Until recently, refinement wasn't a word that fit comfortably with full-size pickup trucks. Pickups were made for tough work tasks, not easy riding. No one expected them to be genteel or particularly comfortable.
Obviously, that attitude has changed considerably. Every new and redesigned big pickup launched in the past few years has taken a substantial step ahead in ride comfort, passenger amenities, and overall appeal beyond its strictly-work capabilities.
That's certainly the case with the latest Dodge Ram, which has debuted as a reworked 2009 model. If full-size pickups can be said to have developed character, this next-generation Ram demonstrates an even deeper race to refinement. Ever since 1994, Dodge has offered Rams with "big rig" styling and what it calls an "iconic" crosshair grille. This one raises the ante for pickup-truck finesse.
Looking at the long list of changes for 2009, the one that stands out most is the newly available crew-size cab. Ford and Chevrolet pickups have been offered with Crew Cabs for years; but until now, Dodge stuck with the regular and Quad Cab.
Dodge claims at least 35 "new and improved" features, including an "industry first": a RamBox cargo management system (on crew cabs) with weatherproof, lockable, drainable bins, plus a bed divider and extender. Dodge also has several "first-in-segment" features, including:
Coil-spring, multilink rear suspension with solid axle.
"Store-in-the-floor" bins with removable liners.
Heated and ventilated front seats (heated rear seats available).
Heated steering wheel (a "first" for any Chrysler product).
Available Sirius backseat TV and surround-sound audio.
Under the Ram hood, the available 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 gets a boost to 380 horsepower and 404 pound-feet of torque, along with slightly better fuel economy (up 4 percent). Dodge claims a short-bed 2WD Hemi Ram can accelerate to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds.
Although the 2009 Ram doesn't appear dramatically different than its predecessors, it gets a new "grille-forward" look. Dual exhaust outlets are styled into the rear bumper. Standard safety features include antilock braking, an Electronic Stability Program, Hill Start Assist, and Trailer Sway Control.
Stepping into a Ram 1500 Laramie 4x4 without running boards is the first hurdle. Frankly, it's quite a climb - though not necessarily more so than in the past.
In addition to the newfound refinement, the 2009 Ram with a Hemi V-8 engine delivers plenty of energy. Even so, it doesn't feel quite scintillating, held back a bit by the truck's weight. Still, there's certainly no shortage of helpful power.
Behind the wheel, it's almost possible to forget you're in a full-size truck, lulled by its reasonably quiet, easygoing stride. Some trucklike sounds are detectable, but not much. A four-wheel-drive Ram is simply terrific on snow-covered pavement. On any surface type, the ride does get jittery when imperfections crop up, which could make a long trek somewhat taxing. Compared to earlier Ram ride quality, however, this one is a pleasure on the road.
Although the steering feel is comfortable and confident, this Ram still feels like a truck when rolling through curves and corners. That's as it should be, of course. Good-size mirrors help visibility, though the over-left-shoulder view is impaired.
Fuel economy with the Hemi is hideous, especially in harsh weather. Don't expect to come particularly close to EPA estimates. Like other full-size pickups, too, the Ram can get awfully expensive when you choose a step-up model and start adding options.
Ordering a Ram pickup isn't so easy, due to the vast number of choices to be made. The Ram 1500 series comes in five trim levels: ST, SLT, TRX, Sport, and top-of-the-line Laramie. Three engines are offered: 215-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6; 310-hp, 4.7-liter V-8; and the burly Hemi. Regular, Quad Cab, and crew-size cabs are offered. Regular-cab Rams get an 6-foot 4-inch or 8-foot cargo bed; Quad Cabs, the 6-foot 4-inch; and crew-size models, a 5-foot 7-inch bed. In addition, Rams come with rear-wheel drive, part-time four-wheel drive, or on-demand four-wheel drive.
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