Redesigned Ram sets new pickup standards

John Gilbert

The  2019 Ram takes a huge leap toward luxury and styling in the Longhorn Laramie model, with luxury-car ride. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The  2019 Ram takes a huge leap toward luxury and styling in the Longhorn Laramie model, with luxury-car ride. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Ram choices include the rugged Rebel, foreground, and feature-filled Longhorn. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Ram choices include the rugged Rebel, foreground, and feature-filled Longhorn. Photo credit: John Gilbert

A strange thing is happening in the ongoing duel between Ford and Chevrolet for pickup truck domination: The new Ram is, you should pardon the expression, butting in.

In the always-escalating battle to gain ground in the full-size pickup wars, I’ve always maintained that the competition is so tough and the vehicles are so similar, that it’s understandable why consumers can pick their favorite and buy it, without making a major mistake.

In that light, the Ford F-150 has sold the most, with the Chevrolet Silverado second - although almost dead-even with the Ford if you combine the Silverado and the GMC Sierra pickups - while the Ram has made serious strides to carve into their domain over the past decade. The Nissan Titan is a smaller player but a tough competitor, and the Toyota Tundra is smoother but possibly less rugged.

If we deal strictly with the U.S. “Big Three” from Ford, Chevy and Ram, the attention to detail and constant upgrading has left all three virtually equal for the 2018 model year. But for 2019, it seems the Ram is showing absolutely no respect for the traditional power of the F-150 and Silverado. Both of them seem content to make annual upgrades, which usually means swiping some of the best ideas of the competition and putting their own spin on them to load up with features - anything that can be advertised as making them the best, and that includes the most subtle of changes.

The Ram, however, has taken a giant step to the forefront, and many neutral observers - those who don’t have a Ford or Chevy bias - come right out and declare the Ram the best of the bunch right now.

When people ask me my opinion of full-size pickups, I generally check my bet by saying how equal they all are, and customers should drive them all with an objective eye and pick their favorite. I’ve changed that advice since driving the 2019 Ram. I now suggest driving all of the trucks with an objective mind, but leave the Ram for last.

The power for acceleration, overall performance, and towing and hauling is pretty equal for all three, which means superiority comes down to appearance and features.

From the appearance standpoint, the new Ram has taken a decided turn toward refinement and luxury. Yes, luxury. All the trucks have been gravitating toward looking rugged and tough ever since Dodge gave the Ram its massive locomotive-like grille and personality. So now as Ram (instead of Dodge Ram), the rugged exterior with its large cross-bar grille gives way to a much smoother, more refined look. That new grille is distinctive, and wraps into the headlights and around the forners much more gracefully.

The exterior handsomeness is approximately quadrupled when you climb inside. Trucks have always been comparatively spare inside, just plain and simple without getting too stylish. As popularity and prices of trucks has skyrocketed in the last few years, the trend has been to fancy up the interiors, but  Ram has taken it to extremes. The 2019 Ram proves a good example of why a whole crop of new buyers are spending over $40,000 or $50,000 to get their new truck, and in some cases they are deciding to buy their first pickup rather than get a new luxury car.

Ram Rebel control center is neat and efficient, if less luxurious.  Photo credit: John Gilbert
Ram Rebel control center is neat and efficient, if less luxurious. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Huge info screen can be split to show full surround and information, in restyled dash. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Huge info screen can be split to show full surround and information, in restyled dash. Photo credit: John Gilbert

For luxury, it is hard to imagine any luxury car beating the Ram. The quality and workmanship radiates from the seats, to the instrument cluster, to the dashboard features, and to the massive, iPad-size center-stack navigation and information screen.

The stitching on the leather seats in my test Ram 1500, which was the Longhorn Laramie crew-cab, took a lot of work and attention to detail and looks fitting for the fanciest ranch on the planet. The textured woodgrain on the doors and dash are complemented by real metal strips, thin and horizontal, between the leather and soft fabric of the dashboard above and the lower reaches. In fact, if you get down low you will see that there actually is tiny engraving that has been applied to those raised metal trim bands.

Ever since getting a first trial at the introduction of the new Ram, I had been trying to coax folks at FCA (Fiat Chrysler Autos) to schedule me for a week-long test drive, just to verify my first impressions. It finally happened, in the October chill of Duluth, Minnesota, that a new Ram showed up. But not just a new Ram - two new Ram 1500s. 

While they were markedly different, they both were gleaming white. One was the aforementioned Ram 1500 Longhorn Laramie Crew Cab, and the other was the Ram 1500 Rebel Quad Cab. The Rebel paint was called “Bright white clear coat,” while the fancier Longhorn was “Ivory Tri-coat.” Both ahd metallic highlights when the sun struck them, and for all I know, they might have been identical.

All I knew was I could accept the “any-Ram-as-long-as-it’s-white” brightness in our driveway together.

The Rebel is designed for more rugged, and off-road duty, with standard skidplates shielding the front suspension components, the transfer case, the steering gear, and the optional 36-gallon fuel tank, plus a tough-looking black molded grille that stood out against the white paint, with black moldings outlining the off-road tires mounted on 18-inch painted black wheels. A more modest 8.4-inch nav screen and a sportier, if less luxurious, instrument panel and dashboard.  Sport-performance tuned shock absorbers can handle the rowdiest off-road excursions, and the fantastic LED headlights, taillights and foglights would enhance off-road or on-road driving even at night.

Rebel looks its best after it’s been playing in the mud. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Rebel looks its best after it’s been playing in the mud. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The Rebel as tested also had a “Quad-cab” cab, which in Ram terminology means a smaller rear seat area and narrower rear doors, which was still quite roomy. The bed had a spray-in bedliner, and Ram has affixed adjustable cleats for tie-down versatility. The total price was $51,220, with thos eoptions increasing the sticker from a base $44,695.

Longhorn Laramie houses luxury leather and wood and metal interior inside restyled body. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Longhorn Laramie houses luxury leather and wood and metal interior inside restyled body. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The Longhorn Laramie, on the other hand, had a shorter bed, which was a good thing, because the full quad cab means there is enormous rear-sseat room. The plush leather replaces the very serviceable vinyl/cloth seats in the Rebel, retractable running boards replace the more rugged but fixed running boards on the Rebel, and a panoramic sunroof graced the ceiling. The price of luxury was the Longhorn had a base of $53,995, optioned up to $68,590.

The 20-inch painted and polished wheels looked huge - because they were - while the optional 19-speaker Harmon Kardon Premium sound system replaces the 6-speaker standard audio on the Rebel. Both trucks had safety stuff, such as  the rear back-up camera, but the Longhorn was loaded up with Park-Sense assistance, heated and cooled front and heated second-row seats, advanced brake assist, forward full-speed collision warning, lane departure warning, parallel and perpendicular park assist, surround view camera, hill-descent control, blind sport and cross path detection, wireless charging pad, trailer brake control, and 4-corner air suspension.

Media hub connectivity, rain-sensitive wipers, a dampened and remote tailgate release and tire monitoring, with all important elements readily readable on the 12-inch touchscreen display. The Longhorn has power adjustable buckets on both sides, while the Rebel makes you adjust the passenger seat manually.

Another similarity is that the luxury Longhorn also has skid plates under the front and rear suspension, the fuel tank, transfer case and gas tank, and it also has the enlarged 33-gallon gas tank. Be prepared for sticker shock, however, if you let it run down and then fill it all at once. I got 15-17 miles per gallon with both trucks, virtually hopping back and forth between the two for my next drive, and both trucks show 15 city and 21 highway miles per gallon.

Driving the Rams is impressive, because once you get accustomed to the size and heft, they handle with surprising agility.

Power for both comes from the corporate favorite 5.7-liter Hemi V8, with 395 horsepower and 410 foot-pounds of torque, and handled by smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmissions. The shifter is a rotating knob that is easy to get used to and takes up practically no space.

The Silverado is coming out all newly redesigned for 2019, and Ford is new as it stands, but if those two stalwarts assume they are offsetting the new luxury Ram 1500, consider that the Ram is countering by adding an electric power boost through a low-level hybrid system on either the optional 5.7 Hemi or the base 3/6-liter V6.

Now that Ram has “caught up,” it appears intent on staying out in front in the creature feature and luxury branch of the pickup competition.