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2015 Ram 1500 Test Drive Review
Thanks to interior comfort and a fantastic chassis, the Ram 1500 is a compelling choice despite being the oldest pickup available from the Big Three domestic automakers.
The Ram 1500 has aged well into its current life cycle. With handsome looks and two great powertrain options, the full-size Ram is still an attention-getting pickup that looks great. Ram’s competent and smooth diesel powertrain is an excellent choice if you can get beyond its sticker shock, and interior options range all the way from work truck to luxe cruiser.
Look and Feel
The 2015 Ram 1500 may now be the oldest domestic full-size pickup on the road, but its looks still compete.
A bright, bold cross-hair grille announces the truck’s on-road presence, and round shoulders straddle the truck’s large hood. The net effect in front is a very wide stance for a truck whose track is larger than the F-150’s by only a half-inch, but smaller than the new Silverado's.
From the fenders rearward, the rest of the truck’s looks are relatively up to the buyer. Like all domestic pickups, the Ram 1500 can be customized in myriad ways, with three different cab configurations and three bed sizes. The walk through the combinations is moderately complex, but can be distilled relatively easily: Regular, Crew, and Quad cabs can all be fitted with a 6-foot-4-inch bed. Regular cabs can take an 8-foot bed, and the roomy extended Crew cab can have a 5-foot-7-inch bed to keep it from beaching like the U.S.S. Nimitz.
The Ram 1500 sports no fewer than 10 trim levels, although most are fairly similar to each other. Starting with the least expensive, the Tradesman is the work-site fleet queen, followed by the Express. The HFE (high fuel efficiency) trim follows the work trucks and for 2015 it offers the diesel engine that’ll realize 29 mpg on the highway. The SLT is a popular pick for buyers, but the Big Horn/Lone Star is the consumer volume model with a few more available content upgrades above the SLT. The Outdoorsman and Sport trims appeal to niche truck buyers, as does the new-for-2015 R/T option, which is part of the Sport trim. All three of the luxury trims—Laramie, Laramie Longhorn, and the new Laramie Limited—appeal to full-size buyers who ask their trucks to clean up well for the weekends.
At the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, Ram unveiled the Laramie Limited, which flexes a huge front fascia and rear badges and could signal the truck’s future design language for the next few years.
Most 1500s come standard with 17-inch wheels, while pricier trims have 20-inch shoes. The R/T sports 22-inch wheels this year.
Chrysler’s Swiss-Army engine, the 3.6-liter V6 Pentastar, was a revelation in the Ram 1500 when it was included 3 years ago. That mill, which produces 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, is eminently capable and rated to tow about 5,000 pounds standard without optional equipment. That V6, like most of the model options, is mated to an 8-speed automatic. (Only a very few base, stripper Rams are managed by a 6-speed.) When fitted to an 8-speed, the V6 reaches 17 mpg city/25 highway in rear-wheel drive (RWD) or 16/23 in 4-wheel drive (4WD), according to the EPA.
Buyers can opt for a larger, older 5.7-liter Hemi V8 in the Ram for most configurations, except the HFE. For $1,150 more, the larger powerplant returns 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Mileage suffers at 15/22 in RWD, 15/21 in 4WD powertrains. The benefit, of course, is a larger towing capacity, with the Hemi capable of handling more than 10,000 pounds.
The intriguing engine pick in the Ram 1500 is the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel. Ram’s answer for better mileage was leaning on FIAT engine supplier VM Motori for an efficient, super-smooth oil burner. Horsepower figures in at 240, but the torque rating increases to 420 lb-ft. Fuel economy increases as well, helping the Ram reach 20/28 mpg in RWD (21/29 mpg in the coming HFE diesel) and 19/27 in 4WD. A refillable urea tank helps the diesel comply with emission requirements.
The only current encumbrance to the Ram’s best powertrain—the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel—is still its price: It’s a $4,270 upgrade over the base 3.6-liter engine. At that rate, it may be hard to realize actual fuel savings unless you’re planning to put a lot of miles on the truck and/or keep it a long time. Still, the EcoDiesel is Ram’s answer to better truck mileage, and it’s a good option for buyers who find themselves looking for fewer fill ups.
Thankfully, there are few faults to find with the capable V6 and fewer faults to find with the ZF TorqueFlight 8-speed transmission. They both earn the highest praise we can find for an engine and gearbox like these: They’re entirely unnoticeable.
Form and Function
Like any pickup, the Ram 1500 is only as functional as a buyer makes it. There aren’t many bed specialties beyond Ram’s longtime exterior cargo boxes, dubbed RamBoxes. Those boxes eat into available bed space, but in models such as the Outdoorsman, they can hold a few rifles or bows and thus make themselves actually useful.
The Ram doesn’t sport any foldable steps, however an optional, Active-Level Four Corner adjustable air suspension can raise or lower the bed by several inches. The air suspension helps level the bed during towing and lower the truck at highway speeds for better fuel mileage. Active grille shutters on all models also help streamline air around the Ram 1500.
The Ram makes hay on the inside, providing a comfortable cabin for 3 to 6 passengers on long trips. The extended Crew cab is the largest of the three cab configurations and can easily fit long-legged adults on extended hauls.
Some of the Ram’s instrument panel materials are beginning to show their age, but that’s something to be expected in a platform that’s now more than 6 years old.
Buttons and dials (including the automatic gear shifter) are easy to grip with gloves on, and climate controls are clear and easily recognizable. Options like the adjustable ride-height buttons and the customizable instrument cluster display take some getting used to, but they’re not overly onerous.
The Laramie Longhorn’s Western-themed interior isn’t every buyer’s cup of tea. If I’m being honest, it’s like driving around a rodeo—but I may not be the target demo there.
In all trims, the 1500 is an excellent and comfortable ride. The Ram’s capable chassis is equally composed on the road, and its ride quality is part of the reason the Ram remains competitive among newer competitors.
Like the aforementioned interior materials, Ram is trying hard to keep up with other automakers in amenities and technology.
The Ram 1500 sports an optional 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen in most trims (it's standard in every trim above the Outdoorsman) that’s more than serviceable, but could use an extensive overhaul soon. Less expensive trims can be fitted with more spartan systems that’ll serve as a reminder that driver-to-passenger conversations are often overlooked as viable options for entertainment.
Ram’s 7-inch multifunction instrument display is well-placed in the Ram, albeit a little confusing to navigate with the steering-wheel-mounted controls. The bright side: Ram—and the rest of Chrysler—still includes radio controls on the back of the steering wheel that are wildly convenient. Small things can make a big difference, I suppose.
Like all domestic pickups, the Ram can be optioned to rival luxury cars. Homes can be purchased for less than some trims of the Ram 1500, but said homes probably aren’t as comfortable.
The 1500's seats are big and plush, but available heating/ventilation systems don’t seem as efficient, quick, or well-integrated as those in other trucks—same goes for the optional heated steering wheel.
The same could be said for the Ram’s interior layout, too. Although comfortable and accessible, the Ram’s interior has large expanses of black (soft-touch) plastic and gray vinyl with occasional brand logos to visually break up the space. The center armrest in our truck is a perfect example: The large Ram’s head stamp is enough to break up the drab gray vinyl, but it’s almost comically massive.
Ram has made strides in making its safety measures accessible and actually useful. Optional blind-spot-monitoring warning lights are easily noticeable in side mirrors, and the Ram’s backup camera is a must-have in a truck as big as this.
A standard suite of passive safety features comes standard, including airbags, pretensioning seatbelts, antilock brakes, and brake assist.
Front and rear parking sensors are optional for most models and standard on Laramie Editions. The audible beeps are mostly helpful in parking lots, but mildly annoying when taking the truck off road.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration rated most 1500s with 4 stars out of 5 in overall safety, including a 4-star rating in front crashes and a 5-star rating in side impacts.
Perhaps the Ram’s most useful feature is its trailer sway control, which is managed by the standard electronic stability control. When the Ram 1500 senses a snaking trailer, it applies brakes to the rear wheels to calm a wandering rear end. It’s a helpful feature that most trucks utilize now, but its value can’t be overstated by anyone who’s ever had a trailer wander while towing.
Visibility in the Ram is very good, and the up-high seating position gives a good command behind the wheel.
But it’s likely that the Ram’s most useful safety feature is the one that comes completely standard without any label: its size. Any full-size truck is massive, but the Ram 1500’s size and sheer amount of sheet metal keep it safe on the road.
The Ram 1500 still provides a good value-for-money proposition, if only because a modestly equipped Ram is probably the best pick. There are countless ways to configure a Ram 1500, but regardless of the trim or spec, it can hold up to much newer competition.
The EcoDiesel is a very attractive proposition, but its price can still be a deterrent to quite a few buyers. Officials at Ram say that differential can be recouped at resale, but it’s a little early to see if that pans out. The truck buying public could be slowly adopting as well; the automaker reports that more diesels are rolling off lots than the V6.
Most owners report high initial satisfaction, with fuel economy—one of the benefits of buying the diesel—being the only niggle.
Forced into early retirement before his 1988 debut bout against "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase for the Intercontinental Championship belt, Aaron is a syndicated automotive columnist in newspapers spanning the Louisiana and Gadsden purchases and the Northwest Territories. When he's not writing about cars, he's driving them. And when he's not driving them, he's probably eating or sleeping because you need to do that too.
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2015 Ram 1500 Top Comparisons
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