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2019 Ram 1500 Test Drive Review
With the new 1500, Ram takes everything that makes its trucks popular—their compliant ride and driver-friendly features—and kicks them up a notch.
Sometimes you have to stop and consider just how far full-size trucks have come. I've said this before, but trucks have evolved from basic work vehicles to comfortable family haulers. Once the home of bench seats and crank windows, full-size pickups are now available with creature comforts that one might expect to find in a luxury vehicle. These are all to make the truck more comfortable for daily commuting while retaining its capabilities for the weekend warrior.
Ram has really owned the commuter-truck concept dating back to 2009, which was the first 1500 to swap out rear leaf springs for a multi-link rear suspension. This was a big moment in trucks, signaling the inevitable creep toward commuter trucks. The public has responded, and not just toward Ram—Ford, Chevy, GMC, and the rest of the pickup market have been making their trucks more and more comfortable. Trucks have gotten more expensive as they've become more comfortable, yet people keep buying them at ever-increasing price points.
And the 2019 Ram 1500 takes that everyday commuter-truck concept to new heights. This truck offers more comfort and refinement than any truck we’ve ever driven. But the real question is: Has it moved too far into the comfort zome, or can it perform the jobs of both a daily driver and a workhorse?
Look and Feel
The new Ram is something of a design evolution—albeit a very smart one. It takes the big-rig styling that goes back decades and applies it in a way that leaves the new Ram feeling commanding without being cumbersome. Consider the rival 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500—that truck looks almost ridiculously large for a light-duty pickup. The Ram feels manageable thanks to its headlights, which drop down on either side of the hood, making for decent sight lines.
One thing Ram buyers will notice is the lack of the signature crosshair grille long associated with Ram. Since this is a design evolution, something had to change. Ram is also trying to distance itself from the Dodge brand, which is having a hard time selling anything other than the Challenger and Charger. Moving past the shared grille allows Ram to grow in its own way.
With the crosshair gone, every trim of the 1500 has a slightly different grille design. The Tradesman, Big Horn, Rebel, and Laramie all have larger headlights than the luxurious Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited trims, which feature thinner, rakish headlights.
The cabin of the 2019 Ram 1500 continues its evolution of outstanding design. The previous interior had distinct sections for the touchscreen, radio/climate controls, and rotary shifter. The new interior puts those different sections on different planes, allowing for a dramatic, contoured interior.
The Tradesman is a tried-and-true work truck. It comes standard with heavy-duty shock absorbers, a five-link, coil-spring rear suspension, black front and rear bumpers, tinted side windows, cargo-box lighting, 18-inch steel wheels, and a Class III trailer hitch with 4- and 7-pin connectors. The Tradesman also comes standard with a 5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and two front USB ports.
Moving up to the Big Horn adds chrome for the bumpers, grille, and door handles. It also includes 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a manual rear window, fog lights, steering-wheel-mounted radio controls, and the availability of multiple options packages.
The Rebel trim features a more aggressive grille, added fender flares, an electronically locking differential, upgraded shock absorbers, dark accents, a sport performance hood, and added skid plates for off-road protection.
We drove the Laramie trim. It came with power side mirrors with integrated turn signals, upgraded LED taillights, an upgraded 7-inch TFT instrument panel, remote keyless entry, LED ambient interior lighting, driver’s seat memory, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and leather seating with heated front seats.
Moving up to the Longhorn adds plenty of creature comforts and upgrades, including a standard spray-in bedliner, added chrome exterior details, chrome side steps, a power-release tailgate, 20-inch cast-aluminum wheels, wood interior inserts, full center console with sliding middle tray, and premium interior door trim panels.
The range-topping Limited is a true luxury truck with 20-inch cast aluminum two-tone wheels, the Active-Level four-corner air suspension (optional on other trims), power-extending running boards, upgraded wood interior accents, premium leather front bucket seats, and heated/ventilated front/rear seats.
The Longhorn and Limited are available with a massive 12-inch touchscreen that occupies nearly the entire center console.
At first glance, it may seem like the Ram's engine options are largely carried over, but the new lineup offers some crucial nuances. The base engine continues to be the 3.6-liter V6, but it now receives eTorque, which is a mild-hybrid integration. Although it still makes 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, the eTorque integration lets the powertrain deliver an extra 90 pound-feet of torque.
Of course you can also get the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which also offers the option of eTorque, but does not come standard with it. Both versions of the V8 make 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque, but the eTorque version adds up to 130 pound-feet of additional torque. Regardless of the engine selected, power gets sent through an 8-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels or available 4-wheel drive (4WD).
Effortless is the best way to describe driving the Ram 1500. It has heavily boosted steering and a surprisingly tight turning radius.
Additionally, the power delivery from the V8 is strong and linear enough to make it feel like the Ram doesn't weigh a thing. In hard acceleration, it moves through first gear quickly to get off the line and then holds second gear long enough to ensure serious power delivery.
The Ram 1500 really shines during everyday driving, combining a smooth ride over bumpy roads with responsive steering and handling. The truck is even composed while cornering and braking in traffic. Given the Ford F-150’s lightweight construction, it’s no surprise that truck has set the bar for everyday driving, but the Ram is a close second. The 1500 also has the benefit of feeling more substantial inside the cabin.
The big question was whether the new Ram 1500 could handle those big work-truck tasks. Check out the eTorque V8—when you select that engine and proper towing equipment, the Ram 1500 can tow up to 12,750 pounds.
At the time of this review, EPA fuel-economy estimates were available for only our conventional V8. With 4WD, it returns 15 mpg city, 21 highway, 17 combined. Rear-wheel-drive (RWD) fuel economy is almost the same—it just does 1 better on the highway, or 22 mpg. We observed a combined 15.2 mpg in our week of city and highway driving.
Form and Function
The Ram 1500 excels in the little things—cubbies that are as helpful for workers as they are for commuters with families. For example, the Laramie test vehicle we drove had a helpful power-release tailgate. However, this works only on the way down—you'll have to close it yourself. This might sound ridiculous to bring up, but the new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 will be available with a power tailgate that opens and closes with the push of a button.
While we’re talking about rival innovations, the GMC Sierra that's coming out for 2019 is going to be available with a unique multi-mode tailgate that allows the truck bed to do many different things. It really pushes the limits of truck-bed versatility.
And the GMC Sierra, Ford F-150, and Chevrolet Silverado all feature some kind of bed step-up—the Ram 1500 doesn’t have any. On the plus side, you can get the Ram 1500 with the Ram Box utility system, which is one of the most usable truck features in this segment.
Ram also puts a strong focus on the little things. For example, the Ram 1500’s rear doors open nearly 90 degrees. Combined with the flip-up rear seats, they allow you load large items that you may not want exposed to the elements in the truck bed into the cabin.
As we pointed out, the seats flip up with complete ease—no release latches required. They also have another trick: They recline! This is not like a conventional seat reclining, but the bottom cushion slides forward, allowing the seatback to recline.
Our Laramie also has dual rear USB ports and power outlets as well as large compartments in the doors and the Ram Bins. Located near each rear door opening, these are deep cargo wells in the floor of the truck. We’d be hard-pressed to find any more places to put compartments in this truck!
The front of the Ram 1500 doesn't need hidden utility—it has a massive center console, which features a sliding mid-level tray. The upper folding panel has a tray that opens out and features a USB port, and Ram has moved the power outlet from the middle of the dash to the bottom of the center-console well. This is a clear evolution of an application that might have been better for worksites (an outlet in the upper dash to run a cable outside) to one that works for the weekend warrior (an outlet deep in the console for laptops and tablets).
Our test model also featured adjustable pedals and a dual glovebox, both of which will be helpful in daily driving.
The big news for the 2019 Ram is its massive 12-inch touchscreen. It's arranged in a portrait layout, like the one in a Tesla Model S. And like the Tesla, the screen is customizable—you can make the lower half climate or radio controls or make the entire screen one big map.
Our Laramie test truck did not have the massive screen—it had the optional 8.4-inch screen, which was honestly perfect (the big screen might be a bit much for many drivers). All screens feature the latest version of Uconnect infotainment software, now in its fourth generation. I still consider it the standard for touchscreen simplicity.
Uconnect benefits from the giant touchscreen's tablet-like layout. Like an iPad, it has “dock“ icons on the bottom of the screen that take you to media, radio, climate, apps, seat controls, nav and phone. This makes coming back to any menu screen a snap. The graphics are stunningly crisp, and the system is very responsive. Perhaps just as important as all this tech, there are many physical buttons that duplicate some of the most frequently used touchscreen controls.
Standard safety features on the Ram 1500 include a full array of airbags, an electronic parking brake, integrated trailer-sway control and trailer braking control, traction control, hill-start assist, and a reversing camera and dynamic guidelines that bend with the direction of the steering wheel.
On the Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited trims, you can upgrade to a 360-degree camera. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection is standard on the Limited and optional on all but the Tradesman trim. Other optional driver-assistance features include forward-collision mitigation, lane-departure warning, dynamic cruise control, and front and rear parking sensors.
The 2019 Ram 1500 has a starting price of $31,695. MSRP for the Bighorn is $33,395, while the Rebel starts at $43,995. Meanwhile, our test vehicle, the Laramie Crew Cab with 4WD, starts at $48,960. With all the options on our test model, including the front bucket seats, Uconnect, and bed utility rails, pricing comes in north of $52,000. The steepest starting price is the Limited 4WD with the long wheelbase, starting at $57,690.
And we’ve stated that trucks have come a long way—so has their cost. That top end-pricing doesn't even raise an eyebrow these days. But what does stand out about the new Ram 1500 is the truckmaker’s attention to detail.
Ram has taken all the things that make its trucks great—the smooth ride, the comfortable, versatile interior—and cranked them up to 11. There will always be the trusty work trucks available to those who need them, but for the many buyers of modern commuter trucks, these creature comforts are what the people really want.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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