published Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Test Drive: Ram 1500 snags North American Truck of the Year award

This Dodge Ram 1500 test truck from Crown Dodge has a host of improvements for 2013. 
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
This Dodge Ram 1500 test truck from Crown Dodge has a host of improvements for 2013. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x2

Exterior color: Deep Cherry Red Crystal

Interior color: Canyon Brown

Engine: 5.7 liter, Hemi V-8

Horsepower: 395

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 20 mpg highway, 14 mpg city

Dealer: Crown Chattanooga

Price (as tested): $48,465

When automotive journalists voted on the North American Truck/Utility of the Year earlier this month in Detroit, the retooled Ram 1500 took top honors.

To see what all the fuss is about, we asked Crown Chattanooga to let us test drive a top-of-the-line Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab with a beastly 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine.

Bragging rights are a big deal in the full-size truck segment, especially as home construction picks up -- a traditional bell-weather of rising truck sales. Ram will no doubt use the Truck of the Year award to highlight its substantially upgraded 2013 pickup.

STYLING AND FEATURES

Any analysis of Ram 1500 upgrades starts with an innovative air-suspension system which actually allows the driver to lower the truck at highways speeds to improve fuel consumption. The new suspension, a $1,595 option on our test truck, results in a plush ride that makes you forget that you're driving a big pickup.

Upgraded interior materials give the improved Ram 1500 a more carlike cabin. Our test car was equipped with leather seat surfaces, a $500 option. Front seats provide ventilation or heat on demand, and our tester came with a heated steering wheel -- a real luxury on a cold mid-January day.

A huge center storage compartment includes a padded leather lid that lends to the upscale feel of the cabin. Analog gauges are well arranged and a 8.4-inch mid-dash touch screen consolidates a sound system, communication functions, a standard back-up camera and optional navigation functions.

Our tester was a Crew Cab and the second row seats are spacious and conceal storage bins for easy packing. Rear seats are heated, as well. In Crew Cab trim the truck bed is 5-feet 7-inches.

Other nice features on our Cherry Red test vehicle include keyless entry, power adjustable pedals, a 10-way power driver's seat, fog lamps and wood-grain dash accents.

Although the exterior is relatively unchanged for 2013, it nonetheless has the massive presence drivers expect from a full-size truck.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Although a new eight-speed automatic transmission is available on the 2013 Ram 1500, our Hemi V-8 test truck came equipped with a six-speed version -- which shifted smoothly during our short test drive but probably sacrificed a bit of fuel economy.

The big V-8 has an appropriately throaty growl and plenty of grunt, boasting 395 horsepower. Dodge says the Hemi-equipped Ram 1500 will tow up to 11,500 pounds.

Fuel economy with the V-8 engine option is 20 mpg highway and 14 mpg city. This best-in-class fuel economy is accomplished with cylinder shut-off technology which drops to four-cylinder power during highway cruising. The switch is nearly imperceptible and boosts fuel economy up to 20 percent.

BOTTOM LINE

If you're looking for a work truck that you can also drive to church and take on family vacations, the Ram 1500 Crew Cab hits the bull's-eye. It's combination of brawn and luxury cuts across several segments, which is why auto-writers gave it one of the most prestigious awards of the year.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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