Auto review: 2019 Ram 1500 is more than best in class; itís a cultural touchstone

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

April 23, 2018

              

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

As the EPA and Congress spar over whether to relax existing fuel economy standards and environmentalists fret over the possible effects, itís instructive that the three top-selling new vehicles in the United States last year were the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram 1500, according to data from industry publication Automotive News. A mere six full-size pickup nameplates accounted for 2.4 million light vehicle sales for a 13.7 percent market share. And thatís not counting midsize pickups, whose five nameplates accounted for an additional 452,335 units in 2017, good for another 2.6 percent of market share. The bottom line: Eleven models account for 16.3 percent of the market.

In contrast, the 81 hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles offered last year interested 558,653 buyers, good for a 3.2 percent market share. Thatís less than Ford or Chevrolet managed on their own with one pickup truck.

If the thought makes you want to curse your fellow Americans as luddites as you cry in your kale salad, realize that pickup trucks are an American cultural touchstone that alt-fuel vehicles are not. Besides, pickups are modern day Conestoga wagons; every bit as useful and far more comfortable. Of course, Americansí historic love of these vehicles stems from one fact: Theyíre so darn handy. Haul shrubs, tow a trailer, schlep your family; a pickup does it all.

But until the past decade or so, youíd never call pickup trucks indulgent or opulent. And while there have been any number of special models or trim lines that ladled on the options like barbecue sauce at a pig roast, they always felt added on, almost as a marketing afterthought.

Thatís not the case with the 2019 Ram 1500, redesigned from stem to stern and available in Tradesman, Big Horn, Rebel, Laramie, Longhorn and Limited trims. Quad and Crew Cabs come with a 6-foot, 4-inch bed; Crew Cabs can also be fitted with a 5-foot, 7-inch bed. Payload is now 2,300 pounds, while towing capacity tops out at 12,750 pounds. Itís also some 225 pounds lighter thanks to extensive use of high-strength steel, although there is some aluminum used, such as on the dampened tailgate.

While the 2019 Ram will be offered with a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 with a standard mild hybrid system, or a 395-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8, only the V-8 will be initially available. Power is delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission to rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Having sampled the Rebel off-road and the Big Horn and Laramie on-road, this truckís excellence is evident whether traversing deep ruts and deep sand with the Rebel or towing a 5,900-pound boat trailer with the Laramie. The V8 provides ample power, and the transmission always seems to be in the perfect gear. The four-wheel drive system performs as effortlessly off-road as it does in Jeeps. Steering is nicely weighted and surprisingly crisp.

A Conestoga was never this much fun to drive.

And there are options to improve driving pleasure, such as an air suspension, Off-Road Package with a one-inch suspension lift, blind-spot monitoring that includes trailer coverage, trailer-sway dampening, a surround view camera, and adaptive front-lighting that points lights around turns.

Throughout it all, the Crew Cabs were a welcome respite of civilization from the forest primeval. Here, itís obvious that a modern, high-tech cabin with premium materials was part of the plan from the start. So itís little surprise that the Ram is astonishingly quiet and comfortable, not to mention extraordinarily roomy. In fact, aside from limousines, few if any vehicles have 45 inches of rear legroom, regardless of nameplate. And thereís lots of storage space, including two glove boxes and a roomy center console with a lid that lists metric conversions and fractions to decimals on its underside. There are even two rear in-floor storage bins. An optional panoramic sunroof adds to its feeling of spaciousness.

But itís the instrument panel thatís truly notable, particularly on pricier models. At its center is a large infotainment screen thatís easy to use and features sophisticated graphics. Below resides toggle switches, a wireless charging dock and up to five USB and USB-C ports.

And of course the Ram is well dressed, wearing a far more sophisticated wardrobe, while retaining elements of its tough highway tractor past. The grille is quite fussy, but no more so than your typical western boot, and each trim gest its own unique face.

Itís clearly the finishing touch to a pickup truck that is clearly the one to beat in its class. You might be able to buy other full size pickups, but you wonít find a better one than the 2019 Ram 1500. And while itís as handy as a Conestoga, itís a far better rig to wrangle.

Stats

Base prices: $31,695-$53,890

Engine: 5.7-liter Hemi V8

Horsepower: 395

Torque: 410 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 15/22

Wheelbase: 140.5-144.6 inches

Length: 228.9-241.8 inches

Towing capacity: 6,025-12,750 pounds