheel drive and larger cabs rob more towing and payload capacity.)
In comparison, the 2016 Silverado 1500 V-6 ranges from 5,400 to 7,600 pounds maximum towing, the 5.3-liter V-8 from 6,100 to 11,100 pounds and the 6.2-liter V-8 from 9,100 to 12,000 pounds.
Equipped with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, the 2016 F-150's towing maximum ranges from 7,500 to 8,500 pounds. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 from 5,000 to 12,200 pounds and the V-8 from 8,300 to 11,100 pounds.
The Tundra's maximum capacities range from 6,400 to 6,800 pounds with the 4.6-liter V-8 and from 9,100 to 10,500 pounds with the 5.7-liter.
The Ram also has a deficit in payload capacity, at 1,890 pounds in the highest-rated configuration. Chevy rates the Silverado at 2,160 pounds, Ford says the F-150 hits 3,270 and Toyota says the Tundra tops out at 2,060 pounds.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, the 2016 Ram 1500 earned four out of five stars overall for all three cab styles. This is one star behind domestic half-ton full-size rivals but equal to the Toyota Tundra. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, despite frame and body modifications for 2016, the Ram 1500 extended and crew cabs earned scores of marginal (out of a possible good, acceptable, marginal or poor) in the small overlap frontal test. It shares this result with crew-cab versions of the Silverado, Sierra and Tundra. Extended-cab versions of these three are rated acceptable in the small overlap, and only the F-150 rates good in both cab styles.
The full-size pickup class scores good in almost all other IIHS crashworthiness tests. The Ram rates marginal for roof strength, an indicator of rollover protection. The crew-cab Tundra rates acceptable, but its extended cab and all other competitors rate good.
A backup camera and front and rear park assist sensors are optional on the Ram 1500. Though optional forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking has found its way into the F-150, Silverado and Sierra, it's still not offered in the Ram or Tundra. The GM trucks have lane departure warning and the Tundra has blind spot warning. The F-150 offers both. The Ram has neither.
Automatic collision notification comes with the Uconnect Access Advantage option, which adds cellular communication separate from an occupant's smartphone.
See how child-safety seats fit in the Ram 1500 in our 2015 Car Seat Check, which also applies to the 2016.
View all safety features here.
Value in Its Class
In Cars.com's roundup tests of half-ton pickups, the Ram 1500 continues to score high marks for value, especially in the Laramie Longhorn, described as having the look and options of a luxury truck for a midrange price. Working against it are higher operating costs with the gas engines due to faltering fuel efficiency in a competitive class — excluding the EcoDiesel. In the Ram's favor are the diesel itself, promised but not yet delivered by Ford, and generous warranties: five years/100,000 miles for the diesel and five years/60,000 miles for both gas power plants.
Compare the Ram with the Silverado, F-150 and Tundra side-by-side here.