It's rare that we get one fully redone new pickup truck in a given model year, but this year we got two automakers introducing all-new pickups. GM delivered the new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra half-ton trucks, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has given us this, the new 2019 Ram 1500. Complicating matters somewhat is the continuation of the previous-generation 1500 in limited trim levels as the 2019 Ram 1500 Classic. This review focuses on the redesigned 1500.
Smooth and Strong
Initially, there's a choice of three powertrains for the new Ram 1500. The base engine is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that features a standard mild-hybrid system called eTorque. It's a 48-volt integrated starter/generator/motor that is fed from a battery pack located in the rear of the cabin wall. It operates seamlessly in the V-6, providing a little extra grunt when called for and greater efficiency when cruising. The gas-electric pairing makes 305 horsepower and 269 pounds-feet of torque; that's competitive for a base powertrain, providing decent acceleration in an empty pickup (which is how I tested it, in a low-spec Tradesman crew-cab model). The Pentastar always has been a solid engine, and when augmented by a bit of electric boost, it's only gotten better. My only wish is that the hybrid system's operation was reflected in the gauges or multimedia system to let you know that it's doing anything, as it's almost invisible in its operation.
Your other options for powertrains are two versions of the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, with or without the optional eTorque system. This engine comes with much more grunt — 395 hp and 410 pounds-feet of torque, accompanied by a delicious burble from the dual exhaust pipes. Ram doesn't provide system power specifications for the eTorque treatment but says the electric motor contributes up to 130 pounds-feet of torque to the V-8 and 90 pounds-feet to the V-6.
The model I've spent the most time behind the wheel of is the four-wheel-drive Limited crew-cab model featuring the eTorque Hemi V-8, optional 3.92 final drive ratio and electronic locking rear axle, so performance comments from here forward will deal with that model. This powertrain moves the big Ram much more smartly than the V-6 thanks to that boost in torque, but the advantage starts to slip as you move up in the trim levels and add weight and equipment. The operative word for the Ram V-8 is smooth — it's an amazingly smooth, refined, luxurious driving experience. The Ram's Hemi doesn't have the endless deep well of torque that the GM twins' big 6.2-liter V-8 brings to the party, sporting 420 hp and 460 pounds-feet of torque, but it's plenty to get the truck moving quickly and feels largely unaffected by either loading the truck to maximum payload or pulling an average-size trailer.
As with the V-6, the eTorque system is invisible in daily operation, which is a good thing compared with the clunky operation of most "full" gasoline-electric hybrids — but in the case of the V-8, where you have to pay more to get eTorque, it might leave you wondering what you paid for. Ram insists otherwise, but our experience with truck buyers is such that more information is always better, especially on how the powertrain is performing. If I paid more than $2,600 for this optional system meant to save me money on fuel, I'd like to know when it's working and what it's doing beyond just having to do some calculations whenever I fill up the tank at the gas pump.
All of the engines are mated to Ram's standard eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, a robust unit that gets a few internal upgrades when you move from the V-6 to the V-8 option. There are three final drive ratios available, with an optional limited-slip differential or electronic locking differential on certain 4x4 models. In a recent PickupTrucks.com comparison test at the drag strip, our Ram wasn't the fastest from zero-to-60 mph, a fact we chalk up to the loaded truck's prodigious weight — 5,920 pounds, or nearly 500 pounds more than a loaded Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country with a bigger, more powerful engine that beat the Ram to 60 mph by nearly a full second. Around town, however, this becomes less of an issue, as in normal driving there is plenty of power from the Hemi, delivered with a smooth flow unmarred by any sort of rough gearshifts. It's an excellent powertrain, just not king of the hill when it comes to truck duty — a fact that might be important for certain buyers.
The truck's weight also works against it for payload capacity. If you option up a Ram 1500 for maximum abilities, you can achieve a max tow rating of 12,750 pounds and a max payload of 2,300 pounds. But load up your truck with luxury trimmings, and you'll get what our test truck had — a payload rating of just 1,180 pounds. Put five 200-pound guys in the cabin, and anything more than two big bags of dog food in the bed would exceed the safety ratings. That ain't much, and it reinforces the idea that as a luxury vehicle, the Ram works beautifully — but the trade-off for that cushiness is truck utility.
Where the eTorque V-8 powertrain shines is in fuel economy. The EPA rates the Ram 1500 4x4 with the eTorque V-8 at 17/22/19 mpg city/highway/combined, which improves upon the regular V-8's 15/21/17 mpg by 2 mpg combined, a boost of almost 12 percent. With the eTorque option, the Hemi V-8 bests the 6.2-liter V-8 and 10-speed automatic transmission combination in the GM trucks (16/20/17 mpg) and even GM's standard 5.3-liter V-8 (15/20/17 mpg with a standard six-speed transmission), as well. The Hemi mild hybrid is also rated better than the 5.0-liter V-8 in the Ford F-150 (15/20/17 mpg) and surprisingly beats even the twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 (16/21/18 mpg). We did not perform any unloaded fuel economy testing in our latest comparison, but we did look at how it performed while pulling a 6,100-pound trailer, where the Hemi placed mid-pack in the results among other half-ton pickups.
Where the eTorque powertrain shines is in fuel economy, improving upon the regular V-8 by 2 mpg combined.
The Silent Type
The experience of driving the new Ram is amplified by the plush surroundings. Active noise cancellation and a redesigned frame with special frame mounts create an amazingly hushed cabin environment on V-8-equipped models. A well-damped ride adds to the insulated passenger experience, be it with the standard coil-spring rear suspension (in lieu of leaf springs) or the optional air suspension. The Ram handles well enough, but it isn't what one would call athletic or rewarding to drive aggressively. This is partly due to its highly boosted steering not providing much in the way of feedback, and partly due to its weight. While the steering is light, I did find it to be accurate and quick, with few turns lock-to-lock. Stopping the big truck isn't the most confidence-inspiring activity, either — the brakes have a mushy feel to them, without much initial bite. But if isolation from external elements is really your goal, you'll find no better truck out there than the Ram 1500 for delivering such results.
The Nicest Pickup Ever Made
If using a truck as a truck is not the primary role in your household, then this next part may be more important to you. Simply put, Ram has created the nicest pickup truck ever made. The interior of the new Ram 1500 is stunning in its top Limited trim, but it's also impressive in every trim level all the way down to the lowly Tradesman. The Limited is the one to behold, however, where all the high-quality materials abound. Rich leather covers nearly every surface, including the dashboard. Gorgeous open-pore wood is placed high and within reach, allowing you to touch and appreciate its uniqueness (good luck even finding the wood panels in a Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country — they're located below your knees). Color choices are exceptional, with some unique two-tone options that are tasteful and classy (or opulently Wild West-themed for people into that). The steering wheel is thick, comfortable and stylish, as well. I'd go out on a limb to say that this is perhaps the nicest American luxury vehicle interior built today, challenging the Lincoln Navigator for that title and better than anything coming out of Cadillac.
Front-seat room is expansive with wide, comfortable seats and plenty of legroom and headroom. Unlike in the GM trucks' bunkerlike environment, the seating position is high and the dash is fairly low, allowing a good view out over the hood. The Ford F-150 still has the Ram beat for visibility, however, with super-tall side glass and an even lower dashboard. Backseat legroom is cavernous — GM may have the interior room title at the moment with its claim of best-in-class cabin space, but you won't feel cramped in any of the current full-size crew-cab pickups except the Nissan Titan, which doesn't feel quite as massive as its competitors.
The new Ram 1500 features the latest and greatest version of Uconnect, long viewed as one of the quickest, simplest, easiest-to-use multimedia systems on the market. The latest Ram takes it to the next level with a positively massive optional 12-inch, vertically oriented touchscreen that takes up most of the center control panel. It's big, bright and easy to use, but its highly reflective screen can make direct sunlight a challenge, and it collects fingerprints prolifically. It's reconfigurable to several different custom settings, allowing users to set preferences for appearance and usability. You can pair it with a bone-shaking 900-watt, 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system in the premium trim levels if you want bass that shakes the truck's windows and scrambles your soul.
Room for Everything
Storage inside the cabin is plentiful, with all sorts of cubbies and clever holders for things like cellphones. There are USB ports and 12-volt power points, too. The brilliantly simple cellphone holders in the lower center console allow you to keep a phone plugged into a cord and still arrange it so that it sits securely in the holder. Rear seats that fold up allow large items to be loaded into the passenger compartment where they're more secure than in an open bed. The RamBox bedside storage compartments are also improved for 2019, as they now have interior lights, 115-volt grounded outlets and pressure-touch latches. They do eat into the available cargo area in the bed itself, but given that this truck doesn't have a huge payload capacity, hauling big, heavy objects in the bed probably isn't as important as being able to securely transport smaller, valuable items in the RamBoxes.
The new 2019 Ram 1500 has not yet been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it top ratings nearly across the board thanks to excellent crash-test results and the presence of advanced safety systems like forward collision warning with autonomous braking. Only its headlights and child-seat Latch anchors received a marginal rating. The new truck features a full load of optional safety and convenience technology, including a 360-degree camera system, active parallel and perpendicular parking assist, blind spot monitor, adaptive front LED lighting, lane departure warning and more.
Pickups Ain't Cheap Anymore
Not that this is a news flash, but pickup prices have been steadily climbing and are in many cases higher than they've ever been. Even middle trim levels are going for north of $50,000, and my 1500 Limited crew-cab 4x4 model had an all-in sticker price of $68,390 including destination fee. That's a lot of cheddar for a pickup, but when you compare the interior trimmings of this Limited to luxury vehicles from any brand costing easily as much, it compares favorably.
And it's not like any of the competitor pickups are less expensive. Ford made news last year for introducing a Super Duty that hits the $100,000 mark, and competitors to the Ram 1500 Limited all come within a few thousand dollars of the Ram's total. So be prepared to spend a little more coin at your preferred pickup truck vendor on your next visit. If you're at the Ram store, you're in for a treat with the nicest pickup ever made by an American automaker. Just make sure you don't make it too nice if you still want to do some trucky things regularly.
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