BIG TRUCK TIME | UTE Review – RAM 1500

Warren Caves take his first drive of the RAM 1500 – Photography by Torque it Up

Despair not lovers of the V8 ute rumble, or trucks as they are more commonly known in their country of origin, Ram Trucks Australia has got you covered,

Following on from the release of the 2500 and 3500 series of Ram Trucks (not Dodge, as the affiliation with Dodge ended circa 2009), the 1500 series is set to send waves of excitement through the ranks of V8 petrol engine lovers all over.

The smaller sibling of the larger models, the 1500 is a little smaller in stature and lower on the kilograms than its big brothers, which may well see this model gain broader appeal in the market by not scaring off buyers who think they may need to slip on a blue singlet and stubbies to take the wheel.

Powered by a 5.7-litre Hemi V8 engine, Ram Trucks is defying the mainstream trend of downsizing engines in the never-ending quest for fuel economy and lower emissions. The winners here are those among us that live by the mantra of there’s no substitute for cubic inches.

My first introduction to test drive the new V8 Ram 1500 at the Ram Trucks press drive event was to be held in Bathurst, NSW.

With visions of driving a V8 at break-neck speed around a closed off Mt. Panorama circuit, I jumped at the chance. Sadly, the guys from Ram Trucks obviously didn’t cough up enough cash for Bathurst council to close off the circuit (much to my disappointment), which left our drive program to the rural public roads of the Bathurst, Wattle Flat and Oberon areas, with a private property, light off-road jaunt thrown in.

Ram Trucks Australia’s media and public relations consultant, Edward Rowe, explains that the production of the Australian Ram Truck is a lot more than just a right-hand drive conversion process.

“We are remanufacturing to Australian standards more than converting. Our Melbourne facility is utilising skills and labour from a workforce of ex-car industry professionals, displaced by outgoing Australian manufacturing companies. For example, our dashboards are produced by the same company that produced dashes for Toyota,” said Edward.

Ram Trucks are imported and have the cabs completely stripped and removed from the chassis, with new firewalls manufactured for RHD orientation. The chassis is reworked for the new steering componentry, before the chassis and the cabs are remarried and completed in RHD orientation.

The finished product is an Australian complied, full volume import status vehicle.

There are two variants of the Ram 1500, the Express Quad Cab and the top-of-the-line Laramie Crew Cab.

The Express is the entry-level model with a slightly reduced distance between the B and C pillars than the Laramie, facilitating a longer tray. The Express tray length is 1700 mm, while the Laramie is 1930 mm long.

Sure to be popular are the optional RamBoxes, which are sealed and lockable (including from the main remote) storage boxes located in the unused space in the tub outskirts. Fitted with drain plugs, the boxes can even be utilised as ice boxes to keep your beer cold.

A cargo bed divider and extension system are also available to make use of the full tray length for cargo with the tailgate down.

From the outside, the first thing noticed was the 1500’s size. It was not as daunting as you might expect from an American-based design ute (sorry, truck), at just 600 mm longer than a Toyota double-cab ute, 800 mm longer than a 200-Series wagon and just 50 mm wider than the 200-Series, the 1500 Ram offers a whole lot in comparison.

Compared to the larger 2500-Series truck, the 1500 is shorter, lower and lighter. Shorter by 213 mm, lower by 49 mm and lighter by 927 kg – a dimensional downsizing that places the truck neatly in the recreational market sector.

In a move more associated with truck sales, Ram offers the choice of two different axle ratios. The Laramie has the option of either a 3.21:1 or a 3.92:1 ratio depending on the intended use of the vehicle, while the Express is only available with the 3.21 ratio. It’s also worth noting that the chosen ratio impacts on towing and weight limits for the vehicle. The 4500 kg towing capacity only relates to the Express, and the Laramie fitted with 3.92:1 differential, while 3.21 ratio vehicles are reduced to a towing capacity of 3500 kg, on a 50 mm tow ball, and a GCM of 6261 kg. For the purpose of this article we will focus on the 3.92 ratio vehicles.

With towing capacities of up to 4500 kg (on a 70 mm tow ball) and a GCM (gross combination mass) of 7237 kg, legal towing limits can be easily abided by for most applications including the magic 3500 kg caravan.

In layman’s terms, this means that you could, theoretically, load the 2650 kg kerb weight Ram 1500 with its 850 kg rated payload in the tray, couple a 3500 kg trailer to the back and come in at 7000 kg, 237 kg under its maximum GCM, although the tow ball weight needs to come off the GVM (3450), which, if it’s 200 kg, you would only get 650 kg in the tray. Still impressive by any standard in this market sector. I’m sure some four-cylinder dual-cab utes on the road could do this same equation and come up with figures well and truly in the red.

Customers in the market for a tow vehicle are well and truly in the target of the Ram 1500. A heavy-duty towbar is standard equipment, as is the integrated, dash-mounted trailer brake control, easily operated by driver or passenger, with displays of current trailer settings in the main instrument cluster, the system also recognises when a trailer is attached to optimise engine and transmission behaviour to suit.

Upon sitting in the 1500 Laramie, immediately noticeable is the abundant space, wide leather heated seating, the steering wheel is also heated, large centre console with enclosed and open space for personal items. The dash layout is clean and clear from obstruction, and all switching is ergonomic and comes easily to hand. The steering wheel has height adjustment but lacks telescopic adjustment. Seating position is by way of electric seat adjustments of fore and aft travel and height. Seating in the rear of the Laramie was generous in proportion, with ample legroom for even the tallest passengers, and the seat back had a considerable slope rearward, something not seen in the dual cab ute competition. Although the Express, which we did not get to sit in, may have a more confined seating environment due to the shorter cab.

The 8.4-inch UCONNECT 3 unit (5-inch in the Express) featured a premium Alpine sound system coupled to ten speakers and sub-woofer under the rear seat, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone control, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

A gentle push of the start button, urged into life the 5.7-litre V8 Hemi engine with a burble, thanks in part to the dual exhaust system (a sports system is available as an option).

With a 291 kW rating at 5600 rpm and 556 Nm of torque at 3950 rpm, the 1500 V8 was never going to be a slouch. With competing current dual-cab utes in the market sporting outputs of 120-190 kW, albeit mostly in diesel form, performance is market leading.

What does remain to be seen is whether or not potential buyers are willing to invest in a big petrol V8 for towing purposes with the fuel usage costs as a consideration. Average fuel economy figures stated by Ram Trucks for a combined cycle are 9.9 l/100 km for the 3.21 axle ratio vehicles and 12.2 l/100 km for the 3.92 models. This has been influenced by a couple of unique technologies employed by Ram.

The 5.7 V8 utilises fuel-saver technology by way of shutting off four cylinders when conditions of low load are identified, marked by a green eco light in the main dash display. The cylinders are shut off in a programmed alternating sequence to maintain even engine temperatures across the engine block and eliminating any cold or hot spots that could adversely affect the engines structural integrity.

Also helping to provide optimal engine temperature control is the active grille shutters, which open and close automatically depending on climatic and load conditions to enable faster engine warm up and maintaining of engine temp by opening or closing to suit. This feature is more commonly used in extremely cold climates, but fuel efficiency gains can also be made. Additionally, the active shutters, when closed, redirect air-flow around the vehicle and over the bonnet, further enhancing efficiency.

On the road, the power and torque were terribly under-utilised running empty, and reaching posted speed limits was an effortless task. The eight-speed automatic transmission was smooth and precise with changes crisp. With the transmissions seventh and eighth gears being overdriven, the tachometer sat on an unlaborious 1500 rpm at 100 km/h.

Handling and cornering for this large vehicle with a long wheelbase was not unruly, in fact it was a bit of a surprise. The coil springs on all four corners provided a pleasant ride on 20-inch wheels. Only on two occasions did a small amount of tail-whip occur – once on a gravel section of road induced by an empty tray and corrugations, and once on the bitumen when pushed into a right-hand corner that dropped away a little on the left side; however, the vehicle self-corrected quickly without fuss.

Our off-road course was fairly sedate and handled easily, four-wheel-drive is controlled via the dash-mounted switches for 2WD, 4WD auto, which senses drive and load and adjusts from front to rear-drive bias as needed, 4WD lock (like a centre diff lock) and 4WD low.

In standard form, ground clearance is not great for serious off-roading, although a factory supplied two-inch lift kit is available.

Braking from the four-wheel disc brakes, with twin piston callipers on the front and single callipers on the rear incorporating, ABS, EBD and trailer sway control as standard, was reassuring and efficient, which is to be expected from an empty vehicle capable of rolling down the road at 7237 kg.

In summary, the Ram 1500 seems to be a really capable tow package without stretching itself to or above its limits. Power is on-tap when needed and ride and noise levels are great, I could easily see myself touring all day long in this truck without a problem.

The results will be tested by consumer acceptance of the V8 petrol engine and real-world fuel efficiency figures, particularly when towing. For those who might like something a bit more frugal at the bowser, the 1500 will in the near future be available with a VM Motori sourced, 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, but of course then you’d have to sacrifice that V8 rumble, now there’s a dilemma!

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