When everybody's wrong about something, it's common to hear the idiom, "Hindsight is 20/20." When Dodge began its much-needed redesign of the Ram 1500, the company still expected trucks to be popular with all kinds of drivers, not just those who truly needed the heavy-duty capabilities of a full-size truck. Perhaps Dodge could have seen the seismic shift away from trucks coming, but regardless of their market forecasting, Chrysler LLC has delivered one heck of a truck.
Styling-wise, the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 is clearly derivative of the outgoing model. Design taste fairies at TheCarConnection.com wish Dodge had pushed the styling more. For example, compared to the 2009 Ford F-150, the Dodge's tailgate is very plain, but we do like the dual exhaust pipes nestled up into the rear valance. Inside, the design is well-executed with high-quality materials. Wisely, Dodge transferred clever use of previously untapped storage space pioneered on their minivans to the new Ram's interior. The under-floor (second-row Crew Cab) storage bins are useful, as are the optional Ram Box in-fender weather-proof and lockable storage areas. The quality level and design of the interior are among the best in any pickup.
The 2009 Ram 1500 excels in performance. The improved 390-horsepower HEMI rules the roost, but with Chrysler's cylinder deactivation technology, delivers the same fuel mileage (13/19 mpg city/highway mpg for two-wheel-drive models) as the smaller and less expensive 4.7-liter V-8 (310 horsepower). The base 3.7-liter V-6 engine with 215 horsepower barely seems worth enduring given its 14/20 city/highway mpg with an automatic in two-wheel-drive regular cab models. If price were no object (and it almost always is), the HEMI is the way to go. Both Ford and General Motors are expanding the use of six-speed automatic transmissions on their full-size trucks, and this is a rare miss for the new Dodge. Even with just five gears, the HEMI provides more than ample acceleration, even with 1,000 pounds in the box.
The Ram 1500 drives much smaller that one might expect. The truck's stiff chassis allows for a softly sprung suspension that delivers a smooth but responsive ride. This is easily the best-riding truck Dodge has ever produced and moves the benchmark incrementally higher, eclipsing even the trucks from General Motors, our past favorite. Much of the credit goes to the rear suspension that uses smoother-riding coil springs instead of harsher-riding leaf springs. The steering is quick but rather numb and not quite as full of feedback as the chassis really deserves.
The 2009 Dodge Ram is fully equipped with the latest in active and passive safety gear, including electronic stability control, four-wheel anti-lock brakes and side curtain airbags. The truck has yet to be crash-tested.
A benefit of being conceived during what may turn out to be the last great era of full-size truck development, the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 carries just about every conceivable road-going feature in the Chrysler toy box. Audio systems can include Bluetooth device and MP3 player connections, a hard-drive storage system, a DVD player, and a voice-activated navigation system. About all that's missing is the Sirius Satellite TV first introduced on Chrysler's Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans.
You can get more on the Ram, including photos and buying tips and the latest on the competition, over at our 2009 Dodge Ram page, and stay tuned for a full review that tells you what other publications are saying, too.