Ram — Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles’ truck brand — extended their Middle East line-up for 2017 with the addition of the new Ram 1200 metric-ton pickup truck as well as several new trim levels of the existing Ram 1500 full-sizer. We got a taste of these new trucks at a recent event in Dubai, with a bit of offroading around the Bab Al Shams area.
Ever since Ram broke off from Dodge as a standalone brand, it’s been all about the 1500 and its heavy-duty derivatives and other countless variants. What the range lacked was a smaller pickup to go up against the Toyota Hilux, the Nissan Navara and of course the Mitsubishi L200.
The carmaker felt the need to have an offering in the working-class pickup segment here in the GCC, to build a full range of options as a truck-only brand. And thus the Ram 1200 was born, although it is clearly a rebadged version of the Thai-built Mitsubishi L200.
The Ram 1200 comes in both Single and Double Cab configurations, with three trim levels, 4×2 and 4×4, and three engine options: a 126 hp or 134 hp 2.5-litre diesel, or a 130 hp 2.4-litre petrol. A manual gearbox is standard for both diesel and petrol engines. An optional automatic transmission will also be available eventually.
We drove a double-cab 4×4 diesel variant with a manual gearbox. It was a work-spec truck, devoid of the optional stereo, but it did come with power windows and a/c.
It was expectedly slow, loaded up with three passengers, as all pickups in its class are, but the engine offers decent torque to get it moving from standstill, and the shifter-clutch combo is light and easy to use. Beyond first gear, the middle gears are rather tall and take a good while to reach the low redline, but this should aid fuel economy.
Interestingly, the ride was a bit choppy but far from unbearable, so it should make for less-stressful commutes for company drivers. The engine is loud on full throttle, but otherwise external noises are unnoticeable beyond the engine’s drone under 100 kph, after which wind noise becomes obvious.
We didn’t drive it offroad, aside from some flat sand areas and the gravel trail around Al Qudra lake, but it does come with low-range gearing and good ground clearance in 4×4 models, so it should manage construction-site visits easily.
On the other hand, the Ram 1500 is a luxury car, at least in the crewcab body styles. New crew-cab trim levels include the Express, the Sport and the Big Horn, while the Long Horn and the Limited now sit above the Laramie, while the single-cab version now comes in Express, Big Horn and Sport trims, aside from any dealer-modified special editions. Below the Express, the existing basic ST and SLT models are also continuing. The Ram Rebel crew-cab model will come in August this year.
There’s a few things you should know. Now that the Laramie isn’t the top model any more, it loses features such as the adjustable air suspension, which are now found in the Limited and Long Horn models. While most of the trim levels come with metal bumpers with prominent front tow hooks, the Express and the Sport come with plastic body-coloured bumpers with no tow hooks in the front.
Higher-spec models such as the Sport, Limited and Long Horn also get HID headlights. Most models come with a UConnect multimedia touchscreen, rotary-dial gear selector, 20-inch alloys and front bucket seats, but the lower-spec trims come with seating for three in the front, 17-inch wheels and a basic stereo.
The Express single-cab can be had in 4×2 form, but the rest are all 4×4 with low-range gearing as standard. All models get the 5.7-litre “Hemi” V8 and an 8-speed automatic. Mated to a smart gearbox, it’s a potent engine, even if a bit lazy at the low end compared to more modern direct-injection V8 motors. It feels more powerful in the single-cab models than in the crew-cab, obviously due to the difference in weight.
We drove a single-cab Big Horn and a crew-cab Laramie offroad. The Laramie can manage dune-bashing with a bit of care, although on extreme slopes, the front bumper digs into the sand, while the long wheelbase almost got us beached at the peak of a dune, which we got out of only using sheer V8 power before it settled in. In contrast, the Big Horn was rather good fun on the dunes, hopping over dunes easily thanks to its lighter weight and shorter wheelbase.
On the road, the situation is a bit different, as the 4-door Laramie rides better than the 2-door Big Horn. The single-cab truck’s unloaded rear can hop rather prominently over jittery surfaces, which the crew-cab model overcomes more easily. Otherwise, the Ram 1500 is a reasonably calm cruiser, and cylinder-deactivation occurs seamlessly to save fuel at constant highway speeds.
The Ram 1200 has quite the uphill battle to make its mark in the super-competitive small pickup market. But the several new variations of the Ram 1500 are a welcome addition to spice up a model line that was getting a big stagnant, and it remains a desirable product.
For prices and specs, visit the Ram buyer guide.
Photos by Fiat-Chrysler Middle East.