The Ford (F) F-150 may be the king of the hill when it comes to light-duty pickup sales in the U.S. (you can read our “2 Dudes” review here), but don’t sleep on Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) and its new Ram 1500.
In the first quarter of 2019, Ram 1500 sales topped the Chevy Silverado, the number two in industry, for the first time ever. In fact, Ram pickup sales rose 7% last year to 537,000, while Chevy (GM) Silverado were largely unchanged. Note that GM’s overall pickup sales, which include the GMC Sierra, would top Ram’s figures.
The F-150 sits high atop the hill in sales - 900,000 (or nearly 2500 trucks sold EVERY DAY last year). But I reckon Ram will definitely eat into those, and that’s because the 1500 is a better truck. I understand that’s a bold statement, but there’s a lot backing It up.
New Ram, new look
Before we dig into the new 1500, let’s start with its predecessor. I was a fan of its almost tractor-trailer look. It stood out among what many non-car (and industry people) have thought - most pickups look pretty much the same. The Ram stood out.
Now the new Ram looks great, maintaining some of that truck-like look, but it’s more chiseled and meaner upfront. It’s a big front end, with tons of chrome in the grill and bumpers given our tester was the western-themed “Laramie Longhorn” edition, which sits right below top-tier Limited trim. (Our Laramie Longhorn starts at $50,740, and adding some tech options and advanced safety features will push you close to $56K before destination.)
The big truck’s sheetmetal flows nicely through the full crew-cab into the standard 6-foot bed. The back end is nice but nothing to write home about. But I do like the sporty accents that Ram uses with their pickups, featuring dual exhaust tips emerging through the rear bumper. We’re seeing that dual exhaust set-up more with some of GM’s more sporty pickups, like the Sierra Denali AT4 (that review is coming up).
Altogether it’s a very pleasing and handsome truck, but the new Ram kind of loses its unique character, almost becoming more mainstream in its pickup looks. It’s a toss up for me, but if you’re still a fan of the old look, Ram is still offering the old 1500 for sale, dubbed ‘Ram 1500’ and not “All-New Ram 1500.” As for our “all-new” 1500, I think the F-150 is still the looker of the pickup bunch.
In the pickup wars, what’s really set Ram part from its rivals is Ram’s attention to detail with its interiors. Ford has definitely upped its game with the latest iteration of the F-150 from a creature comfort point of view, but the previous Ram 1500 was still the king in that regard.
Chevy’s Silverado and its twin the GMC Sierra lag here. It seems GM made the decision that its customers were more concerned about exterior looks and performance. Perhaps that’s true, but in an ultra-competitive marketplace, having a comfortable, tech-laden cabin where the driver spends basically all his or her time interacting with the car is huge competitive advantage.
Under the hood
Ram offers three engine choices for the 1500: a 3.6L V-6, a 5.7L V8 Hemi, and the engine we had - the 5.7L V8 Hemi with eTorque technology.
The eTorque engine is a mild hybrid that when combined with a small battery and an electric motor, increases the standard V8’s efficiency by 13% in city driving.
It also aids with making the 1500’s start stop feature smoother, and it also makes for a smoother initial off the line acceleration. According to Ram, the engine pumps out 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque, including “an additional 130 lb-ft of supplemental launch torque enabled by the eTorque system.”
On the road
The majority of our test was performed on a road trip to historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A town with a lot of colonial history, it still maintains an active shipyard and hearkens back to a blue collar, industrial and commercial fishing past. These days tourism and hospitality are a big part of the town, but still a good spot for the Ram 1500 to showcase its new features.
Our 1500 powered by the eTorque V8 pulled the 5,000-lbs truck effortlessly around back roads and the interstate. I didn’t find the truck wanting for more power. The ride was smooth and steering effort just right that this rig was an ideal vehicle for running errands and local trips, as well as soaking up highway miles in its plush, downright luxurious cabin. The Ram’s air suspension ate up all the cracks and potholes of Northeast winter roads, as well as kept the rig planted on the highway and curvy back roads.
In addition to the air suspension system, the 2019 1500 includes active dampers in the frame to balance out any jarring vibrations and judders. The way it works is once the system detects undesired vibrations, the dampers fire off ‘out of phase’ to cancel them out. This helps in areas like low-speed handling, and the abruptness coming from the engine’s stop start feature. Very cool stuff, and really something you’re not going to notice in the background, unless its not there.
As noted above we were in the Laramie Longhorn trim with its western flair. While I dug the well appointed leather interior and open-pore wood throughout, color me not impressed by all the Western themed stuff like embroidered western stitching on the console, the branded logos in the wood, and again the western-themed instrument cluster.
Good thing for Ram 1500 fans there is about 20 different trim and options packages to choose from. Western theme aside, Ram continues its differentiation in the pickup segment with a downright upscale interior as noted with the all the leather and wood, and other soft-touch materials. Our tester featured Ram’s massive vertical touchscreen, handling all needs for the truck and utilizing FCA’s best-in-class UConnect infotainment system. The interior creature comforts, when combined with the luxurious air suspension and library-like quiet cabin really sets this truck apart from the rest.
Why it’s the new king
The half-ton pickup market in the US is a massive one with the three big boys - Ford, Chevy, and Ram - battling it out for supremacy. And let’s not forget Toyota Tundra and Nissan’s Titan HD also pulling in sales.
But much like the horsepower wars in the pony car segment, the pickup wars all highlight what’s new, and who has the newest feature, power figures, etc.
While Ford F-150 is the sales king, and for that matter, was in my opinion the best of the lot, Ram’s new 1500 has topped it. The handsome, muscular exterior, combined with its abundance of interior creature comforts along with a library-like quiet cabin, and the industry exclusive air suspension tick off all the boxes when considering a do it all truck with the best ride, looks, and comfort in the industry.
All hail the new king. Or at least until the all-new F-150 comes out.
Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter here.