You'll be forgiven for thinking the 2013 Ram 1500 looks vaguely familiar. In fact, the sheetmetal is all the same and surface changes are minor. However, most of what lies beneath and bookends that sheetmetal is new or revised for 2013.
The Ram 1500, considered a half-ton, can carry loads of stuff and can tow trailers similar to what the competition will. Maximum load and tow ratings among the major manufacturers change faster than mobile device operating systems and the only certainty is you want to consider a bigger pickup if you will frequently operate near those maximums.
The 2013 Ram 1500 offers three cabs, three bed lengths (two with RamBox), three engines, two transmissions, two suspension arrangements, and interiors from hose-out ethic to limo substitute.
The biggest news for 2013 is the smallest engine, a 3.6-liter four-cam V6 delivering 305 horsepower, which is 90 more than the 3.7-liter used on 2012 models, with 13 percent more torque and 20 percent better fuel economy. At introduction, the 2013 Ram gets bragging rights for best fuel economy. The engine is new only to Ram, already used in Chrysler Group's Jeeps, vans and cars. Ram HFE is aimed at high fuel economy: Ram HFE gets an EPA-rated 18/25 mpg City/Highway with V6 and 8-speed automatic.
Also significant news for 2013, and a first in pickups, is an 8-speed automatic transmission from German manufacturer ZF. It is standard with the V6 and will be available on the 5.7-liter V8 by calendar year 2013. Both the 310-hp 4.7-liter and 395-hp 5.7-liter V8s come with what's called a 6-speed automatic, though we maintain it compares to a 5-speed (see Driving Impressions).
The last major change is the addition of full air suspension, which offers automatic leveling, eases entry/exit, and offers variable ride height for off-highway travel. The air suspension is available on any model except the new Ram HFE fuel economy special, which includes automatic start/stop engine operation and a bed cover.
Other changes for 2013 include electric-assist steering, more sophisticated electrical systems, active grille shutters, projector and LED lights on higher-line versions, revised cabin materials and dashboards, a lighter frame and box supports, more aluminum suspension components, central locking system that includes tailgate and RamBox compartments, low rolling resistance tires (for fuel economy), keyless entry/start, power sliding defrostable rear window, power folding mirrors and rain-sensing wipers.
On the outside, Ram continues with imposing stature. Like many Dodge cars, the Ram's front end has a forward tilt, but it remains very aerodynamic. Detailing for 2013 lowered the coefficient of drag (one aspect of total aero resistance) from 0.386 to 0.360.
The Ram is a conventional full-size pickup truck, but it differs in rear suspension and powertrains from all its competitors: primarily Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins, 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 a live axle in back with leaf springs, the Ram's rear axle is suspended by coil springs and it is located by four trailing links and a lateral Panhard bar. An optional four-corner air suspension is unique to the Ram, as is the RamBox bed arrangement. Basic front suspension design and brake systems parallel other half-ton pickups; only the F-150 also uses electric-assist power steering.
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 10 Ram 1500 nameplates.
Brand loyalty in pickup trucks makes some sports rivalries look like civilized debate, and many will recommend only one despite the fact that there are no bad pickups. Shopping is made more difficult by so-called competitive comparisons we've seen online that imply drum brakes are better than disc brakes (we disagree) or 300 horsepower is superior to 400 pound-feet of torque (ditto). Add to that payload and tow ratings that change frequently. To choose the best truck for you, we recommend avoiding any buying decision made purely on brand or maximum cargo or tow rating.
With so many versions there is no shortage of Rams to choose from. Compared to the competition, the Ram's suspensions are unique and the styling is less conservative. GM and Ford half-tons offer more engine choices but none has an 8-speed automatic. The Nissan Titan is the only half-ton that offers a full eight-foot long bed on their Crew Cab model.
(Note Ram is now a standalone brand at Chrysler, though the government mandated vehicle ID number still names Dodge as the manufacturer.)
The 2013 Ram comes in Tradesman, Express, HFE, SLT, Big Horn, LoneStar, Outdoorsman, Sport, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn trim levels. Some of these, such as Big Horn and Lone Star, are primarily cosmetic and packaging and available only in certain regions. Cab choices include a Regular Cab with short (6.3 feet) or long (8 feet) bed, four-door Quad Cab with short bed (6.3 feet), and the Crew Cab with a short bed (5.6 feet) or long bed (6.3 feet). Note Ram terminology can be confusing: Some "long" and "short" beds are the same length, depending on cab, so shop by tape measure, not Ram's labels. There is no Tradesman 1500 HD for 2013. (Ram Heavy Duty 2500 and 3500 pickups are covered in a separate review.)
Ram Tradesman, SLT, and Outdoorsman are available in all body styles; all others are restricted to certain cabs and/or bed lengths.
The 4.7-liter V8 and 6-speed automatic are standard on Tradesman and optional on SLT. The V6 and 8-speed automatic are standard on HFE and SLT models, optional on Tradesman. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and 6-speed automatic are optional on Tradesman and SLT, and standard on everything else. Air suspension is available on all four-door Rams. No manual transmissions are offered.
Ram Tradesman models are workhorses with standard vinyl floor, manual windows and gray vinyl 40/20/40 bench seat. However, they do include air conditioning, stability/trailer sway control, tilt wheel, cruise control, trailer hitch, variable intermittent wipers, locking lift-assist tailgate, spray-in bedliner, trailer plugs, 6-speaker AM/FM stereo and USB port, power windows and door locks on four-doors, and under-floor storage (Crew Cab). Options include chrome wheels and trim, fog lamps, bed cover, Uconnect 5.0 with Bluetooth, CD player, backup camera, sliding rear window, power and trailer mirrors, carpeting, cloth seats, block heater, 32-gallon fuel tank and air suspension. Ram Express models, available in all cab styles, add visual cues to a Tradesman with 20-inch wheels, body-color trim, dual rear exhaust and fog lamps; interiors get carpeting and floor mats; trailer hitch is optional.
Ram SLT adds to Tradesman with the V6 and 8-speed automatic, cloth seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, power sliding rear window, Sirius XM, cruise control, overhead console and remote keyless entry.
Ram HFE is regular cab short box 2WD only; it includes most of the SLT-grade equipment plus a bed cover and start/stop; it's the only Ram that does not offer 20-inch wheels.
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 Outdoorsman is offered in all cab styles and includes body-color grille, painted bumpers and fender flares, tow hooks, trailer hitch, 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 on 4WD, and truck-duty LT265/70R17E tires.
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 gets a 4.10:1 rear axle and 285/45R22 tires on polished aluminum wheels but will still tow 5050 pounds. Ram Laramie is 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).
Ram Laramie Longhorn comes in Crew Cab only and is the top of the line, adding to a Laramie with French-stitched leather upholstery, leather on the dash and door panels, real wood 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 vary by trim but there are plenty of choices. Among the 1500 line: 8 exterior mirrors, 11 wheels, 10 seats, and four audio systems.
Where not standard, a spray-in bedliner, trailer hitch, trailer brake control, side steps, power trailer towing mirrors, smoker's package, limited-slip differential, sliding rear window, CD player and engine block heater are available on any Ram; a moonroof is offered for any four-door.
Safety features include dual front multi-stage, side impact and side curtain 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. A rearview camera, rear park sensors and 911 Direct are optional.