I may have found the perfect compromise for someone who drives a truck as a daily commuter: The 2013 Ram 1500.
I’ve always been amused at the number of people who buy pickups because they might need that big bed sometime. They spend most of their time simply driving to and from work with nothing filling up the back. That’s great if you like the stiff ride most pickups deliver (and the bouncy ride when it’s empty).
The 2013 Ram 1500 is a civilized compromise. I guess there’s a reason that Motor Trend gave it Truck of the Year and automotive journalists named it the North American Truck/Utility of the Year last January. Of course Chrysler engineers had to earn that title. They did it by redesigning the 1500 with a better V6 engine mated to an 8-speed transmission, a stronger yet lighter frame and a smoother ride.
While everybody is raving Ram’s new air suspension, my test truck didn’t have it and I still enjoyed the ride. While it may be worth the investment for a lot of folks, it’s not something that I felt knocked the truck down when it was missing.
One of the big changes is a new Pentastar 3.6-liter V6. It had a huge jump in power and now delivers 305 hp and 269 pound-feet of torque. Even more impressive is the mileage: 17 mpg City and 25 mpg on the highway. During my week with the Ram it averaged about 20 mpg in mostly city driving.
There are two other engines available. You can get a 4.7-liter V8 on the Tradesman that delivers 310 hp and 330 pound-feet (but worse mileage). If you want maximum power, go for the 5.7-liter V8 with 395 hp and 407 pound-feet.
My test truck was the Crew Cab, and I definitely think it’s the way to go. It not only gives you a second row, it has more leg room than the Quad Cab. Since this ends up likely being a family transportation vehicle, why not have something that can easily seat six. I especially liked the 40-20-40 split front seat. Most of the time you’ll ride with the center console down, but in a pinch, you’ve got a real seat for one more. Because trucks don’t have trunks, the flip-up rear seat gives you the ability to haul stuff that you don’t want to fly out of the bed when you’re blowing down the freeway. Plus, it has little cargo compartments underneath the seat that gives you some hidden space.
Inside the truck is yet another great compromise. It was perfectly comfortable. I especially liked the optional 10 way power seat with adjustable lumbar support. If you are someone using it for work, then your back likely needs all the help it can get. The center console is big enough that you can put a clipboard inside.
Technology is a complicated world in cars and trucks these days. Every manufacturer has a different approach, with varying degrees of success. Having said that, I think Chrysler is the clear winner right now. Its Uconnect system is simple and effective. No bugs or glitches to slow things down and an interface that is easy to understand. I also think that Chrysler has the best navigation system on the market. It’s the only one that can actually rival my phone for ease of use. I also like the small display in the instrument cluster that gives you access to more information. Who knows if it will be working after five or ten years, but right now it’s an impressive technological accomplishment.
There is one thing that struck me as slightly odd. The Ram 1500 has a fly-by-wire transmission. That means instead of having a big shifting level on the steering column or center console that is connected mechanically to the transmission, it has a rotary dial on the dash that you simply turn to either drive, neutral or reverse. It works great, but it just feels funny. It’s kind of like jumping into your big manly pickup truck and then reach for a tiny teacup on the dash. It seems so dainty. If it were me, I’d come up with a more imposing method like paddle shifters or even a punching pad!
Outside, the Ram 1500 has some slight styling changes. It has a larger grill and new headlights. One thing that everyone seemed to comment about during my week was that it was just so darn big. I’m not sure if it’s actually bigger or just looks that way.
My truck had the optional ParkSense assist system. It beeps to warn you if you’re about to hit something. While it’s better than nothing, I’d opt for the $350 back up camera. Big bumpers can do big damage to your neighbor’s Civic. $350 is a great investment to avoid the insurance hassle.
The Ram 1500 has plenty of trim levels starting with the Tradesman and working up through the SLT, Sport, Laramie, Laramie Longhorn and Laramie Limited. The cheapest regular cab starts at $23,600 and my test truck, which was the SLT version, stickered at $38,990.
If you’re a truck guy with a family (or plenty of friends/co-workers) and you want a comfortable ride, decent mileage and plenty of room inside, I think the Ram 1500 Crew Cab is a solid choice.