Over the last months, you’ve seen Ford and Chevy duke it out over the functionality of its full-size trucks, just as they have since the 1960s. Meanwhile, over at Mopar, Ram has quietly been selling its half-ton full-size trucks at a rate just a few units behind Chevrolet, on a platform that hasn’t changed significantly since 2009.
What makes these trucks so compelling to people that previously would never have considered a Dodge product? Stability.
What is it?
The Ram 1500 has been in perennial third place in the full-size pickup market in the United States, behind the juggernaut of the Ford F-150 and second-place Chevrolet Silverado. But without a whole lot of attention, the Ram 1500 has provided customers with a stable, workable platform for both work trucks and the kind of Cowboy Cadillacs that end up running in the $60,000 price bracket.
Pricing and trims
Here’s the bad news: The Ram 1500 Limited STARTS at $52,320, and that’s for the two-wheel drive truck. Select four-wheel drive and the price goes up to $55,900. The EcoDiesel adds another $2,500 and change. Beyond that, there are only a few nickel and dime options, though, in addition to the two that appeared most prominently on our tested truck: the Ram Box Cargo System (Get it. At $1,295, it’s a great upgrade) and the sunroof at $995.
The good news is, if you’re not blessed with a sizeable endowment, Ram offers a lot of trims in the 1500. The range includes the bare-bones Tradesman that starts at $26,145, the Express at $27,525, the Lone Star at $31,760, the Big Horn at $33,760, the Sport at $35,985, the Tradesman HFE (with a step up to crew cab body configuration) at $37,685, the Outdoorsman at $39,690, the Laramie at $39,665, the Rebel at $43,270, and the Laramie Longhorn at $48,785.
All these listed prices are for the two-wheel drive trims. Selecting four-wheel drive adds around $4,000, a few hundred bucks on either side of that depending on the trim.
If you’re in the market for one of these or any full-size pickup, there’s a bewildering array of configurations available, so choose wisely.
Safety equipment seems to fall to the bottom of the list with a full-size truck, but it’s still important, and it’s becoming increasingly so as the IIHS puts more emphasis on offset crash testing and advanced safety equipment.
All Rams feature the requisite multistage airbags, supplemental side airbags, side curtain airbags, tire pressure monitoring system and traction and stability control, but stepping up to the Limited gets you a standard ParkSense front and rear park assist system. The ParkView rear backup camera is also standard for now, though expect that to become standard across the board in vehicles with less than a 10,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating in the next year.
The one drawback to the Ram 1500’s aging platform, though, is its performance in crash tests. Earlier in 2016, the IIHS evaluated most of the the full-size pickups on the market and the Ram 1500 Crew Cab came in dead last, with particularly bad marks for its structure and expected injuries to the lower leg and foot.
(Image Source: IIHS)
“The force of the crash pushed the door-hinge pillar, instrument panel and steering column back toward the driver dummy,” reads the report. “In the Ram Crew Cab test, the dummy’s head contacted the front airbag but rolled around the left side as the steering column moved to the right, allowing the head to approach the intruding windshield pillar.”
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the 2016 Ram 1500 Crew Cab as “Marginal” in its testing, just one step above “Poor.”
Key to the Ram 1500 Limited we drove was the 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. As we mentioned, it comes with a pretty hefty price tag over the standard 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. It’s list price is around $4,000, but in actual practice, it’s around $2,500 because you’re credited some money for the transmission.
At an average of 15,000 miles a year, with gas prices at $2.40 a gallon, it’ll take you five and a quarter years to make up for the $2,500 investment in the diesel engine, so you’re really not buying it for the cost savings.
What’s nice about it is that you get 420-lb.ft. of torque, and nearly 8,000 pounds worth of towing capacity, and you burn less fuel in the process. For a pickup driver who actually works a pickup, range is pretty important. With a full load of fuel, you could drive from Boston to South Carolina before you ever had to stop for fuel. An F-150 would barely get you out of Virginia.
Ride and handling
“Handling” and “ride quality” sort of go out the window when you’re talking about a truck that positions the driver three feet over lesser cars on the road. But with the gigantic 20-inch wheels and tires, the scale of the Ram 1500 sort of disappears.
The only time you realize you’re driving a full-size pickup is when you have to stop it in a hurry. Then all that bulk makes itself entirely obvious.
That’s not to say it’s worse than any other full-size truck on the market. It’s not. It’s a comfortable and fun vehicle to drive once you understand its girth.
Crew Cab Ram 1500s offer front and rear passengers the kind of head, leg and shoulder room that was once the domain of full-size luxury cars like the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Yes, the Ram 1500 offers the smallest rear cabin volume of all its major competitors, including the Toyota Tundra. Yes, it provides the second-lowest cabin volume of its competitors in the front seat, too. But unless you’re the size of Alex Karas, you’re not going to have any issues with the cabin. It’s huge.
Just to put it into perspective, the Ram 1500 provides an inch more headroom front and rear, five inches more shoulder room front and rear, and comparable front legroom, compared to a BMW 740i.
The only dimension it really loses on is rear legroom, by about four inches, but even with full-sized adults up front, you’ll have plenty of room for just about anyone in the rear.
Here’s our argument against all full-size, quad-cab half-ton trucks: If you’re buying a pickup with a cargo box that’s only 5-foot 7-inches long, then you probably don’t need a full-size pickup. We put a 1965 Vespa scooter in the bed and still had to hang the tailgate open.
Be that as it may, Ram does more with the space available than its competitors.
You can opt for the standard rear bed, which wastes a lot of space in front of and behind the wheel wells, or you can opt for the Ram Box storage system, that turns that wasted space into a lockable storage unit.
Mopar even sells accessories that allow you to stash hunting rifles and fishing rods locked up in the weather-tight boxes, which is a pretty nifty use of space, if you’re so inclined.
The bed is treated with rubberized, spray-in material which keeps the bed in great shape. You can opt to delete it if you’d rather deal with the scuffs and scratches. There’s also a lockable divider that keeps materials from rolling around in the bed.
Up front, the console is massive. You could almost store a full-face motorcycle helmet in it, so all your electronics should stash in there nicely.
Infotainment and controls
We’ve praised Chrysler’s infotainment layout in just about every article we’ve published here at BestRide, and that continues here with the Ram 1500. The Uconnect 8.4 screen is legible, easy to understand and simple to navigate. Best of all, the major functions you use day-in, day-out, are all controlled through redundant dials and knobs that will be familiar to anyone that’s operated an automobile from three or four decades prior to this one.
Chrysler also mastered steering-wheel mounted controls — at least for the audio system — back in the 1990s. The volume and station buttons aren’t on the face of the steering wheel, fighting for attention with cruise control, lane departure, voice activation and menu controls. They’re rocker switches mounted on the back side of the steering wheel. GM copied this function a few years ago, much to its credit.
Phone pairing is also a snap, with logical menus and prompts that get you exactly where you expect to go.
Spend a few minutes fighting with a touch screen in a Honda Fit and you’ll see why we like the layout of the Chrysler vehicles so much.
Ram gets a lot of criticism these days for selling a truck that hasn’t been completely redesigned since 2009. But that criticism is coming from people who drive new cars for a living. It’s not coming from people who write checks for brand-new trucks.
Ram is still in third place in full-size truck sales, but not by much. Since 2010, it’s been slowly eating away at full-size truck market share. For example, in its best month in 2010, Dodge sold 23,241 Ram pickups to Chevrolet’s 42,518. In March of 2016, Ram sold 44,874 to Chevrolet’s 47,996.
Chevy’s sales grew 12 percent in 10 years. Ram’s grew 93 percent. That’s got to drive people at Chevrolet bananas, considering they invested millions in an all-new truck for 2014. Ram’s success is based not on changing from steel to aluminum or investing tons in interior improvements. It’s based on providing a truck that truck buyers like, no matter how old the platform is.
To see more, check out Rob Haneisen’s video review:
2016 Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4×4
Base price: $55,900
Price as tested, including $1,195 destination charge: $59,080
3.0-Liter EcoDiesel Engine: $3,120 (axle ratio change nets this out to $2,520)
Ram Box Cargo System: $1,295
Power Sunroof: $995
- Killer diesel torque
- Physics-challenging fuel economy
- Chrysler’s infotainment layout
- Super-short bed
- Less-than-ideal safety rating
- $57,000 price tag