We live in an age of ludicrous vehicular capability. Whether we’re talking sports cars, off-roaders or pickup trucks of all sizes and duty ratings, today’s machines will do more than most of us will ever ask of them. Not a bad place to be for you, the buyer.
But — and be honest here — if the 2019 Ram 1500 wasn’t any more capable than the truck it was built to replace, would you notice? Would anyone but a Ford or Chevrolet partisan notice?
This isn’t to say that the fifth-generation 1500 can’t tow more (up to 12,750 pounds total when properly equipped) than its predecessor. And sure, a certain percentage of those of you reading this will push your new 5.7-liter eTorque Hemi V8-equipped Quad Cab 1500 4×2, which is what you’ll have to order to get that figure, to that limit on a semi-regular basis.
It’s that for the majority of us, it becomes academic after a certain point — a little like a Nurburgring time. Plus (and we crunched the numbers here), there are simply not enough hobby farmers, horse fanciers or part-time brick transporters in America to soak up all that surplus capability.
There’s much more to the new 1500 than increased payloads and tow ratings, which is good for Ram, as it can’t quite compete with the F-150’s 13,200-pound max. This is a truck that has been designed from the wheels — now beefier, with six lugs — and the frame — 100 pounds lighter than its predecessor — on up to accommodate the truck-buying public’s dual mandate: to haul stuff, yes, but also to haul the family in comfort and style.
Basically, we want super-butch, civilian-grade big-rigs complete with all the bells and whistles and chrome and bragworthy tow/haul ratings. But we also want something that, when you get down to it, amounts to what is functionally a crossover with a bed. Despite cries for stripped-down, rear-wheel-drive trucks with manuals and 8-foot beds — might as well slap a carburetor on there, too — emanating from certain sectors of Truck Country, gussied-up luxo-trucks with big cabs and short beds are selling like hotcakes. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.
Solid bones. The chassis and running gear of a 1500 with air suspension is shown.
Before Ford’s foray into aluminum, Ram had tended to be a bit more avant-garde than the Blue Oval or the Bowtie when it comes to civilizing its offerings over the past half-decade, from the big things (air suspension, introduced as an option in 2013) to the seemingly little things (keyless ignition, also made available that year). But these changes have been incremental; in the world of trucks, you don’t dare change too much too quickly. Witness the Honda Ridgeline.
The new 1500 is something subtly, though significantly, different, and perhaps the first of its breed: a pickup that reflects how people who buy pickups circa 2018 actually use their pickups. It’s still a predominantly steel body (the remote-droppable aluminum tailgate is an exception) on a predominantly steel frame. The V8 isn’t going anywhere. But the niceties that have been creeping into pickup cabins over the past decade don’t feel tacked on. They feel, for maybe the first time ever in this corner of the market, fully baked in from the start.
The new 1500 strives mightily to be a thoroughly modern truck. From what we can tell so far, and with a few caveats, Ram pulls it off confidently and competently.
You get the impression that Ram would happily build and sell a pickup to every man, woman and child in America: Once the rollout of the 2019 model is complete, you’ll be able to choose from two cabs, two beds and three engine options. Plus various add-ons, options and 15 new wheel designs. Yep, there’s a truck here for every task and taste, assuming you don’t need a regular cab with an 8-foot bed (Ram isn’t offering those, at least at the outset).
To keep things simple on the first drive, though, the Rebel, Big Horn, Laramie and Limited trucks we drove were all 5.7-liter Hemi-equipped (early availability trucks will all come equipped with that engine).
Unfortunately, that means we’ll have to wait to try the eTorque-equipped V6 and V8 variants. These eTorque setups use a 48-volt mild-hybrid system to provide a little low-end electric grunt on takeoff (and recapture some energy while braking); the fact this system is on its way speaks to how the pickup is changing to meet the expectations and regulatory demands of the 21st century.
Unless you’re really striving for that last extra bit of towing capacity and a touch more economy, the familiar 5.7-liter is more than sufficient. You still get 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque, and it still sounds nice and growly. At one point we dragged around a trailer loaded to 6,000 pounds — barely a challenge. It would only be news if the truck did break a sweat here; suffice it to say, the rig went (and just as importantly, stopped) just fine.
If you plan on spending any amount of time off the pavement, the 2019 1500 can be had with an electronic locking rear differential. Standard on the Rebel, you can add it to any other truck with the 4×4 Off-road package. We didn’t get the chance to really push any of the Rams off-road (more on that coming soon), but the Rebel happily picked its way down the moderately rough trail we pointed it down.
The Rebel is absolutely not a Raptor-fighter, but it should have no trouble getting you into and out of camp. And, with its powder-coated front and rear bumpers, and 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTracks filling out the wheel wells, it looks cool (and let’s not pretend that doesn’t count for something). This is probably the Ram we’d get if we were in the market. You can now get it with a quad cab in addition to the crew cab previously offered, and previously standard air suspension is now an option; we’d personally go with the quad and steel springs.
There are a number of things that our first drive couldn’t possibly reveal. Naturally, these are the things most important to truck buyers — we’re talking reliability and durability here. You can take solace in the fact that Ram stuck to the steel frame/V8 equation. But what we kept coming back to was how well-integrated the entire package felt.
Take the interior, now extra-quiet thanks to active noise cancellation and frame-mounted engine vibration-cancelling active tuned mass modules (all this on a pickup truck, folks!). Add in the available air suspension, which seems to have proven itself since its introduction, and the smoothest ride in the full-size class only gets smoother, if only marginally.
The big eye-grabber inside is that whopping 12-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreen. It dominates the center stack on trucks so equipped (a smaller but still respectable 8.4-inch touchscreen or a puny 5-inch display are also available). But it doesn’t feel out of place, because it wasn’t shoehorned in — the truck was designed to accommodate this honkin’ piece of tech, which you’d otherwise expect to find on a Tesla or a Volvo, from the start.
Here are three of the many ways you can configure the 2019 Ram 1500’s available 12-inch Unconnect screen. It can operate as one big screen (left) or as two stacked screens (middle and right), displaying multiple functions, like climate control and navigation, simultaneously. It’s a lot to look at initially, but you adapt to it quickly; redundant physical controls help, too.
Even the Big Horn, with its cloth seats, isn’t a bad place to be; you get the distinct sense that Ram started with the top trim-level trucks and worked its way down rather than wrapping a bare-bones truck in tooled leather until it had a Longhorn Laramie. The result is a more comfortable, better-considered truck no matter where in the range you jump in — and that benefits the guy who earns his living in a Tradesman just as it does the family cruising around in a loaded-up Limited.
One note: Ram would be remiss to completely axe the regular cab-and-8-foot-bed truck from the 1500 lineup; it’s the closest thing we have to the archetypal trucks of decades past, yet as we mentioned previously, it isn’t offered at the outset of production. (Ram is building 2018 trucks and 2019 trucks on two side-by-side lines, and if we had to guess we’d say that classic combo is coming when 2018 production ends.)
In the popular imagination, the pickup is a purely utilitarian thing, designed and built for the doers of the world to do Truck Stuff on job sites and dude ranches way over yonder in Truck Country. But the frontiers of Truck Country are expanding, and fast. Or maybe it’s the suburbs that have been creeping into Truck Country?
Tough to say. However we ended up at this particular juncture, pickups have become everyday transportation rather than specialist’s instruments. Measuring a modern truck’s utility purely in terms of towing and hauling feels pretty myopic. Comfort and convenience matter more than a little, and here the Ram excels. Save for its ever-increasing price tag, the 1500 is a versatile multitool sans the compromises that typically come from being a jack-of-all-trades.
“Everybody needs a truck,” Ram boss Jim Morrison seems fond of saying, “whether it’s every day, once a month, once a year …” Once, you had to endure a certain amount to get that truck, however often you actually needed it. Not anymore. The new Ram is all the pickup you’re likely to need when you need it to be and surprisingly refined transportation when you don’t. Hop in for a test drive; once you’re behind the wheel, you might be surprised to find that Truck Country is a lot closer than you thought — and it’s now easier and more comfortable than ever to get there.
Base Price: $34,535 (price for V8-equipped Tradesman quad cab 4×2 available at launch; late availability for base V6)
Powertrain: 5.7-liter V8; eight-speed automatic; rear-wheel drive (at launch; late availability for other powertrains)
Output: 396 hp @ 5,600 rpm; 410 lb-ft @ 3,950 rpm
Curb Weight: TBA
Fuel Economy: 15/22/17(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Haul the goods (and the kids) in the smoothest-riding full-sizer on the market; well-integrated tech and convenience features
Cons: ice is edging into luxury vehicle territory, with workhorse configurations unavailable at launch