Ram looks to lure more first-time truckers with lux, efficiency
Since its 2009 model-year launch, the current Ram has very gradually increased its share of the full-size truck market from 16 to 22 percent. Half-ton pickup buyers are fiercely loyal, and indeed no other manufacturer has seen fluctuations of more than a couple percent during that time, which suggests that Ram is growing by snagging first-time truck buyers. It makes sense that the truck with the most carlike ride might attract unbiased folks moving out of cars or crossovers, so for 2019 Ram is amping up the comfort, efficiency, and luxury of its 1500 models to keep those newcomers coming.
Headline upgrades include 48-volt mild hybridization, a claim to the longest and strongest chassis, and class-leading 0.357 Cd aerodynamics. Will this be enough to continue attracting new blood in the face of a recently refreshed 2018 Truck of the Year–winning Ford F-150, an anticipated all-new Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra duo expected in 2019, and a renewed Toyota Tundra arriving shortly thereafter?
Let’s start with what’s not new: the interior window switches, the pickup box floor stampings, and some fasteners. Although the gasoline powertrains mostly carry over, the Pentastar V-6 and Hemi V-8 engines both employ fancy new eTorque starter/generators that store deceleration energy in a 0.43-kW-hr battery pack. The energy is then fed back to the powertrain in such a way as to optimize fuel economy—like helping sustain a cruising speed without downshifting or reverting from four- to eight-cylinder mode. More than 40 shift maps allow the eight-speed transmission and the eTorque motors to cooperate to wring every possible mile from a gallon of gas. The V-6’s unit is water-cooled and contributes 12 hp and 90 lb-ft; the V-8’s is air-cooled and delivers 16 hp and 130 lb-ft. These motors start the engine in 0.55 second after an auto stop, and they’re used on initial starts except in cold conditions, when a conventional starter does the job.
Two more novel fuel-economy boosters: A heater/cooler for the rear differential oil in rear-drive trucks enables the use of lighter-weight lower-friction oil, and a pair of active mass dampers on the frame cancel vibration so the Hemi can lug a bit more in cylinder deactivation mode without anyone feeling it. The ultimate fuel-saver, an EcoDiesel V-6, arrives later in 2019 without eTorque mild hybridization (that same engine in the new Wrangler produces a Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel-besting 260 hp and 442 lb-ft).
Let’s talk chassis: The entirely new, 98 percent high-strength-steel ladder frame features a taller, narrower boxed cross-section that improves bending strength. Octagonal-section front frame-rail extensions are mandrel-bent and welded into that shape from tailor-rolled sheet steel that varies from 3 to 2 mm thick going forward to ensure they crumple. These octo-rails splay outward to capture small-offset crash forces. Despite a 4-inch wheelbase stretch (to a claimed longest in class), the new frame dropped 100 pounds (45 kg) for a 17 percent weight savings. Max payload increases by 420 pounds (190 kg) to 2,300 (1,043 kg), and towing capacity increases from 10,650 to 12,700 pounds (4,830 to 5,760 kg). (That beats Chevy, Nissan, and Toyota but falls short of Ford’s 3,270 and 13,200 (1,456 and 5,987 kg) ratings.)
Other chassis upgrades include a novel upper control arm made of reinforced nylon molded around a steel stamping. It doesn’t save weight, but it efficiently adds the strength needed to permit a 22-inch wheel option on 4×4 models. New frequency-response dampers from Hitachi—a Ram exclusive feature—greatly improve ride quality, especially on high-frequency chatter bumps. (Rebels still get off-road-optimized reservoir shocks.) New variable-rate rear coil springs help comfortably shoulder heavy loads without bottoming out.
Available off-road options include an electronic-locking rear differential and unique rear-axle-locating geometry to raise the coil-spring suspension’s ride height by an inch. This setup becomes standard on Rebel models, lowering the entry cost relative to the 2018 model with standard air ride. Upsizing the base wheel from 17 to 18 inches allows the front brakes to grow from 13.2 to 14.9 inches in diameter, which shaves a claimed 7 feet from the 60–0-mph stopping distance. (We’ve measured 122 to 138 feet.)
That claimed class-leading aero figure—a 9 percent improvement over the current generation—is due primarily to a new active front air dam that lowers 2.7 inch at speeds above 35 mph (56 km/h) and rises again below 15 mph (24 km/h). It’s standard on all coil-sprung Rams except Rebels and those with the Off-Road package. Raising the sides of the bed by 1.3 inches and sculpting a vortex-generator into the center of the trailing edge of the roof to manage airflow over the truck helped considerably (and gave Ram the largest standard box capacity). The HFE fuel-economy-special model adds flatter, smoother wheels and air-damming running boards that span between the front and rear tires.
Another 100 pounds (45 kg) came out of the body, thanks to clever hydroforming of the front upper crash rails and tailgate surround structure and use of aluminum for the hood and tailgate (the latter saving 15 pounds (6.8 kg)). Speaking of the tailgate, it offers electric release, a tailgate-ajar warning, damped lowering from any height, and assist with lifting. Added content like this conspires to limit net weight reduction to about 130 pounds (59 kg)—not bad for a cab body that’s said to measure roughly 4 inches longer and a half inch wider and lower.
Ram is parting with a few storied design icons for 2019. Gone is the cross-hair grille, replaced by seven designs featuring a revised Ram wordmark in the center, most of which are offered in multiple finishes. The ram’s head logo, which dates to 1981, gets updated to a more angular look and now adorns the tailgate of all but the Rebel model, which retains the giant wordmark.
The low-fender/high-hood big-rig look is only hinted at now—the fender gets taller and narrower and the hood bulge widens. Oh, and those tacked-on fender flares that adorn over half of all Rams are tacked on more robustly to reduce car-wash warranty claims. And hallelujah! Ram has ditched the metal mast radio antenna most pickups still employ.
Six price classes plus HFE are now offered: Tradesman, Big Horn, Rebel, Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited. These are amply differentiated, thanks to three headlamp and taillamp designs, the aforementioned array of grilles, 15 wheel designs spanning 18-inch steel through 22-inch aluminum (all of which now attach with six bolts, up from five), and the choice of chrome, blackout, or body color for various trim pieces. Also new: Sport (body color trim) and Black appearance packages are available across nearly all of the lower price classes instead of occupying a single rung on the price ladder. Speaking of ladders, a motorized running board is now available.
New electrical architecture brings all the expected safety gear, including available adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind-spot detection with trailer sensing, and 360-degree camera view. Parallel and perpendicular parking assistance is offered, but trailer-backing assistance is not. Ram expects to achieve best-in-class safety ratings.
Interior space, comfort, and noise levels will all take a big step forward in 2019, we’re assured. On crew cab models, the aforementioned 4-inch stretch amounts to an extra inch in the front and rear doors plus 2 inches behind the rear door. (The eTorque battery and a subwoofer reside behind the rear seat.) The rear floor is now completely flat and features four tie-down rings and in-floor stowage bins that are enlarged to fit the receiver drop hitch. The seat bottom flips up as before to facilitate carrying large items indoors. Beneath it is a 1.4-cubic-foot storage area (twice as big as before) that can now accommodate rifles or fishing rods. On upper trim models, the rear cushion can slide forward 3.1 inches, reclining the backrest 8 degrees in the process. The entire center third of the seat back folds down as an armrest and cupholders, forming both a more comfy armrest and a better third-passenger backrest.
All of the price classes look classier, with even the cloth or vinyl-lined Tradesman variants getting some contrast stitching and a 3.5-inch color driver-information screen in the cluster. These bench-seat models get a three-point center front seat belt for 2019. Big Horn models add the option of two-tone interior trim. Rebels get red anodized trim and other red accents, seats with inserts patterned after its new Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tire tread, and a larger 7.0-inch info screen in the cluster. Laramie leather seats get suede bolster inserts, and Longhorn models add filigree accents in the leather and wood trim.
The Limited trim is what happens when a company has no Imperial sedan with which to separate rich folks from big money. The wood veneers have argent stripes laminated in, and there’s all sorts of fancy embroidery. Leather covers the dash, console sides, and seat backs, and the navy blue and “frost” two-tone leather treatment would suit Aston Martin’s first pickup truck. These trucks reportedly offer more real wood, leather, and metal trim than any other. And between acoustic-laminated glass and active noise cancelation on all models, Ram claims this will be the market’s quietest truck. So much the better to enjoy the top 900-watt 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
A choice of three touchscreen infotainment systems is offered—two 8.4-inch versions (with and without navigation) and a fabulous 12-inch one that seems to split the difference between Volvo’s Sensus and Tesla’s Model S screens (see sidebar). Naturally there’s onboard Wi-Fi served up by a dedicated SIM card that comes with a 12-month “free trial” and five USB ports—four of which incorporate a forthcoming Type C format slot (FCA will be first to market with this) and three of which can contribute content to the Uconnect system.
The front console offers a smartphone/tablet docking slot with Qi wireless charging, and in the rear of the console there are two cupholders across which is a slot sized to hold a tablet at a comfortable viewing angle for rear-seat occupants. Cool. Similarly, the center console incorporates a hanging file folder area in the back with room for purses or laptops (which can be plugged into a 110-volt outlet—there’s another in the rear and one in the optional deeper cargo Ramboxes). There’s also a sliding lid with cupholders and a shallow stowage bin. Inside is an Easter egg image of the four generations of “big-rig” Ram trucks.
The steering wheel now telescopes as well as tilts, the pedals also still adjust for reach, and the front power seats now feature four-way headrests and four-way lumbar adjustment and can motor 0.8 inch lower to better accommodate 10-gallon hats.
As new truck launches go, this should be an exceptionally smooth one because Ram production is moving to the Sterling Heights plant recently vacated by the Chrysler 200. That’s allowed Ram to start production early and ramp it up gradually. Considerable overlap of the current-gen 2018 Ram is expected from the nearby Warren plant, so we can expect a rich mix of fancy 2019 Rams selling alongside lots of 2018 Tradesman models at the beginning. If Ram’s claims on the comfort, quiet, and efficiency front pan out, we’re bullish on Ram’s likelihood of continued market share growth.
Ram introduced 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment to the pickup world, and now it’s doubling down with a portrait-oriented 12.0-inch screen that works like two of the old screens, only brighter and sharper. How bright? 1,000 candela per square meter. Recent iPhones manage only 625 cd/m2. And at 1,280 by 800 pixels, it about matches the iPhone 8’s Retina HD display for resolution.
Not surprisingly, this tablet doppelganger functions much like a tablet, supporting pinch-to-zoom and the ability to move frequently used app buttons to the home row at the bottom. As in a Tesla, you can view the map, audio, or other content in full screen or opt to split the screen with any choice of content on the upper and lower halves of the screen.
Another cool feature is expanded SiriusXM functionality including On Demand content. This allows you to listen to archived shows or stream your favorite team’s game from a home-team station. You can also pause streaming content of any type and resume it on your smartphone or home system (where you can ask Alexa to resume it). Better still, your onboard cellular Wi-Fi link can seamlessly switch to the online stream if you drive into a tunnel or skyscraper jungle and lose the satellite stream. Uconnect gets exclusive access to this feature for a year.