Ram's 1500 light-duty pickup undergoes an impressive mid-cycle update in 2013 with a nicely reconfigured base V-6 offering and continuing forward with one of the most user-friendly interiors in the pickup universe. As with most light-duty pickups sold in America (the world's largest market for pickups), mixing and matching bed lengths, side doors and engine sizes creates a multitude of possibilities.
Back in November of 2009, Chrysler Group LLC spun off its work/pickup truck line up as a separate, stand-alone division from the sports-oriented Dodge car line. While Dodge can now zero in on family and performance transports, the Ram division can focus on heavy lifting. All this activity occurred not long after the well-documented, merger between Italian automaker Fiat and Auburn Hills Michigan-based Chrysler was complete. During the 2013 model year, the Ram Division markets three vehicles for its showroom floor: mid-size Dakota pickup, full-size Ram pickup and Ram Cargo Van.
Since the split, Ram has increased its U.S. sales growth by three-and-a-half percent according to Reid Bigland, President and CEO of Ram Truck Division speaking to gathered media this past summer at Chrysler's proving grounds in Chelsea Michigan west of Ann Arbor. Through September of 2013, Ram truck sales are up 23 percent from the same 2012 period.
Best-selling vehicle honors during than two decades goes to Ford's own work horse, the F-150 light-duty, half-ton pickup. While F-150 sets the bar high, worthy competition is not far behind in this high volume, high-profit-margin segment. General Motors recasts and redesigns its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra in 2014 while Toyota unveils a mid-cycle redo of its full-size light-duty Tundra pickup in 2014. Unlike the domestic Big Three, Tundra is only available in a half-ton variant with no 2500 or 3500 options.
Terms such as half-ton (1500), three-quarter-ton (2500) and one-ton (3500) have been utilized for decades, loosely defining 'payload capacity.' For all intents and purposes, these references serve as guides, not hard truths. Mathematically speaking, a 'ton' represents 2,000 pounds; thus simple logic dictates a half ton would manage in the neighborhood of 1,000 pounds. However, most of today's half-ton pickups handle well above 1,000 pounds of 'payload capacity' (cargo together with passenger weight). The most efficient way to determine a vehicle's payload limit is by carefully review of individual specs for each grade.
Among the trio of payloads, Ram 1500 is by far the sales champ. The 2013 entry arrived at Ram dealers in the fall of 2012. According to the folks at Ram, the average age of pickup trucks on the road today is 12 years, leading many in the industry to predict steady gains in market share based on pent-up demand.
The 2013 Ram also goes on a diet of sorts with an aluminum hood and high-strength steel frames melting away 55 pounds and goosing up fuel economy numbers. Also aiding the fuel-extending cause in 2013 is an optional air suspension system with five height settings for optimal aerodynamic performance. With four inches of lift span Ram can better handle off-road adventures with additional ground clearance now on-demand.
Three cab configurations are available. Regular, three-seat Ram cabs come with two wheel drive (rear) or four-wheel drive with either a short bed (six-feet, four-inches) or long bed (eight feet). Four-door Quad Cabs also offer two-wheel and four-wheel drive with a standard six-foot, four-inch bed. The Crew Cab with plentiful rear seat leg room also comes in two and four-wheel drives with both short (five-foot, seven inches) and long bed (six-foot four-inch) options.
The revised six-cylinder, 24-valve engine now has an eye-popping 42 percent more horsepower, 13 percent more low-end torque and 20 percent improved fuel numbers compared with the outgoing 2012 effort. This Pentastar V-6 is one of three available powertrains, replacing an underwhelming and overmatched-by-the-competition 215-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 from 2012 (mated to an overworked four-cylinder automatic transmission). The new Ram base engine is now on-par with Ford F150's base 3.7-liter V-6 with 302 horsepower and 278 foot-pounds of torque.
Fortunately, the newly beefed up 2013 Pentastar V-6 came as part of our 4x4 Crew Cab tester, and got the blood pumping. This engine absolutely puts Dodge on even competition with its two domestic rivals. It has best-in-class V-6 towing at 6,500 pounds. It's engineered to utilize E-85 fuel (85 percent ethanol blend) in addition to regular, 87-octane unleaded. While a 26-gallon tank comes standard, a larger volume, an optional 32-gallon tank was part of our tester.
In addition, Ram offers two additional 2013 powertrain selections. A 4.7-liter V-8 cranks out 310 horsepower while generating 330 pound-feet of torque. Rounding out the trio of Ram 1500 engines is a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 with 395 horses and boasting cylinder deactivation, electronically shifting from eight to four cylinders during select highway situations. The base V-6 and 5.7-liter V-8 are mated to the segment's only eight-speed automatic transmission. The eight forward gears not only improve fuel economy, but assist when trailer towing is called upon. The new V-6 generates 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway (up from 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway).
In the upcoming 2014 model year, the 4.7-liter V-8 engine retires from the 1500, replaced by an industry first. For those needing the power and low-end towing prowess of diesel technology, Ram will offer the only diesel engine (a 3.0-liter V-6 compliant in all 50 states) in the light-duty, 1500 category with a towing capacity of 9,200 pounds. "Adding the new Ecodiesel engine is more than just icing on the cake, it answers a long-time customer demand and Ram is the only manufacturer to offer it," Bigland added.
Pricing starts at $23,585 (including destination charge) for a two-wheel drive regular cab. Our 2013 tester, a full-size Crew Cab 4x4 with short bed started at $37,300 and ended at $47,040 after factoring in a long list of options.
Inside, an electronic, dash-mounted rotary-style automatic transmission knob (working in concert with the new eight-speed transmission) resides to the right of the steering column, replacing the big, bulky mechanical handle version found on the steering column or between bucket seats. Not only is this easier to operate with just a flick of the wrist, but the resulting open spaces allow for such nuances as an optional 40/20/40 split front bench in which the center area houses a shallow storage area and three beverage holders, that lifts up and back to accommodate passengers. The dynamic duo glove box combo features two separate doors (top side flips up and bottom side pulls down) with independent storage areas.
Like most Chrysler, Ram, Dodge and Fiat products, secondary audio controls are nestled on the back side to the steering wheel, where finger tips easily perform the push-button dance. This design is one of the best in the business since hands continue to solidly grip of the wheel while scrolling. The left-side toggle controls scrolls though programing on the large, 8.4-inch center touch/navigation screen.
Ram's quad-partitioned grille with center horned logo may qualify as the most testosterone-latent on the road flanked by slightly bolder rectangular headlights. Large, square exterior mirrors include a slim, vertical element on the outside edges to accentuate blind spot regions for the driver. Twelve exterior colors are available.
In 2009, Ram introduced a link-coil suspension to the 1500, replacing the traditional-truck favorite leaf spring variety, improving ride, handling, weight reduction and departure angles. Indeed, while driving into the big city of Chicago along the Eisenhower Expressway, Ram felt uncharacteristically right at home with a smooth ride along with the extra-benefit of a high seating position. The only downsize was navigating street parking when reaching my near west side destination.
Assembly of the Ram 1500 takes place primarily at Chrysler Group's Warren truck assembly plant in Warren Michigan, although regular cab editions are built in Saltillo, Mexico. At a Glance
2013 Ram 1500Price as tested
140.5 inchesOverall Width:
79.4 inchesOverall Height:
76.9 inchesPowertrain Warranty:
Five year/100,000 milesFuel economy:
19 mpg city, 23 mpg highwayAssembly: