News Column

Big Ram Pickup Delivers Good Mileage

July 2, 2013
2013 Ram 1500 SLT crew cab (photo: Ram Truck Brand)
2013 Ram 1500 SLT crew cab (photo: Ram Truck Brand)

The Ram light pickup has become such a visual icon that Chrysler spun it off as a separate brand. So don't say "Dodge Ram" any longer. Pete 'n' Pam checked out Ram's latest offering, an SLT Crew Cab pickup with V-6 engine and eight-speed transmission.

Pete: Pam, I had to smile when I rode with you in the Ram's front passenger's seat. Even though you're a fairly average-sized woman, you looked almost like a child in that broad driver's seat looking over the tall dashboard. It's only a half-ton truck, but the Ram is a hoss nevertheless.

Pam: I felt like I was driving a monster truck. And though all that bulk made me believe like I could crush anything in my path, I also had trouble centering the truck in a normal-sized lane when I was barreling down the highway.

Pete: The Ram isn't any bigger than comparable Ford F-150s and GMC Sierra 1500s, but that's the size necessary to get buyers' attention. Still, how large a truck looks and feels depends on where it's being driven. The Ram feels like an 18-wheeler when you're poking around the Central Market parking lot, but seems like an ant driving across the West Texas desert.

Pam: I settled down in the big, cushy driver's throne, stuffed my brown bag lunch into that giant storage bin between the front seats and tucked a bottle of water in one of the five drink holders within handy reach for a road trip to Daingerfield State Park in East Texas, where it fit right in.

Pete: Brown bag lunch? What? Carrot sticks? Tofu something? Ram drivers eat chicken-fried steaks out of Styrofoam to-go containers. Your point is correct, though. Tons of storage and dining space in the Ram, and plugs for 12-volt, mini-plugs 110-volts, USB and even a card reader.

Pam: That front stowage bin (which doubles as a makeshift desk for a laptop computer) flips up to make room for another (smallish) passenger, too. There's even a seatbelt for 'em.

Pete: Except for those middle front and middle rear passengers, the Ram is as spacious as Nebraska. Our Ram used Chrysler's optional Uconnect media and navigation center with a clear, easy-to-read and use 8.4-inch screen. I prefer large, colorful screen icons that are easy to spot when driving. Our $45,000 truck had quite a bit of hard plastic in the cabin, an aesthetic issue to me but probably not to the majority of truck customers.

Pam: My main quibble? I really disliked the gear shifting mechanism, which twirls like a radio dial. A few times I spun the dial too quickly, the truck didn't shift properly and I had to start over. Plus, what if I accidentally throw it into reverse when I'm just trying to switch from Ray LaMontagne to the Lumineers?

Pete: Yeah, Pam, I could make that mistake, too, switching from Barry Manilow to Liberace. The rotary transmission shifter, just to the right of the steering wheel, was an unusual feature for a truck. But it saved weight and complexity and was cheaper to build than a conventional console shifter, I'm sure. The innovation I really loved was the eight-speed automatic transmission linked to a throaty, 3.6-liter, V-6. Did you measure the gas mileage?

Pam: I did, and it hovered just under 21 miles per gallon during my five-hour mostly highway jaunt. That's better than a relative gets in his Nissan Frontier, a smaller, lighter pickup.

Pete: And I just drove my own 2006 Toyota Tundra V-8 on a 450-mile trip -- 14 mpg! The Ram's mileage is very good for a heavy, capable pickup.

Pam: What about what I call the truck's "hunch" feature? When you hit about 75 mph, it hunkers down slightly to lessen wind resistance and a message pops up: "Aerodynamic ride height achieved."

Pete: That's Aero-Mode, part of the $1,600 air suspension option. You can buy a base Ram for $23,585, but it won't be doing any hunching, as you call it. The base uses a 4.7-liter V-8, but even it can be upgraded with the soul of the Ram, the 305-horsepower V-6 and eight-speed automatic. I doubt the base model is as quiet and smooth riding as our SLT test model. It was quieter than some luxury cars I've driven.

Pam: Taller, too. I'm 5-foot-8 and wouldn't have minded a fold-away step to get into and out of the Ram. Cowboy boots helped, though. And a hat, which gave me a little attitude to go along with the Ram.

Pete: Note to readers -- the hat Pam just mentioned, which she said gave her "attitude," looked like she'd parked the Ram on top of it the night before. It was smooshed-flat straw that she punched up into a hat-like shape for the picture. We need to take this girl to a Western wear store and get her a real hat.

Pam: Yee-haw!

According to Pete 'n' Pam:

Target audience: Gentleman ranchers, urban cowboys, suburbanites, contractors and tradespeople.

Pricing: $23,585 to about $55,400 (Ram 1500, all models)

Fuel mileage: (V-6 4x4) 16 city, 23 highway

Highs: Pete -- Style, ride quality, unique truck powertrain, Uconnect media system. Pam: Quiet ride, tons of interior stowage, decent mileage for a big truck ... and lots of truck 'tude!

Lows: Pete -- Slightly less load capacity than some comparable trucks, heavy tailgate. Pam -- Rotary transmission shifter, wide profile that's hard to center on narrow roads.

Bottom line: Pete -- Most civilized light truck on the planet, by a hair. Pam -- We're gonna need a bigger hat.

___

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Source: Copyright Austin American-Statesman (TX) 2013