Walkaround and Interior

By March 5, 2012

Walkaround

Everything on the Ram looks big, yet the truck takes up no more real estate than its competitors. The illusion comes from the shape, which has a definite presence.

One distinction of the Ram is that a lot of the usual gaps and spaces are noticeably narrow and tight, such as spaces between tires and fender openings, and between the cargo box and the cab. This not only looks neat and clean, but it also helps reduce wind noise and improve efficiency. From the outside the Ram looks clean and tidy. The side mirrors stand off from the door glass, the sides are fairly flat, and the tailgate spoiler and windshield are both rounded for improved aerodynamics. Seen from behind where the tires appear almost flush with the body panels, the truck looks quite trim.

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 large rear bumper has half-round openings for the sport exhaust on trucks so equipped, and both seven- and four-pin trailer plugs are fitted adjacent to the rear license plate. The tailgate has a lock and a torsion bar system that cuts its apparent weight in half for ease of lowering and raising it; lower it slowly to avoid the big thud.

Even the least expensive model has some chrome on the front rather than the complete industrial gray that typifies base models from some other manufacturers and there are plenty of paint choices. On upper trim-level variants the mirrors have LED puddle lamps and the headlamps are dual-bulb units, and on the Sport the front bumper is deeper and body-colored. Spend more, get more chrome.

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 RamBox Cargo Management System is now offered on more bed/cab configurations. A pickup box with a rectangular interior and no wheel-well intrusions, it measures 49 inches wide inside so it can accommodate the ubiquitous 4×8 sheet of building material 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. Moving the interior walls inward results in sidewalls with much thicker sections, and in the tops of the two 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 located) and 130 on the right, or anything else of that same volume, such as dirty clothes, tools, golf bags and so forth. 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. The RamBox has some trade-offs. It reduces total cargo box capacity, adds weight that comes off payload and, since the lids for the cargo bins open upwards, it is not compatible with such things as camper shells, tonneau covers and many racks.

Interior Features

We'd rank the Ram cabin at or near the top of its class.

The seats come in a durable fabric that you won't stick to you in summer heat or be crusty and chilly in a blizzard. They 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 six-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 steering-column 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.

The dashboard is 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 a 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.

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 budget-conscious price.

As trims and prices 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 wheel 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, 115-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 gloveboxes. 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, which are a clever idea but hard to reach from the driving position. 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.

The new Ram Laramie Limited cabin goes head-to-head with GM LTZ or Denali trim and Ford's Platinum or King Ranch in a slightly more understated way, the imported-from-Detroit gauge bezels notwithstanding. Neither the Nissan Titan nor Toyota Tundra offer such luxurious cabins. Titan has good room, instrumentation and controls but doesn't reach the refinement of the Ram. Tundra offers similar features but the instrument panel is less integrated.