Pros:
Coil spring rear end improves ride
Top-class, quiet interior
Overall fit and finish is much improved
Improved fuel economy

Cons:
Off-road enthusiasts won't like the smaller wheelwells and lower rockers
Mega Cab is dead in the 1500

Dodge recently invited us to Nashville to get behind the wheel of an '09 Ram 1500. Unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in January, the '09 Ram showed its bold new styling to the world, along with a few of its segment-exclusive designs. We were anxious to see how far Dodge had come and how their latest offering would stack up against some of our favorite -ton trucks.

Starting with the exterior of the Ram, designers tightened up the panel gaps and eliminated the bumper to body gap in the front. On appearances alone, the result is a truck that looks much more refined, with a perception of high tolerances. The practical side of the styling, which also includes smaller wheelwell openings, a wiper cowl that directs air over the wipers, and an integrated tailgate spoiler, is that aerodynamic drag is now best-in-class at .419 for 4x4 Crew Cab and .39 for the 2WD Crew Cab.

We were impressed with the new Ram before we even turned the key, as the interior is a huge departure from the previous generation. We never had many complaints about Dodge interiors, they were solid and functional, just nothing to write home about. The Ram's new interior, even on base models, is tightly assembled and much more interesting visually. Move up to Laramie models and you'll get a stitched gauge cluster surround and improved materials in the door panels. Smooth silver-colored interior pieces in the center stack and vent surrounds break up the interior and it's not at all busy like some of its competition. Seat ventilation is now available for the first time in a truck, an option that was a big hit on our long-term Ford Expedition, even in Southern California's mild weather. Standard bucket seats were comfortable, especially with the ventilation, but we like the Sport model's aggressively-bolstered buckets even more.

We drove several iterations of the new Ram, including a 4.7L Crew Cab, and the power was more than adequate even for such a large truck. While it doesn't have the same nostalgia and marketing behind it as the Hemi, the recent updates to the 4.7L V-8 have given it 310 hp, 330 lb-ft of torque, and make it a viable competitor to Ford's 5.4L V-8. Step up to the 5.7L Hemi and you're in for 390 hp and 407 lb-ft of torque. Reduced intake and exhaust restriction, increased compression ratio, improvements to cylinder head flow, and variable valve timing have all combined with a variable-length intake system to boost overall power, all while flattening the torque curve for impressive midrange power. The variable valve timing (VVT) also allows for a lower idle speed for reduced fuel consumption at idle. The additional 45 hp that's gained, versus an `08 5.7L, also comes with a much appreciated 4-percent increase in fuel economy-and that's just from the engine. Add the new five-speed automatic, the reduced weight, and the aerodynamic gains, and fuel economy is up as much as 20 percent. We never put enough mileage on any of our test vehicles to need a fill up, and our driving conditions were fairly conducive to good fuel economy numbers (open roads, no stop-and-go traffic), but the readout on the digital fuel economy gauge looked promising. EPA numbers are due out soon.

The big news from the '09 Ram is the multi-link coil rear suspension. The swap from leaf springs designed for a big improvement in ride quality also meant a weight savings. Loaded with 1,000 pounds in the bed and driven back to back on the same roads with its competition, the Ram's suspension proved to be smoother and slightly quieter. We didn't get a chance to try any autocross-like slaloms, but Dodge promises that the four-link and Panhard rod keep lateral movement to a minimum for a more predictable feel. Off-road, the TRX package proved that the four-link has great articulation. Even with the smaller wheelwells, the rear suspension had plenty of travel, stuffing one wheel into the wheelwell and drooping the other to match the terrain. Another advantage of the coil suspension is that each configuration can be tuned for different spring rates. There are currently 12 different coil springs; depending on cab, powertrain, and trailering options. For those of you who are inclined to lower your truck, you can bet that aftermarket companies are going to be working on even more coils for you.

What does this mean to families that need a truck to do a little bit of everything? It means that the new Ram will offer better fuel economy, a better ride, and an interior that's quieter and more comfortable than ever. We're looking forward to this year's Truck of the Year, it looks like we have a solid contender. Check out truckinweb.com for more information and further driving impressions.

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