– Massive presence
– Cabin space and features
– Fairly comfortable ride
– Massive size
– Fuel economy as expected
– High step-on height
It’s not often that we get to drive a pickup truck. Of course, it doesn’t help matters that only three carmakers sell pickups here of the kind that can be driven daily, and aren’t just cheap workhorses. Incidentally, all three are American, and all three pitch their full-size “1500” series trucks as “lifestyle” vehicles. The formerly-Dodge-but-now-just Ram 1500 is one of them.
If it weren’t for the pickup bed in the back, our Ram Laramie tester would just be any other well-kitted full-size SUV, with its aggressive front end, four doors, two-tone paintjob and 20-inch chrome wheels. By all counts, it is a massive vehicle, and if you’re under 7 feet all, you’ll look like you’re trying to compensate for your size when climbing into this thing with a rope, as side-steps aren’t standard. We’ve driven one before with side-steps, but this particular car didn’t have any.
Inside, the Ram easily has the best interior in its class. While the “others” simply have a hard-plastic cabin with leather seats, the Ram actually has a padded leatherette dash, as well as padded armrests, soft-touch front door trim and bits of faux wood. There’s no soft-touch on the rear doors, but all three rear passengers still get individual headrests.
Interior space is immense, naturally. The barely-bolstered front seats are spacious, maybe even too big for us small people. But you’ll be forced to sit upright if you want to reach the controls. We set the seats high to see over the bonnet, but still managed to reach the power-adjustable pedals, though the driving position isn’t really that relaxing. The rear has ample legroom and an upright seatback, with just enough headroom. People up front get six cup-holders while the rear gets four, and there is a huge tub under the centre armrest to hold many more cans of beer for that deer-hunting trip in the forest. And if that weren’t enough, there is a cooled compartment on top of the glove-box to store maybe six more cans of beverage. And there are several hideaway cubbies under the rear seats and floor. And two optional lockable boxes on either side of the cargo bed. And the bed itself can hold like two ponies in the back. And there’s even an optional bed-extender so you can put down the tailgate and make a longer floor. That’s all you really need to run a ranch, though stepping onto that bed is impossible if you’re short.
Unfortunately we have absolutely nothing to carry except groceries, so we had to keep ourselves busy with the nifty gadgetry, such as the little voice-controllable touchscreen thingy that can store your Country music, play the radio, connect your Bluetooth phone, or have a woman give you directions. The Alpine CD/MP3/USB stereo is decent, with rear roof speakers even, while the dual-zone a/c with rear vents is fine usually, but can take a long while to cool if left out in the sun. There’s a rear camera to look at stuff behind you. All the usual power accessories are there, including cooled electric front seats and a sunroof, and there’s even a small opening power-window in the rear glass, should you want to talk to your workers sitting in the cargo bed, the ones who will not benefit from the front-side airbags.
Powered by a juicy 5.7-litre “Hemi” V8, it churns out 390 hp at 5600 rpm and 551 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm, it pulls well and sounds great. Mated to a 6-speed automatic, we managed a 0-100 kph time of 8.6 seconds during our hot June test with barely 1000 km on the odo, although we tested a similar higher-mileage truck earlier in the winter and got a time of 7.9 seconds. Helped by a cylinder-deactivation system, our fuel consumption was 17.2 litres/100 km; high, but not particularly bad for such a big truck, as we’ve driven Chevy SUVs that are thirstier.
What surprised us about the Laramie is the handling. It is still a bit lumpy, and grip limits aren’t very high, but body control is rather good with smooth steering inputs, and body roll is never enough to make you feel like you’re driving the Titanic. You can likely out-handle all sorts of smaller SUVs, like the Chevy Tahoe Z71 or the Toyota Land Cruiser GX-R. The Ram 1500 is the only pick-up to offer coil-spring rear suspension, and it no doubt helps a lot here, though admittedly at the cost of payload capacity compared to an Ford F-150 in certain configurations.
Of course, few owners of such luxury trucks actually care about cargo capacity, as funny as that sounds. No, they’re more focused on ride comfort, and the Ram largely delivers. It is very quiet inside, which is a feat considering how big that boxy front-end is. Wind noise only creeps in at 120 kph, while the ride itself is smooth most of the time, with only certain road surfaces occasionally pointing out its truck base with a mild jitter.
However, don’t trick yourself into thinking this is an easy-to-drive vehicle. The steering is light, but lacks feel. The brakes are decent, but stopping distances are longer than most smaller cars. And responses to manual inputs via the shifter aren’t instant. But the biggest issue is its size. This truck is massive, longer than any SUV, and just as wide. Slipping into certain mall parking-spaces can take ages, and once done, you’ll barely be able to open the doors if there’s other SUVs parked next to it. Our truck even had optional extra-wide side-mirrors to eliminate blind-spots, which were awesome on the highway, but could knock out pedestrians on narrow streets.
As for off-road capabilities, it’s got the meaty tyres, it’s got the aggressive 275/60 tyres, the low-range gearing, the ground clearance and the power. But it’s long and heavy, so tackling dunes and treading sinkholes aren’t as effortless as they’d be with, say, a Nissan Xterra. Still, it manages well and is certifiable as an offroad-capable vehicle. We even threw it on gravel trails in rear-wheel-drive mode and kicked up some powersliding dust.
The Ram is the kind of vehicle that you come to love rather quickly. It is terribly impractical, fairly thirsty and totally unnecessary, but it’s got truckloads of character and drives better than expected. With a fully-loaded price that’s lower than that of an ultra-basic Toyota Land Cruiser, the amount of metal you get is ridiculously generous, as is the public attention from admirers and tree-huggers.
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