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2013 RAM 1500 Test Drive Review
Wide and offering multiple adjustments, the heated and cooled front seats were more inviting than any chair I have at home...
From the companies that build them to the customers who buy them, people associated with pickup trucks have a tendency to be a bit obsessive. Brand loyalty is huge, but so are the bragging rights that come with class-leading status. In many respects, it’s the redesigned 2013 Ram 1500 that should be boasting the loudest.
Look and Feel
While it might not be totally obvious, the Ram 1500 has indeed gone under the knife for 2013. Without losing any of its distinctive looks, the truck’s front end has been tweaked with a taller grille and updated headlights, and the interior now sports more premium duds.
Like other full-size pickups, the 2013 Ram is offered in a wide variety of trim levels with a few engine options, rear- and four-wheel-drive capability, short and long beds, and Regular, Quad and Crew Cab body styles. The entry-level variant is the Tradesman, priced from $24,495, including destination charges, and equipped with items such as a 4.7-liter V8, Class IV trailer hitch, vinyl upholstery, spray-in bed liner, 17-inch steel wheels, the UConnect in-truck communications system and an easy-lift locking tailgate. The Tradesman is followed by the Ram 1500 Express, which adds a 5.7-liter V8 and 20-inch alloy wheels, and the commendably efficient HFE, featuring a 3.6-liter V6, active grille shutters, stop/start system, tonneau cover, power windows and satellite radio service. An SLT variant contributes a power-sliding rear window, while the Ram 1500 Big Horn serves as host to a 115-volt auxiliary outlet, leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls, upgraded UConnect and Bluetooth connectivity with a text-message reader. Move one step up the Ram ladder and you’ll find the Outdoorsman, fitted with tow hooks, skid plates, front center console, an SD card slot and remote start. At the top of the lineup is the Laramie, offering amenities such as dual-zone climate control and a rear-view camera, and a Laramie Longhorn that includes heated front and rear seats, navigation system, HD radio, wood trim and rear parking sensors.
My test truck, a 2013 Ram 1500 Sport Crew Cab 4x4, slots in just below the Laramie brothers and featured standard LED running and brake lights, 20-inch polished alloy wheels and unique headlights. On top of that, the truck was stuffed with options, among which were leather upholstery, push-button and remote start systems, upgraded audio, a recontoured hood with scoops, running boards, an air suspension and more. When all was said and done, the sticker price came to $53,250.
Interestingly, the least-expensive Ram 1500 features what would typically be considered the lineup’s mid-level engine. It’s a 4.7-liter Flex-fuel V8 that’s good for 310 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, and, with assistance from a 6-speed automatic transmission, delivers up to 20 mpg on the highway when running on gasoline or 12 mpg with a tank full of E85. For maximum efficiency, buyers will want to consider the available 3.6-liter Flex-fuel V6 paired with an all-new 8-speed automatic transmission. This engine offers a respectable 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque with an EPA rating of up to 25 mpg on the highway.
If, on the other hand, you prefer performance and raw grunt to class-leading fuel economy, the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is waiting with 395 hp (up from 2012’s 390) and 407 lb-ft of torque on tap. This was the engine in my test truck, and despite averaging 14.9 mpg, I drove it as much as possible. Granted, I eventually had to make an expensive trip to the gas station, but the tradeoff was addictive acceleration and a full-throttle bark that can’t help but make a driver grin. That said, any engine or road noise was knocked down several decibels before entering the cabin, which made for surprisingly quiet travel.
Part of the credit for this Ram’s hustle goes to a 6-speed automatic transmission that provided smooth shifts as well as a manual mode that allowed me to have some fun changing gears on my own schedule. One detraction was the shift lever’s movement through the gate—whether going from Park to Drive or tapping for a downshift, the action felt more loose and clumsy than refined.
That stout powertrain works in cooperation with a new chassis built around a stronger frame. The Ram 1500’s electric power steering felt vague on-center but worked with 20-inch wheels and tires to provide a decent amount of feedback. The brakes, thankfully, never wavered in slowing a considerable amount of mass from sometimes law-bending speeds, and the air suspension provided a comfortable, controlled ride. New for 2013, this system uses steering-wheel-mounted controls to select one of 5 programmed settings: Normal; Park (lowers the truck for easy access to the cab and bed); Aero (automatically activates at speed to maximize fuel economy); Off-Road 1 (raises truck about 1 inch above Normal); and Off-Road 2 (raises truck about 2 inches above Normal). Operation is straightforward and intuitive.
Form and Function
Thanks in large part to that trick new suspension, along with a bit of help coming from side running boards and sturdy grab handles on the interior A and B pillars, getting into the 4-wheel-drive Ram Sport Crew Cab test truck was a cinch. Once inside, I took notice of padded door and dash surfaces, a tilting leather-wrapped steering wheel (no telescoping adjustment), large and well-marked primary controls with attractive chrome accents, quality leather upholstery with contrast stitching, and a 7-inch reconfigurable LCD display in the gauge cluster. Ram set out to develop a premium interior, a goal that has clearly been achieved.
Storage is another of the 2013 Ram 1500’s pluses, with dual gloveboxes, a cavernous center console bin, ample door pockets, several cubbies and cupholders, and accommodations under the rear seat. Exclusive to the Ram is the appropriately named Rambox, which consists of large storage bins integrated into the rear fenders. This extra covered and secure cargo capacity is advantageous, but the design causes the inside of the bed to be narrowed. For 2013, those compartments, as well as the tailgate, can be secured with the truck’s central locking feature.
In terms of comfort, the Sport Crew Cab didn’t disappoint. Wide and offering multiple adjustments, the heated and cooled front seats were more inviting than any chair I have at home, the heated steering wheel was greatly appreciated on some cold New England days, and the power foot pedals allowed me to find a suitable driving position. The broad and soft upper door panels were ideal for resting a forearm, as was the expansive center armrest. Out back, the bench seat is set at a comfortable recline angle, and passenger space is generous.
With its upgraded powertrains and air suspension, the 2013 Ram 1500 hardly suffers from a shortage of new technology, a point further evidenced by the abundance of features found inside the truck. One of the most significant players is the upgraded UConnect system with an 8.7-inch touchscreen. The setup features menus for climate control, media, phone, radio and more, all logically labeled and large enough for those of us who don’t tap the display with the utmost precision. For old-schoolers like myself who prefer switches and dials with locations we’ve memorized through repeated use, many of the UConnect functions can also be controlled via well-marked buttons on the instrument panel. The system includes voice activation, so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to find a particular icon on a flat screen, but I continue to favor the tactile confirmation that comes from pushing or turning something, and I appreciate vehicle designers providing the choice.
UConnect is also available with an integrated navigation system with 3D map graphics and a UConnect Access feature that uses the Sprint data network to turn the Ram 1500 into a Wi-Fi hotspot.
There’s an inherent sense of safety connected to full-size pickups, due in part to their acreage of sheet metal, their dominating height over most cars and crossovers, and, in the case of the Ram 1500 Sport I drove, their relatively heavy doors—closing them after climbing into the truck gave me the image of being untouchable within an impenetrable bank vault. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the inside of the 2013 Ram is indeed a safe place to be; when subjected to NHTSA crash tests, the truck earned 4 stars (out of a possible 5) overall, 4 stars for front-impact protection, and 5 stars for side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Ram its top Good rating for performance in a moderate front-overlap test, but its next-to-lowest Marginal rating for roof strength. A side-impact rating has not been announced.
Contributing to the Ram safety effort are 6 airbags, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, trailer-sway control and an electronic stability control system that bundles brake and hill-start assist features, ready alert braking and what Ram calls rainy day braking (slight contact between the pad and rotor removes moisture to improve stopping capability in wet conditions).
In the pickup segment, the primary players for 2013 are the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (and GMC Sierra 1500), Ram 1500, Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra. All are expected to deliver above-average dependability and similar 5-year ownership costs, and all cover buyers with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty. The Ram offers the benefits of the lowest starting price, the most efficient available powertrain, and, since its 4.7-liter V8 is the base engine, more standard horsepower and torque than the V6-equipped competition. With roadside assistance and a powertrain warranty spanning 5 years or 100,000 miles, the 2013 Ram matches Chevy and beats Ford and Toyota.
Those are a few of the Ram’s strengths. On the flip side of the coin you’ll find lower projected resale values. Perhaps most important to a number of truck buyers are the 2013 Ram’s 10,450-pound towing and 1,930-pound payload ratings. Chances are, that level of capability is plenty for the majority of light-duty pickup owners. However, they are not best-in-class. With the exception of the Tundra’s 10,400-pound tow rating, the Ram comes in last among the 4 contenders, though in most instances by only a small margin.
Thom is a lifelong car nut, owning cars ranging from Datsuns to Mustang GTs and, currently, a Hemi-powered Ram 1500. He has spent the past 15 years writing objective, thorough vehicle reviews and consumer-focused feature articles for Autobytel.com, Kelley Blue Book, The Boston Globe, Cars.com, and other leading websites and publications.
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