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The 2009 Dodge Ram is a new truck that incorporates Dodge's forward-thinking style and refinements to cosmetics and engineering. The Dodge Ram is a light-duty full-size pickup, a so-called half-ton truck, but this latest version lacks the 1500 badge of previous versions because the heavy-duty versions (2500, 3500) share little in appearance and running gear.
Technically the truck is not all new. The V6 and 4.7-liter V8 engines (overhauled recently), the brake system (upgraded), and transmissions have not been substantially changed for the 2009 model year. In a few cases, such as the front suspension geometry and the forward frame sections, the design remained but new materials are being used for more strength, less weight, or both. Some audio and climate control systems, and the middle front row seat may appear familiar, too. But that's where any similarities between the 2008 and 2009 models end.
The bodywork is all new and more aerodynamic. A Crew Cab model has been added to the mix; it has more cabin space than the Quad Cab but in more manageable dimensions than the retired Mega Cab. The new Crew Cab required its own pickup bed, dubbed RamBox: A perfect rectangle inside, it sports a pair of lockable bins along the bed sides, but can carry the standard 4x8-foot sheet flat on the bed floor.
Interiors have been given new styles and materials, new center console with shifter for some models, and new amenities and gadgets. Virtually every mechanical and air management system has been refined to limit noise and vibrations that become fatiguing over time.
Chrysler's image-building Hemi 5.7-liter V8 has been tuned up to 390 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque; it's the most powerful V8 in any regular or mid-size-cab pickup at time of introduction, and it didn't come at the expense of fuel economy. At the other end, a new rear suspension employs a design returning to full-size pickups after a decades-long absence and currently used on some sport-utilities like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevy Tahoe that see off-pavement use.
What Dodge didn't do is follow the last decade's trend of making half-ton pickups carry and tow more than the previous generation. There are plenty of Dodge (and other) heavy-duty pickups for pulling big trailers or hauling two tons of hay, and the decision to keep the light-duty Ram in the light-duty work realm pays dividends in comfort and is beneficial in terms of fuel economy.
A V6 and four-speed automatic are standard on 2WD Regular and Quad Cabs, the 4.7-liter V8 and five-speed automatic on virtually everything else. The 5.7-liter V8 Hemi is offered across the board. No manual transmissions are offered.
Ram ST models ($21,270-$29,735) are workhorses, with standard vinyl floor and manual windows, although they do include chrome bumpers and grille outline, air conditioning, ABS, CD player, variable intermittent wipers, locking tailgate, Sentry Key and on 4WD, electric-shift. Options include chrome wheels, two-tone paint, cruise control, trailer mirrors, limited-slip differential and alternate axle ratios, sliding rear window, Sirius radio and Mopar WiFi.
Ram SLT models ($25,465-$34,850) upgrade with carpet floor covering, floor mats, 40/20/40 split-bench seat, overhead console, cruise control, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, heated mirrors and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels. Options include the 5.7-liter V8, RamBox Storage System, on-demand transfer case for low-range 4WD, power sunroof, power-adjustable pedals, 10-speaker Alpine Surround Sound, UConnect/navigation system and hands-free communication system with Bluetooth technology, Sirius Backseat TV radio, low-back bucket seats with cloth upholstery, six-way power driver seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear defroster, and 20-inch aluminum wheels.
Ram TRX ($30,020-$35,995) comes in Quad Cab and Crew Cab styles and has SLT-level trim with some notable exceptions. TRX features electric-shift transfer case on 4WD models, unique shocks and ride height, 17-inch aluminum wheels and a full-size spare tire, heavy-duty vinyl floor covering, cloth 40/20/40 split-bench front seat, folding rear bench seat (Quad Cab models), tilt steering column, remote keyless entry and standard two-tone paint. Pay extra for an engine block heater, power-sliding rear window, heated power folding mirrors, bedliner, 3.92:1 axle ratio, limited-slip differential, Tip Start, cruise control, and UConnect Studios Sirius Satellite Radio.
Ram Sport ($29,365-$38,670) is available in all three cab styles but is labeled R/T on the regular cab. It adds a 5.7-liter Hemi, slate-gray contrast-stitched bucket seats, body-color fascia, fog lamps and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels. R/T models use a 4.10:1 rear axle for superior acceleration but will still tow 5000 pounds. Options mirror those on SLT.
Ram Laramie ($37,870-$43,240) is the top of the line, with leather heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, chromed door handles and mirrors, and security alarm. Extra-cost features include 20-inch aluminum wheels, sunroof, navigation and rear-seat entertainment.
Safety features include dual front multi-stage airbags, three-point belts in all seating positions with constant-force retractors, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks, electronic stability/traction control and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. Full side-curtain airbags for four-doors, back-up camera, and rear park sensors are optional.
Everything on the 2009 Dodge Ram looks tighter and bigger, yet the truck takes up no more real estate than its predecessor. The illusion comes from more sheetmetal and smaller gaps.
For the last 15 years Rams have had lots of space between tires and fenders but the '09 narrows the gap. Side panels have increased in height by nearly 3.5 inches, to close the crevasse between the truck and the ground, yet the approach angle critical to pickup use hasn't diminished. The split between cab and bed is narrower, and there's a lateral seal in it to reduce air turbulence, the side mirrors stand off from the door glass, the sides are flatter, and the tailgate spoiler and windshield are both rounder for improved aerodynamics. Seen from behind where the tires appear almost flush with the body panels, the truck looks quite trim, rather like a European-cut dress shirt as opposed to an American-cut shirt.
There is no large seam between the front bumper and the grille and lights, and if the truck does not have fog lights the bumper does not have the outline marks that show it's missing something. The rear bumper is larger, has half-round openings for the sport exhaust on trucks so equipped, and both 7- and 4-pin trailer plugs are fitted adjacent to the rear plate. The tailgate has a torsion bar system that cuts the apparent weight of it in half when you lower it, and like all stock pickups, the aerodynamic efficiency and mileage both drop if the tailgate is left down.
Even the least expensive model has some chrome on the front rather than the complete industrial gray that typifies base models and there are plenty of paint choices. On upper variants the mirrors have LED puddle lamps and the headlamps are dual-bulb units, the first since the mid-'90s Sport models, and on the 2009 Sport the front bumper is deeper and body-colored. The more you spend, the more chrome you get.
An aluminum hood is used on all models to save weight, and there is plenty of space below it for the aftermarket to fit superchargers and other go-fast goodies. Laramie models come with two-tone paint but you can specify a single shade, and rather than chrome-plating the aluminum wheels plastic chrome covers are used for dress-up.
The two longer beds are typical pickup design and include four tie-down loops a few inches above floor level. The RamBox of Crew Cab models has a perfectly rectangular interior with no wheel-well intrusions. The Crew Cab RamBox is 49 inches wide, ensuring it can carry the ubiquitous 4x8 building materials flat on the floor. Side rails with cleats secure the cargo, and a bed divider that locks into place segments the bed into smaller areas or can be flipped over and used as a bed extender with the tailgate down.
Along the sides of the RamBox are two locking bins, capable of holding 120 standard 12-ounce cans on the left side (where the fuel fill is) and 130 on the right. These boxes have locking lids, drains, lights and 90-degree opening lids; together the volume exceeds that of a 55-gallon drum. You can fill them with ice and beverages for tailgate parties and camping. They might even hold trailer sway control equipment, though the heavy bars may be pushing the limits of the boxes.
You may recognize a couple of switches or buttons and the center seat section with fold-down center armrest, but everything else inside the Dodge Ram has been redone for the 2009 model year.
The seats are new, finished in a durable fabric that you won't stick to in summer heat or be crusty and chilly in a blizzard. The new seats offer good support and plenty of room. We swapped through a few Ram models back-to-back to compare the trim levels and found the seat in the base model is the same design as in the top-line models, and we had no complaints after a full day of driving. We also found we could sit in the back of a Quad Cab for 20-minute jaunts, but a 6-foot passenger will be happier in a Crew Cab where rear dimensions are essentially the same as the front; only the Crew Cab has a center rear headrest.
Instrumentation includes a tachometer. The gear indicators are orange with the gear chosen shown in green. The gauges are illuminated amber at night while the controls are bathed in green. The electronic stability control switch (standard) and 4WD switch are on the dash (both 4WD systems are electrically-switched).
A typical right-side lever controls the transmission, with a thumb toggle for independently selecting any forward gear; some people with small hands may prefer this to the bulky floor shift that comes with center console trucks. Common operating controls such as lights, wipers and cruise control are on column-mounted stalks.
Dashboards are nicely framed, with symmetry on both sides of the wheel and both sides of the truck. Upper models may be ordered with bucket seats and fixed center console that houses storage areas and a stubby T-bar shifter on the driver's side; the shifter has chrome bulges on either side that look suspiciously like buttons but aren't. The only drawbacks to this arrangement are the loss of one seating position and the space under the central dash where you might mount a trailer brake controller, communications radio, or light-bar or plow control.
With so many trim levels to choose from you should be able to find one that meets your requirements. We found the basic ST work truck model particularly impressive. Entry-level pickups have a tendency to be penalty boxes lacking any amenity beyond a seat cushion and an ashtray, but we didn't feel penalized at all in the ST. The ST models have plastic door panels that are easy to clean and fairly scuff resistant. The standard radio does an exceptional job in light of the basement price.
As trim and price rise so too do standard goodies and optional extras. The key goes in the dash on base trucks but others have pushbutton start, and mid-grade trucks add a voltmeter and an oil pressure indicator. Chrome rings the gauges, leather wraps the wheels on upper models, and the vehicle information center between the larger gauges offers myriad functions from trip computer and transmission fluid temperature to radio data.
The MyGig infotainment system with 30GB hard drive is available, along with navigation, dual-zone climate control, rear park sensors with audible beeps and LED warnings above the rear window, and a 150-watt, 110-volt AC outlet. A moonroof is offered on both four door cabs as is a rear-seat DVD entertainment system (though you can't get both on the Quad Cab). Alpine supplies the premium surround sound system, with speakers in the Crew Cab headliner above the back seat and a subwoofer under it.
Storage in all models is good, including double glove-boxes. On the Crew Cab, Chrysler claims 42 places to put things (we got bored after counting up the first 18). On some four-doors you can get under-floor insulated storage compartments. The Crew Cab has a pair of AC vents mounted low in back; coat hooks that will hold plastic hangars, and cupholders in the center armrest, but there are no reading lights in back. The tunnel hump in the floor is just a couple of inches high yet plenty wide enough for the center rider to have both feet on the same level.
We found we could converse in normal tones at highway speeds back seat to front, with less than average wind, exhaust and tire noise from behind. Even a base model, with a V6 engine never recognized for a quiet or smooth demeanor, does a fine job of minimizing distracting and fatiguing noise and vibrations.
We'd rank the new Ram cabin at or near the top of its class. It is closest in design and style to GM and Ford. A Ram Laramie cabin is not quite as smooth and sleek as a Chevy Silverado LTZ cabin and it is not as complicated or multi-hued-and-textured an Ford F-150 Lariat cabin. The Nissan Titan offers good instrumentation and controls, but doesn't quite reach the refinement of the Ram. The Toyota Tundra offers similar features but the instrument panel is less integrated.
When one hears Dodge these days, Hemi is usually the next subject that comes up. For 2009, the Hemi has been upgraded with variable intake, revised ports for better airflow, higher compression, and variable cam timing.
The Hemi has gained 45 horsepower and 32 pound-feet of torque, now rated at 390 hp and 407 lb-ft respectively, and the powerband is wider. Couple these revisions to a truck that's more aerodynamic, and one result is that the Hemi's Multiple Displacement System (MDS) can operate more often. MDS essentially shuts off half the engine when not needed to save gas, and Dodge says the new truck can be run past 70 mph with the MDS active. The new Ram is a bit quicker, too.
Those new power ratings make the Hemi the most powerful full-line half-ton pickup now, with a single-digit advantage over Tundra's 5.7-liter; GM will offer a 400-plus horsepower 6.2-liter V8 in some Silverado and Sierra models but only Crew Cab models. Expect the fastest Ram to run about even with a Tundra, given the Tundra's sometimes lighter weight and its six-speed automatic. We may not be seeing that ad any more showing a Tundra blowing the doors off a Ram while towing boat trailers up a grade. Now the Ram can keep up.
Although the Ram's 4.7-liter V8 scores the same EPA numbers as the Hemi, it will realistically get better mileage; you can't use the Hemi's 80 extra horsepower without using more gas. The 4.7 feels the smoothest and is the quietest engine in the Ram line. It uses the same five-speed automatic as the Hemi.
The 3.7-liter V6 provides 215 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque. This is adequate for trucks that don't tow more than a garden tractor or routinely carry around landscape, handyman or pool service equipment. Although it comes with only a four-speed automatic, proper axle gearing (we'd recommend the 3.92:1 ratio) makes it livable and able to merge at highway speeds. It does not have enough grunt for four-wheel-drive use which is why it isn't offered in a 4WD Ram.
Transmissions work as expected with modern, electronic-authority automatics. If you wish to select a gear manually use the thumb toggle on the column-mount stalk or slide the floor-shift left for downshifts and right for upshifts. To revert back to full automatic control, simply hold the toggle + side or push the shifter right for about one second.
A Tow/Haul mode is standard and is useful when towing. Activating Tow/Haul may take the truck out of top gear but it does not lock it out; you can still cruise in overdrive with tow/haul on. The Tow/Haul mode keeps the transmission cooler when towing by holding gears longer (and reducing hunting between gears) and shifting faster (and harder).
The 4WD systems are 48/52 nominal torque split (a slight rearward bias to power delivery), 2.72:1 low-range for climbing or steep descents, and electrically shifted from 2WD to 4WD without stopping; engaging low-range is done most smoothly rolling at 1-2 mph with the transmission in Neutral. The 4WD systems have a Neutral position for flat-towing a Ram behind an RV or heavier construction truck. Two 4WD systems are available, and only the upgrade NVG246 (not on TRX4) has an Auto mode that allows 4WD-on-pavement use for inclement weather. This system will only help you accelerate and turn under power, it does not help you stop or change directions to avoid something.
We found the brakes work well. Dodge revamped the half-ton braking system in 2006 so the brake system has already proven effective. Antilock and stability functions are standard so all you need to do in evasive maneuvers is push the pedal and steer. In daily driving they deliver good feel and are easy to modulate, and although they handle the truck well we'd advise trailer brakes on any trailer more than 1500 pounds (less if your state requires it, of course).
A Ram will never be a racecar make but it benefits the same as a racecar when weight is removed from the suspension, axles, brakes and wheels. Using aluminum in some protected front suspension pieces takes 10 pounds off each corner, and the coil/link rear suspension takes 40 pounds off the back and allows more precise wheel control. In addition, friction in the rear suspension as it moves up and down has been cut by 60 percent, so the rear axle is allowed to travel more up and down yet requires less stiffness to keep it controlled.
The Ram rides much better than the old one and round-the-block against its competitors comes across as the best blend of ride and control, whether you're on 17-inch wheels or the big 20s. It goes where you point it without drama, the rear end far less likely to "step" sideways over a mid-turn bump or invoke the stability control, and it has better directional stability with a trailer in tow. Steering is direct like Chevy's but the effort is lower during maneuvers and cruising and ramps up nicely as you push the truck harder. Body roll is kept in check by stabilizer bars at both ends, yet a small amount is apparent as you turn the wheel just to keep you aware; too much roll stiffness can be almost as bad as too little. The stuttering or bouncing trying to accelerate on rippled surfaces has been quelled substantially, and the whole truck exhibits less of the shuddering typical of body-on-frame designs used on all full-size pickups and some big SUVs.
Off the highway the new suspension offers a slight improvement in articulation, and keeping the wheels on the ground longer always works best. We had no issues with suspension pieces dragging or being vulnerable to rock or stump impacts. And while we didn't have a sand box handy we could not invoke any axle hop even from full-throttle standing starts in a field. Our only complaints in off-road travel are that close-in visibility suffers from the big hood, making it harder to judge the corners through rocks or trees, and the wide A-pillar base may present its own visibility issues. Also, there's little compression braking in high-range. The only apparent drawback of the new suspension design is that the optional larger fuel tank is smaller by 2 gallons, giving it just 6 gallons more than the standard tank.
The Ram felt smoother and quieter to us than the Chevy Silverado did, even on the 20-inch wheels. GM's 5.3-liter engine a tad softer idling but was more raucous when working. To our ears the Ram had the others covered, but every ear has its preferences and many pickup owners like noise.
Payload, or how much weight in cargo and passengers a truck can carry varies by cab, bed, drive wheels, and engine. Ram payload ratings run from 1290 pounds (for a 2WD regular cab, short bed, 4.7-liter) to 1850 pounds (for a 2WD regular cab, long bed, V6) and that's for trucks without options; if you routinely carry more than 1000 pounds of cargo it may be better to think about a Ram 2500 or another heavy-duty pickup.
Tow ratings top out at 9100 pounds (for a regular cab, long bed, 2WD Hemi with the 3.92:1 axle ratio and 17-inch wheels), but range from a meager 3450 pounds. Most V8 models will be comfortable with a 5000-pound boat and a full load on board. Note the more options you add the less weight you can tow. Also, choosing those stylish 20-inch wheels will knock at least 1100 pounds off the tow rating. We'd go for the 17-inch wheels because we use trucks for towing cars.
We found the new 2009 Ram suspension an improvement for towing. With a significant trailer it still drops in back (as all half-tons do), but the extra lateral stiffness inherent in the coil/link design minimized the tail from moving side to side as the trailer pushed against it. Also, the electronic stability control system includes trailer sway control, a nice feature. Cooling systems appear up to the task, and towing mirrors are offered for pulling an eight-foot-wide travel or large box trailer.
The new 2009 Dodge Ram has the bold and brash style that typifies Dodge, but now it's in a more refined package with more amenities for the occupants.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report after his test drive of various Ram models in California and Tennessee.