The Right Truck at the Wrong Time?
by Joe LaMuraglia
In the light-duty pickup segment the Dodge Ram has always been the third most popular truck behind the mighty Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado. But third place in a segment that sold 3.3 million trucks in it’s heyday isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. The Dodge has always had a loyal following and are known for beefy engines and exterior styling to match. Critics of the Ram pointed to low-quality interiors, fewer available configurations and the lack of a truly competitive luxury-oriented model. Dodge took that to heart and came out of the gate swinging with their all-new 2009 Ram. I spent a week driving the luxury Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 and while impressed, I wonder if it is the right truck at the wrong time.
My goal is to do our best to test our vehicles in the manner that the target customer would. When I get a sedan or hatchback, the task usually involves running errands, schlepping people around and generally living with the vehicle for a week. Luckily, the timing for my date with the RAM coincided with a road trip to NC for an event and the transport of two large pieces of furniture back to NJ. Not exactly hauling bricks and equipment like a true “truck guy” but considering the level of luxury in my test truck, it is probably very similar to what the intended buyer for this trim level would do.
The new 2009 Dodge Ram is a clean-sheet design featuring all new sheet metal and an optional 5.7-liter HEMI® V-8 that provides more horsepower (390) and torque with increased fuel economy over the previous generation. The test vehicle was equipped with the new generation HEMI® and was rated at 13/18 MPG city/highway. As you can see from the photo, my highway MPG average exceeded that number but for the record, I was alone in the truck and all I was hauling was my suitcase. On the return trip which included my 81-year old mother and a cargo of furniture, the highway fuel consumption was 16.5 MPG. Both cases are impressive and credit should be given to the Dodge engineers who created the Multiple Displacement System (MDS) and cuts off 4 cylinders at cruising speed.
The new Ram also addresses one of the biggest criticisms of the previous vehicles with a handsomely designed interior featuring high-quality materials and excellent ergonomics. Our Ram in Laramie trim was incredibly comfortable with leather heated front seats, leather heated steering wheel, uconnect hands-free calling and dual-zone climate control. It was easy to forget that we were in a pickup and despite needing help to get in the vehicle, my octogenarian companion was perfectly comfortable during the 10 hour trip to NJ.
The interior was excellent for travel but I also put it to the test as a mobile office. Many owners of a trucks like this are business owners that are constantly working on the go. Being a small business owner myself, I am always on email and conference calls are part of the routine. So when a call was scheduled during my trip to NC, I simply pulled into a rest stop, climbed into the passenger seat and plugged my computer into the 115-volt plug in the dash. I was able to check email and participate in the conference call via the hands-free unconnect without an issue. One option that wasn’t installed is uconnect web – a dealer-installed feature that turns the vehicle into a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot. This allows passengers to access the internet via their computers as long as there is a wireless signal. It would’ve been really cool to utilize it but my wireless card did the trick. I was pleased enough with the room, comfort and convenience my test truck provided during the pit stop.
Speaking of comfort, I’ve neglected to mention one of the primary differentiators of the new Dodge Ram – the innovative first-in-segment, coil-spring multilink rear suspension fitted to a solid rear axle that provides ride and handling capabilities that some cars would be jealous of. If you think “bumpy ride” when you think of pickups, you’ll be very impressed with the new Dodge Ram. They’ve managed to smooth out the ride without reducing the capabilities which will certainly appeal to those consumers that buy pickups for their do-anything image and weekend projects.
So, the new Ram is a massive improvement over the truck it replaces but considering the current economic environment, is it the right truck at the wrong time? The core buyers of pickup trucks, those that actually USE them for work, will always be there but the popularity of this segment was fueled by the weekend warriors and big box buyers that liked the image and convenience provided by these large vehicles. Sales of pickups are headed south fast and few experts think that the American Pickup will ever regain its popularity. If that is true, Dodge got to the party in a fabulous outfit just as the police were breaking it up. Let’s hope that they can find another party that’s still going strong because we’d hate to see a such a great makeover go to waste.
– Engine: Great power and improved fuel economy
– Interior: Somebody finally asked the advice of a good interior designer
– Comfort: It is roomy, rides smoothly and everything is where it should be
– Convenience: Awesome as a rolling office and carries lots of stuff in the bed too
– Price: It is competitively priced but fully loaded it gets expensive. As tested at $45,495!
– Thirsty: Even with improved fuel economy, it isn’t exactly frugal. Where is the diesel?
– Shiny: There’s a little too much faux chrome on the Laramie model.
Photos courtesy of Chrysler
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