Everybody's been talking about the new Ram 1500, ever since it got a substantial makeover for 2013. Well, here it is 2014 and I haven't yet paid proper attention. I've driven the diesel version, but I specifically requested the gasoline version for this test drive. Diesel gets a lot of press, but in the light duty category, not everybody wants or needs the added power and expense. I ordered up a mid-trim level gasoline V6 Ram, and spent a week putting it through its paces. The 2014 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4x4 carries a base price of $38,250 ($45,150 as tested), with Ram's 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and EPA fuel economy ratings of 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway. Let's drive.
It seemed like Ram trucks were on a non-stop course toward big rig looks a few years ago, but the current generation and previous generation Ram 1500 have toned down the look substantially, resulting in a commanding, yet elegant exterior. Ram 1500 is available in nine trim levels, from the base Tradesman ($24,385) to Express ($26,195) to HFE ($28,895) to Big Horn ($29,740) to Outdoorsman ($34,270) to Sport ($34,430) to Laramie ($40,110) to Laramie Longhorn ($45,770) to the high zoot Laramie Limited ($48,265). Pickup truck makers long ago recognized that pickups are more than work trucks; they are vehicles of self-expression. A wide range of interior and exterior treatments and options are available to make Ram your own.
I was shocked at how well the Outdoorsman fit my vision of a pickup truck. First of all, my test vehicle came with a beautiful coat of Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl Paint over Black rocker panels and a blacked out grille and bumpers. The combination gave the Ram's lines great impact, while somehow making the vehicle feel less massive and oversized.
My test vehicle also came with a fantastic, must-have feature -- the RamBox Cargo Management System ($1,295). A pair of lockable storage boxes are built into the side walls of the pickup box. The boxes lock and unlock with the remote keyfob, or with a traditional key. They're bigger than you might expect -- large enough for three bags of groceries, or a couple of good-sized tool bags. I even heard it suggested that the plastic-lined boxes would make excellent coolers, in which case you could easily fit a 20-lb bag of ice and a case of beer in space that was formerly wasted. Even with the RamBox, the floor of the Ram's pickup bed was still 51" wide. My test vehicle was fitted with a short bed (5'7" long), but I'd still be able to carry 4' x 8' sheets of plywood with the tailgate down -- sort of the minimum requirement for a "real" pickup truck, in my book.
In the Driver's Seat
I'm a big guy at 6'2", and I found Ram's interior dimensions exactly to my size. I didn't feel like I was in a great big greenhouse, like I sometimes feel in the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra, or in a cabin that's too wide, like the Chevy Silverado sometimes feels. Like Goldilocks, I declare Ram "just right." A quick glance around the cabin reveals nice fit and finish, good material selection and some smart storage right where you're going to need it -- a big center console with covered storage and an open bin. Ram has opened up some space in the console by moving the gear selector to the dash. The selector is a rotating knob, rather than a more traditional lever, and takes a little bit of getting used to. I didn't really warm up to it in a week's worth of driving, but I would eventually.
My test vehicle got a Customer Preferred Package of options ($1,545) that included a bunch of exterior and interior options, including a Class IV hitch receiver and fog lamps outside, along with a 110-volt outlet, USB hub and UConnect access. The list of equipment in the Customer Preferred Package is long and essential, and seems like a bargain when bundled together. One feature that didn't please me was the folding flat load floor storage, which seemed very flimsy for a pickup truck (or a car). Kind of a letdown in an otherwise well-sorted interior.
On the Road
With all of the hoopla about the EcoDiesel and the 5.7-liter HEMI, Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 gasoline engine has retreated from center stage. But it's one of the best engines on the market, now powering a number of vehicles throughout the Chrysler universe (including the Jeep Wrangler). In the Ram, it's tuned to produce 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, and its fuel economy can't be beat in the full-size pickup world. That's not the monster power that you find in the Hemi or the big torque in the V6 EcoDiesel, but it's still good enough for a 7,150-lb tow rating and a 1,640-lb haul rating when the truck is equipped with the $500 3.55 rear axle. My 4x4 test vehicle came with the standard 8-speed automatic transmission, which certainly contributes to Ram's fuel economy by keeping the vehicle in the powerband at all times.
My Ram also came with the optional ($1,695) four-corner air suspension, which I'd have to recommend only if you plan to do a lot of off-roading in your pickup. The added complexity and price doesn't pay off with improved day-to-day ride quality, as far as I could tell. My test vehicle came with good minimum ground clearance -- 9.3" to the axles wearing the standard 17" wheels.
Because my Ram didn't come with a rear view camera or parking sensors, features that I've come to rely upon in trucks and SUVs over the years, I found parking lot maneuvers a little tougher than usual, and I was always looking for tighter turns than the 39.8' turning diameter provided.
The V6 Ram 1500 really surprised me with its combination of elegant design and smart engineering. I was completely taken with the day-to-day usability of the truck, especially when it came to storage and cargo management. The RamBox system alone almost sold the truck to me. For serious work and trailering, I'd opt for the EcoDiesel; for more fun, I'd go for the HEMI.
Once I figured out which Ram was right for me, I'd still have to measure against the Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado, both of which have a lot to recommend them. Even though Ram has achieved a lot of accolades in the past two years, I'd still put the F-150 at the top of the heap. Nissan's Titan and Toyota's Tundra are also excellent trucks, but lack the overall excellence of their domestic competition. There's something to that heritage concept.
For many buyers, it will be a matter of taste that points them toward the pickup truck of their choice. If you're looking for a good looking, capable everyday pickup truck, Ram 1500 makes a very compelling case for itself, especially in the middle of the lineup.
Disclosure: A review vehicle was provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.