Pickup trucks may excel at versatility and rugged capability, but over the past decade they've also dipped deep into the well of luxury. You still can buy a Ram 1500 stripped almost to the bone of any upscale features--but then again you can spend more than $50,000 on a truly ritzy version with a plusher interior than in some hundred-grand sedans we've driven.This year, the base price of the Ram 1500 ranges from $23,585 for the 4x2 regular-cab, short-bed Tradesman, to $48,415 for the 4X4 Laramie Longhorn crew cab. In all there are nine trim levels, to date: the Tradesman, Express, HFE, SLT, Bighorn/Lone Star (regional packages), Outdoorsman, Sport, Laramie, and Laramie Longhorn, with a tenth Limited edition in the plan for later in the model year.
Of these models, the HFE is the only one offered in a single body/bed style, as a regular cab with a short bed. The Laramie Longhorn comes only in the Crew Cab body, with either bed length. All other trim levels can be specified in at least two bed lengths, and in two or more body styles.
Base Ram 1500 pickups don't have much on the features list: they get black bumpers, a spray-in bedliner, manual mirrors and door locks, 17-inch wheels, a vinyl bench seat, a column-mounted shifter, roll-up windows and an AM/FM radio standard--but they also get a USB port. From there, the models are loosely grouped at the cheaper and plusher ends of the spectrum, from Tradesman trucks that highlight very good towing capacity of 10,450 pounds, to Sport R/T trucks with standard HEMI power and the best truck acceleration in the class, to Laramie Longhorn trucks with heated leather seats, power features, remote start, a rearview camera, even a Bluetooth-enabled, hard-drive-based music system and a voice-activated navigation system.
The Ram also comes with new powered USB, SD card, and aux-in ports, as well as full iPod control via USB, as well as expanded steering-wheel controls. Chrysler has convenient radio controls mounted behind the steering wheel still, but we wish you could flick through the presets instead of clicking through them in one direction via a single button.
This year, the big news is all about data. Chrysler's Uconnect package of multimedia and connectivity features is now the best in trucks. There's a large 8.4-inch touchscreen that can be combined with a separate display tucked in between the gauges. All are built on a new Powernet high- and low-speed data network architecture, which lets up to 40 different modules communicate as they manage the Ram's safety, powertrain, and infotainment systems.
The available navigation system, for example, runs zippily through an extensive range of features. It offers voice-activated instructions, new 3D displays, overhead displays of lane guidance, and connects with Sirius TravelLink for gas prices, weather information, sports scores, and movie times. The displays are beautifully rendered, more than on any other truck, and that counts for much when on the go. HD Radio will be available, and the system will also offer text-to-voice translation with a fixed set of responses available at fingertip or voice control.
The most intriguing piece is the Ram's new Uconnect Access setup, which brings Sprint data service into the truck in the same way Audi Connect uses T-Mobile's 3G signal. Through the data connection, the Ram's universe grows to include voice recognition, mobile apps, and WiFi hotspot capability. It also enables some concierge-like services without the use of human operators. Mobile apps will enable owners to unlock and lock their Ram through the data connection; remote start will work the same way, though obviously, a key will work more quickly when standing nearby. The apps and the functionality of Uconnect itself will be updated via the Sprint link. Unfortunately, Sprint will be the only data provider, and your current data bucket can't be used, even if you're a Sprint customer.
Some Ram 1500 pickups also will get a new 7-inch reconfigurable LCD screen nestled in the gauge cluster, flanked by traditional dials. It can be customized with a range of information, from radio-station display, to trailer-towing status, to navigation direction. Trip-computer info is shown at the corners.
The reconfigurable gauge cluster has useful fingertip controls, and the transmission now uses a rotary knob to switch gears, freeing up space on the console (some V-8s will still use a console or column shifter). Steering-wheel buttons take the place of paddle controls.Other new features for the Ram lineup are rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, and a power-sliding rear window with defrost; and the innovative RamBox cargo management system is now locked and unlocked with the vehicle's central locking system. It's standard on the Tradesman, but optional on every other trim line.
Other available options include a DVD player for both front and rear seat passengers; steering-wheel-mounted radio controls; Sirius Satellite Radio; and in Laramie versions, finely detailed interiors with a range of exterior color options, and on the Laramie Longhorn, real wood trim harvested from fallen fenceposts, burred by barbed wire. An available R/T package adds 22-inch wheels and tires and a restyled front air dam along with a 4.10 rear end and a limited-slip differential.
Just keep in mind that the top-of-the-line Laramie Limited costs more than twice as much as the base Ram 1500, but offers so many more features and amenities it's almost a different truck.