Everyone on staff was impressed with the exterior styling of the new Ram. The Inferno Red Crystal Metallic Pearl and Tan color combo definitely makes the Ram stand out in a crowd, but in any color, the chromed honeycomb grille, flanked by crystalline muscle-car-like headlights create an aggressive leading edge. The wraparound, chromed bumper with the frenched-in running lights closes the deal making the front end a complete package. A close inspection of the body panel and door gaps revealed very tight, consistent tolerances. The only snag was the small gap on the forward edge of the taillights. The only reason we noticed it was that on an otherwise clean truck, the gap gathers dust. The wraparound rear bumper with dual exhaust cutouts was also appreciated, though it did pose concerns for towing with the exhaust leading directly to the towed equipment. Overall, the sleek design represented the most dramatic change in Ram design since the '94's love-it-or-leave-it, big-rig look, and we think it's a hit. The Dodge Boys have really done their homework on this one.
The quality of materials, including wood trim, chrome accents, and leather, is miles ahead of the previous generation, and really makes the Dodge look luxurious. The two-tone tan and brown leather-trimmed dash with contrasting white stitching is a big factor, and gives the dash texture and definition. The front heated and ventilated seats were comfortable for just about everyone who got behind the wheel. The seat's bolsters keep you planted laterally and the leather upholstery was soft and pliable. A heated steering wheel should appeal to those of you who live where there are actual seasons. Staff members really appreciated the gauge cluster layout with the centered Driver Information Center (DIC) framed by the large tachometer and speedometer. Transplanting the DIC from the overhead console to the gauge cluster allows you to keep your eyes closer to the road when checking vital stats like tire pressure and fuel economy.
A ginormous center console features several convenient trays, dual cup holders, and electrical receptacle located in the console's center bin. The T-grip shifter has an effortless gear selection pattern without a needless maze of gates like the Tundra. A bevy of storage areas, both large and small, allow you to stash maps, cell phones, sunglasses, and dozens of other small accessories out of the way. The 110V outlet in the dash helps with both the "working man" and "family" theme, i.e., powering a laptop while on a construction site or powering the PS3 for the kids in the back. Speaking of the rear seats, Dodge made a great compromise in space between the Mega Cab and Quad Cab rear seats, and the heated rear seat option trumps all of the competitors. Rear seat passengers had plenty of legroom, just a bit less than the F-150, but the higher hip point was more comfortable for taller passengers. The rear TV is a decent size and quality, while the inputs are easy to distinguish. The Sirius satellite TV option has got to be a big draw for families, as it keeps the kids entertained whether or not you have DVDs on hand.
While driving on either city streets or highways we didn't experience any obnoxious rearend bouncing and it handled every pothole or railroad crossing with little jarring. The Ram is in a league of its own here. The front springs are compliant enough for the freeway but stiff enough to dive into corners in the hills. The real star is the new coil-link rear suspension that's sure to be adopted by more fullsize 1/2-tons in the not-too-distant future. The front and rear suspension work very well under heavy braking creating minimal nose dive during rear to front weight transfer. During acceleration there was also minimal rear squat during weight transfer. The front and rear sway bars eliminated any lateral body roll during cornering and allow for easy, predictable lane changes. The power rack/pinion steering is a little quick but has a much better feel to it than previous Rams. The 4-wheel disc brakes are very good with minimal fade. With the factory Goodyear tires leaning more towards comfort and low noise rather than all-out performance, there is definitely more fun to be had with a tire swap.
The Ram is by far the hot rod of the group. In last year's test, on the same exact dyno, our '08 Hemi Ram put down only 245 hp. This year, with the same engine displacement, the '09 Ram put down a solid 300 hp. In an impromptu acceleration test between the Ram and the Tundra, the Ram easily accelerated away. The five-speed automatic transmission delivers good, firm shifts although we did find a few situations at certain speeds and certain throttle inputs where the computer needs a few seconds to make its mind up on where to put the transmission. The dual exhaust gives the engine a deep throaty sound to affirm that it's the baddest on the block.
Thinking back to previous Truck of the Year winners, we always chose a truck that was both innovative and impressive in all areas. This year is no different. The interior, powertrain, and, most significantly, the suspension upgrades on the '09 Dodge Ram put it at the top of this years strong list of competitors. Congratulations to Dodge, as well as the engineers and designers behind it.
* Quiet interior
* Comfortable seating, with deep bolsters
* Hot-rod power
* Smooth Ride
* 5.7L available in regular cab/shortbed
* Wide center console takes up a lot of space
* Goodyear Wranglers leave performance potential on the table
* Audio system isn't well-balanced and could use some placement tuning
Formula For T.O.T.Y. Points
For our Truck of the Year testing, we looked at six key areas for scoring, including: overall exterior styling/body panel fitment, interior ergonomics/style, power/drivetrain, ride and handling, audio and navigation quality, and even detail areas like comfort and support of the seats. Each category was weighed for importance and the scores tallied. Here you can see how each editor broke down each truck and the overall scores of the trucks.
Truckin's Best Of '09
Besides our calculated points system, we also have our subjective favorites and in no particular order, here is what we determined to be the Best of '09.
|Best Engine ||Dodge Ram |
|Best MPG ||GMC Sierra |
| Best Interior ||Ford F-150 |
| Best Body Styling ||Dodge Ram |
| Best Leg room ||Toyota Tundra Crew Max |
| Best Audio ||Ford F-150 |
| Best Off-Road ||Toyota Tundra |
|Best New Gadget ||Ford F-150 SYNC |