With the redesigned 2009 Dodge Ram 1500, Chrysler LLC proves that it’s quite serious about competing in the full-size pickup segment.

This newest Ram is not only the best pickup ever from Dodge, but also one of the best from any automaker. The Texas Autowriters Association has named it the “Texas Truck of the Year” for 2009.

For this report, we tested the Ram Quad Cab SLT two-wheel-drive model, which carries a base price of $29,475 (plus $900 freight). With a truckload of options, the sticker on our vehicle totaled $40,065, but it had just about everything one could order on a Ram, except for the cool new Ram Box feature (more on that below) and side-curtain air bags.

Prices begin at $22,170 (plus $900 freight) for the base single-cab ST work truck.

Other trim levels include the midlevel SLT; the uplevel Laramie; the Sport, designed for on-road driving; the TRX, which is the off-road model; and the performance- oriented R/T regular cab, which can go from zero to 60 mpg in 6.1 seconds.

With the redesign, the Ram also comes in its first true crew-cab model, which expands the space of the Quad Cab version.

The Quad Cab we tested had plenty of room for three people in the back seat, and came with regular rear doors instead of those small rear-opening doors in other manufacturers’ extended-cab models. But Dodge says it isn’t as roomy and functional as the others’ crew-cab models.

The roomier back seat of the Crew Cab model is better for work applications, in which a crew of full-size workers is being ferried to and from a job site.

But for the typical family, the Quad Cab would be quite sufficient. Three kids of almost any size will fit in the back seat just fine; adults might find the knee and leg room to be tight when the front seats are pushed completely back on their tracks to accommodate a larger driver and front passenger, however.

The Crew Cab has slightly larger rear doors, too, which makes it easier to load cargo into the backseat area.

Dodge felt that a full-size crew cab was necessary, though, as these models have become the biggest segment in the pickup market.

The new Ram’s exterior has carlike quality and craftsmanship, with narrow gaps and less wind resistance. The narrow gaps between body panels help eliminate whistling noises that can make their way into a passenger compartment at highway speeds.

Dodge kept the signature Ram grille, but it now leans forward and remains in place when the hood is lifted.

This makes the hood lighter and easier to handle. The Ram’s-head logo is larger and more prominent in the center of the grille, and a second Ram’s head is in the center of the tailgate.

Chrome is featured prominently on the exterior. Standard are 17-inch wheels, but 20-inch chrome wheels are optional.

Under the hood, there are three engines offered in the new Ram, beginning with the 3.7-liter V-6 that Chrysler uses in a variety of its Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep sport utilities and pickups.

Standard on the two-wheel-drive regular and Quad Cab models, this engine is rated at 210 horsepower and 235 foot-pounds of torque. With the base four-speed automatic transmission, EPA ratings are 14 mpg city/20 highway.

The midlevel engine is a 4.7-liter V-8, with 310 horsepower and 330 foot-pounds of torque. It comes with a five-speed automatic, and is EPA rated at 14 city/19 highway with two-wheel drive, and 13/18 with four-wheel drive.

On our tester, we had the uplevel 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 ($1,310), with 390 horsepower and 404 foot-pounds of torque. Also connected to a five-speed automatic, this engine is EPA rated at 14 city/20 highway (two-wheel-drive models) – the same as the V-6.

That’s in part because it has a cylinder-deactivation system that cuts out four of the cylinders during level cruising to increase highway mileage. An indicator on the dash shows the driver when the engine is operating in four-cylinder mode.

With four-wheel drive, the Hemi engine has a 13 city/18 highway rating.

Regular-cab models (which have only a front seat) come with either a 6-foot, 4-inch cargo bed or an 8-foot bed. Quad Cab models have a 6-foot, 4-inch bed, and Crew Cabs have a 5-foot, 7-inch bed.

The new Ram has a maximum payload of 1,850 pounds, and up to a 9,100-pound towing capacity with the Hemi engine. But only the regular-cab model with a short bed can tow a trailer that heavy.

The V-6 regular-cab model is limited to trailers weighing 3,450 pounds. And our Quad Cab tester with the Hemi engine and two-wheel drive, with the optional 20-inch wheels, had a maximum trailer rating of 7,600 pounds.

A real surprise in the new Ram is the smooth carlike ride, which comes from a five-link, coil-spring suspension on the rear that replaced the traditional leaf-spring arrangement that pickups normally have.

Great attention to detail was evident throughout the cab of our SLT model. It was laid out more like the cabin of a premium car than a pickup truck, and with the optional leather interior package ($1,875), our tester was as fancy and comfortable as some luxury SUVs.

The leather package included heated and ventilated leather-trimmed front bucket seats, a heated steering wheel, 10-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat and six-way power for the passenger seat.

There was an optional center console between the driver and front passenger with a side slot that can hold file folders. Its center storage area was large enough to keep a laptop computer out of sight.

Standard on the SLT are such features as air conditioning; a six-speaker AM/FM/compact-disc stereo, with Sirius satellite radio and MP3 playback; power windows and door locks with remote; power sliding rear window; trip computer; outdoor air temperature readout and digital compass; folding rear seat; tilt steering wheel; and rear under-seat storage.

Safety features include electronic stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Side-curtain air bags are available on Quad and Crew models, but were not included on our tester.

Our truck came with the Customer Preferred Package ($3,545), which added such extras as a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; a bright grille; a full-size, restricted-use spare tire; 115-volt power outlet; dual exhaust; auto-dimming rearview mirror; fold-away power heated outside mirrors with turn signals and courtesy lights; universal garage opener; halogen headlights; the 20-inch aluminum-chrome wheels; fog lights; rear floor under-seat storage; and power lumbar adjustment.

Optional (but not on our vehicle) are the Ram Boxes, built into each side of the cargo bed. These storage compartments, with locking flip-up tops, can hold tools, supplies and golf bags securely. They are waterproof, so they can even double as coolers – stuffed with drink cans or bottles and filled with ice.

Although they take away some of the interior width of the cargo bed, it still can accommodate standard sheets of plywood. Inside the bed, there is a cargo-management system with adjustable tie-down anchors.

Other extras on our truck included a power sunroof ($850); remote start with security alarm ($335); a Sport Premium Group ($750), which brought dual-zone air conditioning, rear-parking assist, and a nine-speaker audio system; and the U-connect system ($800) for downloading and storing music onboard in a hard drive.

Other available amenities include automatic climate control, GPS navigation, rear-seat DVD/satellite TV entertainment center, and automatic headlights.

An optional rearview camera mounted in the top of the tailgate looks down upon the hitch so the driver can back the truck up to a trailer without having to be guided from outside.

While only the three gasoline engines are offered now, the Ram will be available with a gasoline-electric hybrid drive system and a Cummins clean-diesel engine next year.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at 210-250-3236;

At a Glance:

2009 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup The package: Full-size, regular-, extended- or crew-cab, two- or four-door, three-, five- or six-passenger, V-6 or V-8 powered, light-duty, rear- or four-wheel-drive pickup.

Highlights: Dodge’s full-size Ram 1500 has been completely redesigned for 2009, and has been dramatically improved. And for the first time, a true crew-cab model is in the lineup.

Deficiencies: Base four-speed automatic transmission makes V-6 engine’s fuel economy no better than that of the 5.7-liter V-8 with the five-speed automatic.

Engines: 3.7-liter V-6; 4.7-liter V-8; 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.

Transmissions: Four- or five-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 210 HP./235 foot-pounds; 310 HP./330 foot-pounds; 390 HP./407 foot-pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Length: 209 inches (2-door, short bed); 231 inches (2-door, long bed); 229 inches (Quad and Crew cab models, which come only with short bed).

Curb weight: 4,535-5,440 pounds.

Towing capacity: 3,450-9,100 pounds.

Electronic stability control: Standard on all models.

Side air bags: Side-curtain optional on Quad and Crew cab models; not available on regular cab. No seat-mounted side air bags available.

EPA fuel economy: 14 city/20 highway (3.7-liter; 5.7-liter 2WD); 13/18 (5.7-liter 4WD); 14/19 (4.7-liter 2WD; 13/18 (4.7-liter 4WD).

Fuel capacity/type: 26 gallons (short bed) or 32 gallons (optional on Quad and Crew cabs; standard on long bed)/unleaded regular (unleaded midgrade recommended for 5.7-liter, but not required).

Major competitors: Ford F-series, Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra, Toyota Tundra, Nissan Titan.

Base price range: $22,170-$44,035 plus $900 freight.

Price as tested: $40,065 (SLT Quad Cab, 2-wheel drive, with freight and options).

On the Road rating: 8.3 (of a possible 10).

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