LIVING THE DREAM | UTE Review – RAM 1500

How does the RAM 1500 compare with the 2500 in the choice of petrol V8 versus diesel straight six? 

Delivery and its sister heavy truck publication PowerTorque have been involved in analysis of the RAM Trucks model line-up since the idea of creating an official brand presence was first discussed at the headquarters of the Ateco group. With a long history of evaluating commercial vehicles, our writers have built a significant level of experience of the market, offering unique insights into what is viable or, in some cases, not viable at all, for Australian buyers.

The marketing of commercial vehicles is very different from the passenger car market. Commercial vehicles have to perform a function, and in many instances are expected to show a return on investment. Even what might be considered a basic tweak can sometimes make the difference between instant acceptance by the buying public, or a lack of interest in showroom traffic.

The Ateco Group is the sole authorised importer and distributor for the Australian and New Zealand markets, with each model imported directly in left-hand-drive and then remanufactured to right-hand-drive on a purpose-built production line in Melbourne. These RAM Trucks are produced with full volume import approval, meaning they are fully compliant with all Australian Design Rules and benefit from being sold and supported by an Australian and New Zealand-wide dealer network.

Until the creation of RAM Trucks Australia, private buyers could only purchase vehicles through independent importers controlled by stringent quotas, who subsequently undertook a conversion to right-hand-drive either in Australia, or in some instances the Philippines or New Zealand. In our experience, the conversion quality was often limited by a restricted cost on development, with subsequent quality control and durability issues in the finished product.

The difference with the RAM Trucks Australia product is well illustrated by the use of the term “remanufacturing” rather than “conversion”. Everything involved in the remanufacturing process has been developed by a highly qualified engineering team and then validated to the same standards as those of a typical research and development group working within the confines of the vehicle manufacturer.

Each RAM model remanufactured to suit the Australian market features between 350 and 400 new parts, the majority of which are Australian-produced. Local companies involved in parts supply for RAM Trucks include Socobell, which produces the all-new dashboard, and Hi-Spec Australia for brake line components, air conditioning lines and high- and low-pressure fluid transfer hoses and tubing. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles LLC and, in particular, the RAM International team, have also provided invaluable support and assistance, as has AusIndustry in its programme to assist companies and staff as other car makers ceased Australian production.

Alex Stewart, General Manager of RAM Trucks Australia, explains: “The entire RAM Trucks project was set up, engineered, designed and developed in Australia by Australian experts. It shows what this country is capable of and how we can produce a world-class product.

“In short, it is clearly something of which everyone involved should be extremely proud and which, in the form of the RAM 1500, 2500 and 3500, has provided Australians with a new and unique choice when it comes to vehicle buying.”

The introduction of volume production and on-line manufacturing techniques have brought down the cost of owning an American-styled ute quite substantially. At the same time, the rise in the pricing of highly specified Japanese-styled utes to levels around $75,000 to $85,000, has reduced the gap, with the pricing structure increasing some examples to well over $100,000.

A major factor in favour of optioning up to a RAM is the ability to tow 4500 kg trailers. This legalises the towing of caravans, boats and horse floats that collectively exceed the standard ute manufacturers’ average weight limits of 3000 to 3500 kg.

Police forces and state motor vehicle registration authorities are increasingly concerned over the number of motorists towing trailers that exceed the legal limit for the towing vehicle. It becomes a matter of safety, not only for the driver and passengers of the towing vehicle, but for all other road users with which the illegal combination shares the road.  The situation now is that on-the-spot inspections are resulting in hefty fines for those thinking the regulations don’t apply to them.

Such is the rapid acceptance of the RAM brand that the production line at the company’s Melbourne manufacturing facility in Clayton South is now operating 24 hours a day, five days a week.

The new production line is 130 metres long and 21 vehicles are worked on simultaneously, with less than 24 hours needed for each vehicle to run the length of the production line. Total production has jumped to an expected 16 vehicles per day coming off the production line in order to satisfy the ever increasing demand for an alternative to the now highly priced Japanese styled ute.

“This is not just great news for RAM, it is also a fantastic achievement for the Australian automotive industry and shows the world our automotive and engineering industry is open for business,” says Stewart.

Having experienced a RAM 2500 at first-hand through running it on the Delivery and PowerTorque vehicle fleet for 18 months and 50,000 km, we’ve established the typical operating costs for the 6.7-litre Cummins-powered 2500 (See Part 2 of this feature). Now it’s time to create some quantifiable data covering the 5.7-litre petrol V8 to provide assistance to those considering the latest RAM addition to the range in the form of a 1500 Dual Cab or Laramie.

Fresh on our vehicle fleet is a RAM 1500 Laramie from Alan Mance RAM of Footscray, in Melbourne’s west. The plan was to arrive at 3.30pm but due to aircraft delays in Brisbane it was 7.30 pm before we arrived, with the aim of heading straight off to Sydney then north to Airlie Beach the following day. It says a lot for the enthusiasm of the dealership that RAM Trucks sales specialist Leo Parisi was prepared to wait patiently and complete an effective and comprehensive handover of the vehicle before he headed off to join his family for a late dinner.

Straight into the 1500, and with the Laramie cab the initial feeling was that everything was similar to the 2500 Laramie − just more compact, due to the lower overall height and 200 mm shorter overall length.

RAM Boxes, plus a tri-fold tonneau cover, are a unique part of the RAM spec and provide a genuine advantage with space for shopping, tools and emergency gear within easy reach by opening the side lockers. Another plus is the rear cargo barrier that can be used to separate sections of the cargo area or extend the deck length out to the edge of the tailgate when opened, capturing the load and preventing it from moving.

With a tare weight of around 2650 kg, the 1500 Laramie is basically 1000 kg lighter than our 2500 Laramie, 200mm shorter and slightly narrower through a lack of necessity for wheel arch extensions. It shows its svelte ability by being more responsive off the mark, thanks to the characteristics of its 5.7-litre petrol V8 and an overall lighter feel.

There’s no commonality in chassis design between the 1500 and 2500, but the cabin is identical in the Laramie versions. The dual cab Express option on the 1500 is shorter in depth (mainly between the ‘B’ and ‘C’ pillars) and lacks items such as leather seats and other high-end equipment inclusions.  The lighter 1500 has a bed length of 1712 mm, and a height to the roof of 1917 mm. The 2500 dimensions come in at an increased bed length of 1939 mm, a width of 2009 mm and a roof height of 1974 mm.

The big appeal of the RAM comes for those wanting to take a legal and safer approach to towing. If you tow a big, and I mean ‘BIG’, boat then you’ll probably be doing so with a pintle hook connection where you can take advantage of a towing capability of 11,432 kg with the 2500 and, as mentioned, the conventional towball connectivity along with a commitment to a 50mm ball for 3500kg  and a 70mm ball for towing 4500kg.

If you want to hit the 4500 kg towing mark with the 1500 you’ll need to spec up for the higher (numerically) diff ratio of 3.92:1. If you are not going to tow over the 3500 kg limit you’ll be opting for the 3.21:1 ratio diff that will improve fuel economy by a claimed 2.3 L/100 km for the combined cycle at 9.9 L/100 km versus 12.2 L/100 km. In our first introduction to the 1500, we ran up the Hume Highway from Melbourne to Sydney returning 12.0 L/100 km. The subsequent trip from Sydney to Airlie Beach returned 11.2 L/100 km. The total journey distance was 2771 km with an average journey speed of 91 km/h.

At this point we need to reaffirm that although the 1500 can be rated to tow at the same weight as the 2500, there’s a real difference in the construction of each model. Although both feature a tow haul option to alter the shift ratio patterns through the automatic transmissions (six-speed on the 2500 and eight ratios on the 1500), only the 6.7-litre diesel can offer the benefit of an exhaust brake to control downhill speed independently of the service brake system. If you are shifting big weights, it’s a great benefit to have on board. The additional tare weight of the 2500, or its larger stablemate the 3500, does enable a towing combination to sit better on the highway.

Stay with us over coming issues for more details on our evaluation of the 1500 as we settle in to a brand that has the ability to significantly shake up the existing competition with higher specifications and greater appeal.

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