Style leader. Pickup trucks have come a long way from their humble origins. Once considered little more than a tool for the farm or the jobsite, trucks have morphed into vehicular Swiss Army knives, simultaneously acting as commuters, style leaders, toy haulers, and family vehicles. You see as many at the construction site as you see in the pickup line at the local school. Like it or not, trucks have taken the primo place among consumers.
All the pickup manufacturers understand this, but only Ram has really taken this sea change to heart. Proof? Well, there's plenty of technical evidence we'll get to in a moment, but for now just look at the 2021 Ram 1500. With its handsome lines and dignified presence, the Ram 1500 is a sophisticated-looking brute.
The current styling can still be traced back to the paradigm-shifting 1994 Ram, but those traces are only apparent to automotive archeologists. The rest of us will see a stylish truck that abstains from any shouty details. Compared to the look-at-me Chevrolet Silverado or the rather plain-Jane Ford F-150, the Ram gets it right.
Engines galore. To put in perspective the breadth of choice offered with pickups, consider this: between Ford, Chevy, and Ram, light-duty truck buyers can choose between 17 different engines. How's that for selection?
Ram contributes the least to that figure, but its five different offerings should satisfy every type of buyer from the penny-pincher to the power hungry. The lineup-opening V6 keeps costs down but still manages to tow 7,710 pounds. That matches the base V6 in the F-150 but is slightly less than the base V6 used in the Silverado.
Unlike those V6 models, the Ram V6 comes standard with a mild-hybrid setup called eTorque that uses an integrated starter-generator for better stop/start performance and gas mileage. The system works seamlessly enough but fuel economy wasn't anything spectacular. The EPA rates the V6 for 201 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway, and 22 combined.
The most popular engine, of course, is the 5.7-liter Hemi V8. This year, it makes 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. It leads the lineup in towing capacity (12,750 pounds) and offers a nice V8 burble that's satisfying but never obnoxious.
eTorque is also offered on the Hemi. Last year, it was a $1,250 upcharge; buyers must have balked, as the system's premium has been cut down to just $200 for 2021. The EPA says the trucks with eTorque should return 17/23/19 mpg (city/highway/combined). Those without are rated for 15/22/17 mpg. In real life, however, you'll rarely see eTorque's 2 mpg improvement in city and combined driving. Best to skip the tech and get the standard Hemi, which is excellent as it is.
Also excellent: the 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel. It makes 280 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. It can tow nearly as much as the Hemi and get drastically better gas mileage while doing so. Without a load, the EcoDiesel returns 22/32/26 mpg.
The big news for 2021 is without a doubt the TRX. Fiat Chrysler hasn't been shy about their belief that all things must offer the 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat engine, it's already been fitted in pretty much every vehicle in the Dodge lineup. It's no surprise that it has found yet another home in the Ram.
Dubbed TRX, the Hellcat-equipped Ram makes 702 hp that it sends down to fat all-terrain tires. Unlike the SRT-10 of years ago, the TRX is a desert runner, not a street truck. Ford Raptor owners better stay wary of this bonkers Ram.
Commute-friendly ride. A decade or so ago, Ram did the unthinkable: it ditched a rear leaf-spring suspension for coil springs in its light-duty trucks. In the car world, such a suspension is nothing new, but pickups have maintained the old-school leaf suspension due to its ability to support strenuous payload and towing demands. This defection from tradition elicited a collective gasp from truck enthusiasts everywhere.
And yet, somehow the world didn't collapse into itself. As expected, the Ram's coil suspension has radically improved ride quality. Even with an empty bed, the Ram 1500 is composed over bad roads and cossets occupants from any harsh impacts. The typical jitters that accompany an unladen truck have been banished here. Compared to the F-150 and Silverado, which continue to use a leaf-spring rear suspension, the Ram has the best ride.
More importantly, the improved ride doesn't really come at the expense of capability. The Ram 1500, in its stoutest combination of bed, cab, and engine, can tow 12,750 pounds and haul a maximum of 2,300 pounds in the bed. Its payload rating puts it between the Silverado and the F-150, though all three hit their limits within 100 pounds of each other. The Ram's max towing figure trails both of its rivals, however.
Carlike cabin. The interior of the Ram 1500 is the clearest reflection of the brand's pivot toward a more well-rounded, carlike truck. Even low-buck trims use quality materials and enjoy a level of fit and finish on par with more luxurious vehicles.
Get into the pricey models and there's a no-expense-spared vibe emanating from the genuine trim materials, hefty knurled switchgear, and the soft leather covering the seats and myriad surfaces. The interiors of the F-150 and Silverado simply can't match the Ram for wow factor.
Highlighting the interior is the big 12-inch touchscreen found on upper-tier models. Mounted vertically, the big screen adds a level of sophistication in the truck that fits in with the upscale feel of the rest of the interior.
Its Uconnect software has long been praised in the 8.4-inch screen standard on the lower-priced Rams and various other FCA products, and it's a cinch here as well. It's easy to use as your TV remote, with big icons, intuitive menus, and a logical layout.
The Ram seats up to six passengers in the popular Crew Cab setup, though the front bench is typically subbed out for two buckets and a console. Either way, there's huge room inside. There's no shortage of comfort here, whether for a short run across town or a cross-country haul.
Final thoughts. Limo with a bed might be a more apt description of the 2021 Ram 1500. It rides better than the competition, has plenty of power and capability, and features an interior that rubs shoulders with luxury SUVs.
In short, this truck is a winner. Ford and Chevy will need to up their game if they want to keep the Ram in its perennial third-place position on the sales charts.
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