In spite of its bold, brash looks, the Ram is a refined package stuffed with amenities. The Ram 1500 delivers performance and ability on par for half-ton pickups. You can't go wrong among the full-size pickups. The most important thing is to choose the right model and configuration for your needs.
Redesigned for the 2009 model year, the 2012 Ram carries over largely unchanged except for a new automatic transmission.
Ram is Chrysler's entry in the traditional full-size, half-ton (1500) pickup market. As of 2011 Ram is its own brand, a sub-brand of Dodge.
The 2012 Ram 1500 is available in Regular Cab, Quad Cab (an abbreviated Crew Cab with forward-hinged doors), and four-door Crew Cab versions; there are three bed lengths as well.
Ram 1500 offers a choice of three engines: A 3.7-liter V6 rated at 215 horsepower, a 310-hp 4.7-liter V8, and the 390-hp 5.7-liter Hemi. The V6 is fitted with a 4-speed automatic transmission and the V8s have a 5-speed automatic. The V6 comes on smaller rear-wheel drives only, but the two V8s are available with either two- or four-wheel drive and only Ram and the Tundra offer the largest, most powerful engine choice on Regular Cabs.
On the outside, Ram carries the familiar big-rig look initiated by the 1994 Dodge Ram. Like many Dodge cars, the Ram's front end has a forward tilt, but it remains as aerodynamic as other pickups.
The Ram is a conventional full-size pickup truck, but it differs in rear suspension and powertrains from all of its competitors, primarily the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and to a lesser extent the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. Because the Honda Ridgeline does not have a separate frame, cab and bed, nor a choice of two or four-wheel drive, we do not consider it a conventional half-ton pickup, although those buying a crew cab pickup primarily as a second car would be wise to consider it.
Underneath, where for decades pickup trucks have had live axles with leaf springs, the Ram's live axle is suspended by coil springs and it is located by four trailing links and a lateral Panhard bar. The RamBox cargo box remains unique and for 2012 it's available on more models and costs less. The front suspension, steering and brake systems parallel other half-ton pickups.
Inside, the Ram offers seating for three to six people, in-floor storage on Crew Cabs and environments that span working-grade vinyl and rubber to French stitched leather with ventilated and heated seats. Though it varies by region there are a dozen Ram 1500 nameplates.
Changes for 2012 are limited to a new steering wheel, paint colors, wheel styles and so on. Ram says the V8 trucks get a new 6-speed automatic transmission but we say in reality it remains a 5-speed automatic.
Brand loyalty in pickup trucks makes some sports rivalries look like "he said, she said" arguments, and many will recommend only one despite the fact that there are no bad pickups. Online "competitive comparisons" that imply drum brakes are better than disc brakes (we disagree), and payload and tow ratings that change frequently make shopping more difficult. We recommend avoiding any buying decision made purely on brand or maximum tow rating.
With so many versions there is not shortage of Rams to choose from. Compared to the competition, the Ram's rear suspension is unique and the styling is less conservative. GM and Ford half-tons offer more engine choices. GM, Ford and Toyota pair their V8s with a 6-speed automatic versus the Ram's 5-speed. The Nissan Titan is the only one that offers a full eight-foot long bed on their Crew Cab model.
The 2012 Ram comes in ST, Tradesman, Express, SLT, Outdoorsman, Big Horn, LoneStar, Sport, Laramie and Laramie Limited trim levels. Some of these, such as Big Horn and Lone Star, are primarily cosmetic and packaging and might not be available in every locale. Cab choices include a Regular Cab with short (6.3 feet) or long (8 feet) bed, four-door Quad Cab with short bed, and the Crew Cab with a short bed. (The heavy-duty Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups are covered in a separate review.)
A V6 and four-speed automatic are standard on 2WD Regular and Quad Cabs, the 4.7-liter V8 and five-speed automatic on most Ram 1500 low-line 4WD and Crew Cab, and the 5.7-liter V8 Hemi is standard on Sport and Laramie and optional on everything else. No manual transmissions are offered.
Ram ST models come in all cabs and are workhorses, with standard vinyl floor, manual windows and gray vinyl 40/20/40 bench seat. However, they do include chrome grille outline, air conditioning, stability control, CD player, tilt wheel, variable intermittent wipers, locking lift-assist tailgate, trailer plug, and underfloor storage (Crew Cab). Options include chrome wheels, cruise control, sliding or heated rear window, trailer mirrors, carpeting, cloth seats, limited-slip differential, sliding rear window, and Sirius radio.
Ram Tradesman is a low-trim pickup with standard Hemi and spray-in bedliner designed for the commercial operator or independent contractor. A 1500 Heavy-Duty version using a 2500-series frame and components, in 2WD Regular Cab long-bed only is $28,605 and as of February 1, 2012 had the highest load and towing ratings of any 150/1500-badge pickup.
Ram Express models, available in all cab styles, add visual cues to an ST with 20-inch wheels, body-color trim, dual rear exhaust and fog lamps; interiors get carpeting and floor mats. Ram SLT, Regular Cab only, adds to ST with a 4.7-liter V8, 5-speed automatic, cloth seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, power sliding rear window, Sirius XM, cruise control, EVIC (electronic vehicle information center), overhead console and remote keyless entry. Options include navigation upgrades, better upholstery and bucket seats, rear camera, 506-watt Alpine sound system, UConnect, 20-inch wheels, Class IV hitch, trailer brake controller, towing mirrors, five packages and RamBox.
Ram Outdoorsman is offered in all cab styles and includes body-color grille, painted bumpers and fender flares, tow hooks, skid plates, 32-gallon fuel tank, power heated auto-dimming outside mirrors, cloth bucket seats, power driver seat, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, 115-VAC outlet, HomeLink, heavy rubber floormats, 3.92:1 axle ratio, and truck-duty LT265/70R17E tires. Options include rear park assist and surround-sound audio system, 20-inch wheels/tires, sunroof, UConnect, navigation, and Sirius backseat TV.
Ram Big Horn and Ram Lone Star specials come on four-door cabs only and include a Hemi, 20-inch wheels, bright grillework, fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant controls, a Class IV receiver hitch and unique badging.
Ram Sport is available in Quad and Crew Cabs. Sport includes the 5.7-liter Hemi, slate-gray contrast-stitched bucket seats, body-color bumpers, fog lamps, on-demand 4WD and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels. The Sport R/T Regular Cab 2WD short bed ($31,685) gets a 4.10:1 rear axle and 285/45R22 tires on polished aluminum wheels but will still tow 5000 pounds. Options are similar to those on the SLT. Ram Laramie four-door only comes with leather heated 40/20/40 front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, driver memory system with power front seats and outside mirrors, rear park assist, heated steering wheel, woodgrain trim, power-adjustable pedals, surround sound, UConnect, accent fender flares, and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels (17s are available). Extra-cost features include remote start, sunroof, navigation, back-up camera, heated/ventilated front seats, floor mats, heated rear seats and rear-seat entertainment.
Laramie Limited in Crew Cab only is the top of the line and adds to a Laramie with natura plus piped, French-stitched leather upholstery, leather on the dash and door panels, piano-black trim, Berber floor mats, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, leather-wrapped shift knob, navigation with SiriusXM Travel Link, rear camera, accent-painted running boards and bumpers, 32-gallon fuel tank and spray in bed liner. Options are few: skid plates, axle ratio, limited-slip differential, alternate wheel finishes and rear seat entertainment system.
Where not standard an under-rail or spray-in bedliner, smoker's package, and engine block heater are available on any Ram.
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, rearview camera, and rear park sensors are optional.