By CL-member request, a Condensed-Review of the 2013 Dodge Ram 1500.
IN A NUTSHELL: Who says that a work-truck can't be refined or have a smooth ride?
(Regular Cab Bed shown)
I did a full-length review of the then-all-new 2011 Dodge Ram a couple of years ago, so I won't do another whole full-length review here, although the Ram, since then, has expected, gotten some changes and improvements. I was very impressed with the 2011's ride-smoothness, interior refinement, precision-assembly (though not quite as precise as Honda/Acura standards), smooth/quiet refined powertrain, and the general level of pleasantry involved in driving it. Indeed, had I been blindfolded, I probably wouldn't have guessed I was riding in an American full-size work-truck.....the ride and refinement were that good. The Ford F-150, as shown by its sales-figures, is no doubt an excellent work-vehicle (I did a review on one last year, from a Ford auto-show promotion, and got a nice pre-paid debit-card. The F-150 is well-designed and well-screwed together, but, in comparison to the newer Rams, the F-150
rides like...(well)......a truck.
The modern Ram, as we know it, dates to 1994, when Dodge marketers decided to get serious about trying to make the series more competitive against the ubiquitous Ford F-series and Chevy C/K Silverado. And, get serious they did. The Ram was totally redesigned from stem to stern, inside and out, and given a unique big-rig look with droop-fenders that imitated the big-rig truckers in their Kenworths and Peterbuilts. The result, though done with the then-typical Chrysler/Dodge cheap interior plastic and so-so-paint-quality, was an unqualified success, though it failed to overtake Ford or Chevy in sales. Still, considering that American full-size pickup-owners are among the most loyal buyers in the industry, the new Ram, with its big-rig look, picked up a fair number of converts. The droop-fender, big-rig look was subsequently added to the smaller, mid-size Dodge Dakota, with also-good sales results.
I won't go into later Ram versions in detail (having done so in the previous 2011 review), but, for 2013, the full-sized Ram series continues on alone, with the mid-sized Dakota truck series having been discontinued in the American market (Ford, of course, also having dropped the slow-selling Compact Ranger). The Ram full-size pickup series, as before, includes 1500, 2500, and dual-rear-wheelie 3500 series. Dodge has changed its truck/van marketing system to some extent.......all of the cargo-carrying minivans, full-sized work-vans, Tradesman vans, (and, of course, pick-ups), are now lumped together under the "Ram" designation, which, though not a completely different line from Dodge (and still sold through Dodge dealerships), is more or less treated like separate division now.
As with other American full-size trucks, all of the possible prices/trim-levels, engine/transmission/powertrain combinations, cab-styles, bed-lengths, tow-ratings, etc....are far too numerous and complex to go into here (see the attached Dodge ram web-site for details)
At the local Dodge shop I was at today (typical of a number of them), there were not many 2013-model Rams in stock. They had a white top-line Longhorn model sitting in the showroom (trust me, you won't want to know how much that one listed for), and, outside, a black Laramie 4X4 (Four-wheel-Drive) Club-Cab model with beige-leather interior and the 5.7L Hemi that they were using for demo-test rides. The demo-model outside was fairly close to what the specific review-request was for, so I decided to go ahead and write that one up. It was no cheapie either, listing for almost 49K with options, but was still significantly lower-priced than the Luxo-model inside. With the Hemi, 4-door Crew Cab, 4X4 drivetrain, and 6-speed automatic, it was also (probably) typical of the way many new Rams would actually be sold. So, I got out my notebook, pen and pencil, a tire-gauge (for PSI's) and went to work.
MODEL REVIEWED: 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 4X4 Crew Cab
BASE PRICE: $43,615
Leather Seats: $500
Customer Preferred Package: $495
3.92 Ratio rear-axle $50
Anti-Spin (Limited-Slip) Differential: $325
Power Chrome Towing Side-Mirrors: $100
Power Sunroof: $995
32 Gallon Gas Tank: $75
UConnect NAV Package: $500
Park-Sense System: $250
Remote Engine Start: $200
Class IV Trailer-Hitch: $335
Bedliner Spray: $475
DESTINATION/FREIGHT: $995 (more than average, but this is a large, heavy vehicle).
LIST PRICE AS REVIEWED: $48,910
EXTERIOR COLOR: Black
INTERIOR: Beige Leather
DRIVETRAIN: On-Demand 4WD, Longitudinally-mounted 5.7L Hemi V8, 395 HP @5600 RPM, Torque 407 Ft-lbs. @ 3950 RPM, 6-speed auto-manual shift automatic transmission, Limited-Slip differential.
EPA MILEAGE RATING: 13 City, 19 Highway, 15 Combined
Very smooth ride by pick-up standards.
Ample power from the 5.7L Hemi.
4-cylinder-shutdown mode for cruising (but with limited effectiveness).
Reasonably quick steering response for a full-size truck.
Body-roll not as bad as expected.
Fairly good wind/road-noise control.
Good brakes by large-truck standards.
Standard dual hood-struts beats a prop-rod every time.
Smart-looking (IMO) exterior trim.
12 fairly nice (IMO) exterior paint colors offered.
Two-tone paint packages available on some models.
Nice smooth body-work/sheet metal.
Spray-on bedliner now a factory-option, not aftermarket-dealership.
Strong solid tailgate will (likely) resist damage from cargo-contents.
Somewhat glitzy but generally quite attractive Laramie-grade interior trim.
Well-shaped, comfortable-to-hold, heated steering wheel.
Well-done, easy-to-read complete gauge-package.
Nice stereo sound quality.
Good headroom/legroom in front.
Adjustable Ride-Height suspension option coming on later-production 2013 models.
A REAL spare tire and wheel.
5/100 Dodge drivetrain warranty (same as Chevy/GMC's) beats Ford's 5/60.
New 8-speed automatic transmission not available in V8 models (only the 3.6L Pentastar V6).
Quirky-operating auto-manual shift mode for the transmission.
Annoying (IMO) zig-zag shift-lever action.
Poor gas mileage (but that's to be expected with a large V8 truck)
Front and rear doors close with a somewhat tinny feel.
High step-up getting in and out (but running-boards are available).
Complex NAV/UConnect/GPS/stereo screen.
Some interior-hardware pieces with a tinny feel.
Rear headroom just adequate for tall people in Crew-Cab version.
No body-side mouldings for parking-lot protection.
Gas-flap does not lock.
Questionable long-term reliability.
Steep list prices on upmarket versions.
The 2013's exterior doesn't need a whole lot of new explanation.....it isn't really much different from the 2011/2012 models, short of some minor trim and detail changes. It's a handsome truck, IMO, and the same generally smart-looking trim is there as before, as are two-tone paint-jobs on some models. 12 different exterior paint colors are offered for 2013, several of which, IMO (especially the Copperhead Pearl) are quite nice. The bodywork and sheet metal feel smooth as silk, and the paint-work is also generally smooth and well-done, though the black on my test-truck had some minor but noticeable orange-peel. Since there were only a couple of 2013 models at that dealership, I also checked a couple of the 2012 models there for reference on different color-quality. The doors, though strong and solid themselves, have a somewhat light feel/sound when closed, which is defnitely not the case with the tailgate (I'll get to the tailgate later). There is no body side-moulding for parking-lot protection (come on, guys.....in an almost-50K truck?), although the truck sits so high off the ground that the large flange-mouldings along the bottom of the side-panels offer at least some protection. That tall ride-height, of course, though not a big deal with most younger people getting in and out, can make it a little stiff for those of us with aging legs and feet. As with most trucks, of course, running-boards are avalable to make the step-up a little easier. Though my legs and feet weren't born yesterday (a fact I'm reminded of every day) my 6" 2" height generally helps me up and down even without the running-boards.
Open up the large solid hood, and the standard dual gas-struts provided, IMO, beat a cheap manual prop-rod every time....especially on a high-opening hood like this. On the underside of the hood is a nice insulation pad (and it seems to work...more on that later). Full-size trucks, especially 4X4 ones like this, sit up so high that it is often difficult for someone, even of my 6' 2" height, to seeclearly over the fenders and grille down inside of them. But, from what I could tell, the engine-compartment itself is so big that the longitudinal 5.7L Hemi V8 easily fits in with no problem at all, even with some room to work on it, though the (unnecessary) plastic engine-cover limits some top-engine access, and the placement of the engine itself, somewhat high and back near the firewall, also hampers access from the front a little. It was a little difficult to tell where some of the dipsticks, fluid-reserviors, filler-caps, etc...were, because of the long stretch required to see over and down into the compartment.
As with the exterior, the interior of the 2013 Ram series doesn't need much additional explanation, either. There are a few minor changes, mainly in the center/lower-dash switchgear, but, in general, much of the 2011/2012 interior is carried forward. That's not to criticize it, though, because, especially with the Laramie and Longhorn trim-levels, the interior is quite ornate and impressive.....almost to the point of being glitzy. There is chrome-plated plastic, realistic-looking imitation brushed-metal, imitation (but good) wood-tone, nice leather-stitching, and a general upscale look all thoughout the cabin, though a few of the interior plastic trim-parts still have some of the old Dodge/Chrysler flimsy-feel to them. The comfortable leather seats (beige in my test-truck) had a nice leather-feel and stitching to them. The steering wheel was shaped nice, comfortable to hold, and its heater-element kept my pinkies warm on a cold (low 40s) and windy day....as the seat-heaters warmed my buns. I really liked the clear, simple complete gauge-package, which included the usual dials plus oil-pressure and ammeter (this complete gauge-coverage, IMO, should be standard on all new vehicles). There is ample headroom and legroom in front, even with the optional sunroof, for tall people my size....just adequate in back, where my cap slightly scraped the ceiling. The controls are generally well-done and fairly easy to use, though the NAV/GPS/climate-screen, as with most vehicles, was quite complex. And, even with the drivers' seat adjusted rather low, it was still rather difficult for my left-foot/knee to bend and reach the foot-brake pedal, under the dash.
My particular Crew-Cab truck appeared to have the 5' 7" bed (though I didn't actually measure it). 6' and 8' versions are also available on some models. A major switch this year, from past practice, is the spray-on bed-liner (something that I strongly recommend, especially if the truck is going to carry rough-edged, abrasive, or spill-prone cargo) done at the factory as a $475 option rather than aftermarket, at the dealership. They seem to do a nice job at the factory, with even application, a nice grippy surface-texture, and careful avoidance of of underspray/overspray. Consider it, IMO, money well-spent. As typical of American-designed/built pick-ups, the rear fender-liners (and especially the STRONG tailgate) seem beefy enough that they will not likely suffer much, if any, damage from the cargo-contents, as was the case with early 2Gen Toyota Tundras. As is also the case with many other trucks, a large number of both factory/dealer and aftermarket bed-accessories, tonneaus, covers, camper-shells, etc.....are offered. And, a nice pleasant surprise....guess with was mounted under the bed? Yep.....a REAL spare tire and wheel. Perhaps not really that big of a surprise, though, because off-road-rated trucks/SUVs seem to be the last holdout of new vehicles to come out of the factory with real spares. Apparantly the Roadside-Assistance people (usually AAA-contractors) don't want to head out too far into the rough when and if they get a call for a flat-tire.
ON THE ROAD:
On Laramie versions, one starts up the 5.7L Hemi with a simple push of a START/STOP button. The big engine fires up and idles smoothly and relatively quietly, though not quite to the hushed-idle level of a Lexus V8. On the road, at least some of the hype this engine gets in the auto-press seems justified. It remains smooth and refined (though sometimes with a slightly jumpy throttle from rest), with enough power to noticeably push you back in your seat, even on a vehicle this large and heavy and the additional weight/drag of AWD hardware. I wouldn't call it a drag-racer by any means, especially compared to its own Dodge Challenger/Charger R/T brothers with the same engine. But, especially by large-truck standards, it definitely has enough power to get out of its own way...which, of course, it will need when towing a heavy load in hilly terrain.
I was generally impressed with the smooth-shifting and versatile 6-speed automatic transmisson. It's too bad, though, that the even more-versatile 8-speed automatic is not (yet) available with truck V8s...you must stick with the 3.6L V6 to get the 8-speed. I was not impressed at all, though, with several different ways that the 6-speed automatic's shift-lever operated. First, there was the typically-Chrysler zig-zag front-to-rear pattern. Second, when you bump the lever left for manual-operation, it keeps
downshifting as long as you hold the lever still. In one case, It bumped almost immediately from 6th gear all the way to 1st in just a couple of seconds, without ever taking my hand off the lever....fortunately, the truck wasn't going very fast. Third, to get the system back in regular auto-drive from the manual-shift mode, you don't just bump the lever back a notch quickly like with most similiar systems.....you have to move the lever to the right and actually have to manually hold it there until the "D" appears n the shift-window. This quirky feature is new for 2013 (a significant change from previous versions), and, IMO, was not only unnecessary but definitely takes some getting used to. But, quirky-shifter aside, this is a competent, smooth, refined drivetrain that is quite pleasant on the road.
Even MORE pleasant than the drivetrain, IMO, is this truck's chassis, which brings us to what is probably the truck's single best feature.....a silky-smooth ride by truck-standards. Yes, some bumps are felt, but much less so than with most pick-ups. In fact, I've driven some so-called "luxury" cars (particularly some recent Infiniti G and M models) that had firmer, less-comfortable rides than the newer Rams. Steering-response is reasonably quick by truck standards (though you know you are not in a sports car) and with an also-reasonable amount of steering feel....in fact, the steering, unusual for an electric-assist unit, feels borderline heavy, which is the way I like it. Body-roll, of course, is present, but, again considering the weight and high center-of-gravity, is held in reasonably good check. Wind and road noise, though not library-quiet, are generally damped well. The brake pedal has a small amount of free-play/sponginess in the top half-inch or so of its travel (and a faint but audible hissing/scratching noise), but otherwise works well.........and my big size-15 circus-clown shoes didn't seem to get hung up on the edge of the pedal going from gas to brake, as with some vehicles. To say that Dodge engineers (by truck-standards), did a good job with this chassis is an understatement. And, to top it off, an even nicer chassis feature is coming on later-model 2013 Rams....an automatically adjustable suspension/ride-height system, similiar to the one found on top-level Lexus LX-570 SUVs.
As with the 2011/2012 models, congratulations, Dodge, for a nice job on the 2013 Ram. The smooth refined drivetrain (especially the Hemi), well-engineered chassis with remarkable ride-comfort and decent handling/brakes, slick paint-jobs, and (especially on the upmarket versions) ornate, coddling interior all speak for themselves. But, IMO, there are a couple of flies in the ointment as well. One, of course, is the upmarket versions (as with their Ford and Chevy competition), having empty-your-bank-account list prices. Second (also as with Ford and Chevy), is the average to worse-than-average reliability record according to Consumer Reports. Third (and one, IMO, that needs major work) is the Quirk-O-Matic shift lever that, in auto-manual mode, seems to have a mind of its own. But, for those buyers who plunk down the cash a Laramie costs (or perhaps even for a less-ornate, lower-priced version) and are willing to put up with the annoying shift-lever, it will be a pleasant way to Keep-on-Truckin'.
And, as always, Happy car (or, rather, truck) shopping.