Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: December 11, 2018
There are wars between muscle cars, battles fought for the fastest Nurburgring lap time, and even straight line skirmishes to be the king of top speed. But the real war, at least from a sales and monetary perspective, is the one between pickup trucks. As the automotive market shys away from sedans, the truck segment grows ever larger with entrants from RAM, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and even Hyundai. The Ford F-150 is still the top dog in Canada and the RAM 1500 isn’t too happy about that despite slotting in second place. Brand loyalty cannot be underestimated in this segment and in an effort to convert buyers, RAM is working hard to step it up a few notches.
For 2019, the RAM 1500 comes in full force with a host of significant changes. Overall weight is down by 102 kg, frame rigidity and strength has increased, towing capacity is up to 5,761 kg, and it’s more aerodynamic than ever with active grill shutters and an air suspension. The RAM 1500 also receives an electronic parking brake, electronic locking rear differential, and larger brakes.
The sheetmetal is much cleaner and sleeker this time around. One could even call the RAM understated with an inoffensive grill perched on a relatively small snout. Park this truck next to the Silverado and F-150, and the RAM appears more mature and grown-up. Even the Rebel trim with its rugged, off-road demeanor looks more tame and conservative. On the other hand and as with most trucks, the rear quarter view is standard in appearance and near anonymous. This is a workhorse after all, not a bling machine, though its shiny optional 22-inch wheels say otherwise.
The biggest change comes from the interior and the new 12-inch touchscreen. It’s standard on Limited and optional on Laramie and Longhorn trims. Lower models get a 5-inch or 8.4-inch touchscreen instead. The 12-inch screen is definitely one of the largest examples this side of a Tesla, which runs at 17-inches in the Model S. The RAM’s can actually show two screens at once, meaning you can customize the top to show the navigation map, while the bottom controls the audio. And despite its large size, RAM has managed to keep the screen incredibly responsive and sensitive to touch, even with leather gloves on. It reminds me of Volvo’s unit, which our team humbly praised for its premium feel, though the Volvo’s screen has a better viewing angle, whereas the RAM’s sits perpendicular to the dashboard. To make inputs more convenient, there are five toggle switches below it and hard buttons along the sides for high traffic controls.
RAM has developed a stellar infotainment unit here and if every FCA product eventually incorporates this 12-inch screen into their cabins, I smell a game changer, the same way that tech enthusiasts flock towards Volkswagen and Audi products for their heavily praised Digital Cockpit. Everybody loves the newest gadgets and gizmos, and if slotted into a Grand Cherokee or even the Pacifica, I think it will be enough to get millennials out of bed and into their showrooms.
The rest of the interior is a wise mix of old-school charm, modern aesthetics, and of course, easter eggs galore, pulling off a more premium and luxurious atmosphere than anything offered by the Blue Oval or Bowtie. While Chevrolet has kept the column-mounted gear stalk, and Ford has stayed with a traditional center-mounted gear lever, RAM does things a little differently and mounts their rotary dial to the left of the infotainment screen, making it easy to reach, hard to hit by accident, and frees up precious real estate.
The new steering wheel with its borderless RAM logo is more visually engaging than its rivals. There are buttons conveniently located behind the wheel to control the audio too. As one of the areas that drivers tend to look at the most, the instrument cluster has been redesigned. The fonts are clear, the analog gauges are concise, and the overall design sets the bar quite high. Elsewhere, fit and finish is significantly (and surprisingly) better than most other FCA products from Jeep and Chrysler. Even the plastic cover panels don’t wobble about.
As with FCA’s easter egg tradition, they have placed a silhouette portrait of every generation of RAM trucks on the rubber mat inside the center console. They have even engraved a legend of basic conversions for towing and hauling under the lid, and there’s protractor diagram to guide you on calculating angles too. Speaking of the center console, RAM has completely redesigned it. The cupholder and storage area in front of it can slide back as well revealing a huge storage box - large enough to fit my camera bag - and you can play around with how you want it positioned, especially when you have phones or devices connected to its Type C USB outlets or wireless charging pad.
One thing I adore about FCA products is that they take the heated features seriously, and by that I mean the steering wheel and seats get piping hot. The wheel, specifically the top wood veneer portion, can get so hot that I can only keep my hands on it for a few seconds before feeling the burn. The leather portions of wheel however are at a more moderate temperature but it nevertheless helps when you want that extra sizzle to warm yourself up on a cold winter day.
In Crew Cab format, there are S-Class levels of back seat legroom and I don’t see Mercedes’ seats being able to contort in the sorts of ways this one can to reveal underseat storage. Visible and hidden cubbies are everywhere, and chances are if you think you lost your belongings, it’s somewhere in the truck. The seats can recline a significant 8-degrees and there’s even heated and ventilated seats as well. Of note, 40/20/40 front bench seating is available on lower trims but not on the Limited which is only available in Crew Cab style. It does have the choice of 4x2 or 4x4, and 5.7” or 6.4” box length, though. Of note, there are only four tie-downs on the bed, whereas the Silverado ramps it up with a standard twelve.
The power-release tailgate doesn’t need a strong arm to close but it won’t electrically operate like in the Silverado. That being said, the keyfob can lower the tailgate, and even lower the air suspension for easier entry and loading. And speaking of which, the keyfob is absolute quality. I love the dark ceramic look and depending on which RAM trim you have, it will brand the trim name on the back cover. Now that is attention to detail and goes a long way in making every owner feel special. It’s the little touches that count.
The RAM 1500 is available with both a 3.6L V6 and 5.7L V8, with the latter engine the only choice for Rebel, Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited trims. RAM also adds a new feature called eTorque, which wasn’t equipped on our test vehicle so we could not report on how it performs. What we can tell you is how it theoretically works. An electric generator and battery delivers 90 lb-ft of launch torque to the V6, and 130 lb-ft to the V8, aiding in a more efficient and quicker start from idle, which would heavily benefit those who frequently find themselves in stop and go traffic.
By itself, the 5.7L V8 produces a healthy 395 hp and 410 lb-ft through a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission. Out on the open road, the V8 feels untaxed and punchy past 3,000 rpm. Without any form of forced induction, the low-end can be sluggish and I do think that the new eTorque system would remedy this and further aid in fuel efficiency. The air suspension, which lowers the vehicle at higher speeds to reduce drag, and the engine’s ability to shut down half of its eight cylinders under light power loads, helps too. Lacking is a start/stop feature to shut the engine off when idling. That said, our time with the RAM with 50/50 city and highway driving gave us an average of 16.5 L/100km. Not bad.
The RAM 1500 hovers over bumps exceptionally well and quells vertical forces to an acceptable rate. With our bed filled up with furniture, the RAM hardly felt taxed and kept our belongings from bouncing about even over uneven patches on the road. However even with its four-corner air suspension with five ride heights, the RAM’s ride quality doesn’t stand out above the crowd. A similarly equipped F-150 or Silverado feels just as well damped. That said, I think the RAM would do better on smaller 20-inch wheels rather than the optional 22s we have on our tester.
We expected more from ride comfort but I believe that smaller wheels combined with the air suspension will provide better road manners. The V8 engine is potent, though not exactly as fuel efficient as its competitors, but it’s how RAM pieces all of its components together that makes it such an attractive daily workhorse with all the bells and whistles. The interior is where the RAM holds its biggest advantage over the Silverado, F-150, and Tundra, with an attractive steering wheel, quality panels and materials, unlimited storage options, and of course, the massive touchscreen that transforms how you look at infotainment. And while it’s not a monumental game changer, being the first to bring such tech to the truck party might just give the RAM the royal flush it needs to step up to the top of the podium, with competitors surely to follow. As they say, a rising tide raises all ships.
Model: 2019 RAM 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4x4
Paint Type: Granite Crystal Metallic ($245)
Base Price: $74,195
Price as Tested: $83,270
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,916 / 2,084 / 2,023
Curb weight (kg): 2,385
Engine: 5.7L V8
Horsepower: 395 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 410 lb-ft @ 3,950 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4X4
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 16.5
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 16.1 / 11.0 / 13.8