Reviews Test Drive: 2019 Ram 1500 Limited

18:40  08 august  2018
18:40  08 august  2018 Source:   autotrader.ca

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Brace yourselves, Ram haters, because this review is going to come off like a commercial.

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I spent two weeks and more than 4,000 km in the 2019 Ram 1500 Limited, towing a trailer to boot, on my family’s recent road trip to the Saguenay fjord and the Gaspé Peninsula, and it’s as fabulous a road trip vehicle as anyone could ask for.

Of course, with an $85,000-plus price tag, it certainly ought to be. Half-ton pick-up or luxury vehicle? The line blurs, ever onward.

If your budget doesn’t go that high, though, the important take-away is that this truck’s new bones are very solid. What you choose to spend your money on above and beyond that is essentially window dressing.

The Ram 1500 was already a very good truck. But the 2019 version? This is a great truck.

Hemi Hemi Hemi

As much as the 2019 Ram 1500 has changed, this much remains the same: the engine choices are the 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 or the 5.7-litre Hemi V8.

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What’s new, though, is that both now have available optional eTorque mild-hybrid technology. I can’t tell you how it feels because it wasn’t equipped on the Hemi in my tester, but I can tell you how FCA says it works: it combines a belt-drive motor generator unit with a 48-volt battery pack to enable the engine stop–start function, short-duration torque assist, and brake energy regeneration. On the V6 it adds up to 90 lb-ft of launch torque, and on the Hemi it adds 130 lb-ft.

That sounds nice in principle, but I never felt as though the Hemi by itself was leaving anything on the table. Sure, it doesn’t exactly get under way at sports car speeds, despite having dropped 225 pounds over the previous generation, but no one expects it to. It’s a truck. Its 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque get it around very comfortably.

The same thing goes for the TorqueFlight eight-speed automatic transmission. No, the shifts aren’t lightning-quick, nor should they be necessarily. It’s a truck. But it doesn’t ever seem to get lost or hold onto gears for an annoyingly long time, and I found it very easy to control it using nothing but my right foot, especially when towing. There is a tow-haul mode toggle that we tried out for a while, but its aggressive gearing was overkill for our little eight-foot trailer towing a single motorbike. We stopped using it and never missed it, but it would have been useful for larger hauls – on top of a new peak payload of 2,300 pounds, the 2019 Ram can tow a trailer that’s up to 12,700 pounds.

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Fuel economy is potentially a different discussion. The Ram’s NRCan combined rating is 13.8 L/100 km, which is competitive with the other V8 four-wheel-drive trucks in its class. Those assessments are made on the truck on its own, though, where things like the Hemi’s cylinder deactivation can make a significant dent on highway performance. But we towed a trailer through some very hilly terrain and spent more than half a day pushing head-on into a very stiff wind, which caused us to end our testing period at an average of 18.2 L/100 km.

It’s not fair to try to make head-to-head comparisons with competitors on something like this because there are so many factors that can alter the outcomes across different drives, so I’ll only say this: it hurt at the pumps – although in retrospect that may have been partly the impression given by its optional 124-litre fuel tank, which paid off in the sense that we didn’t need to stop as often. But there may be other trucks out there that would cost less at the pumps if you’ll be towing often.

Superb All-Around Comfort

The powertrain may drive like a truck, but the body and suspension sure don’t.

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Between the new 98 percent steel frame, the new dampers that respond automatically to the frequency of their inputs – they self-adjust to be softer with quick inputs and more aggressive with slow undulations – and the four-corner air suspension that’s standard on this Limited model, the new Ram’s ride quality is flat, smooth, and predictable. Even corduroy roads aren’t as teeth-chattering as they might be in many other vehicles.

That excellent amount of comfort extends to the seats as well. I spent up to eight or nine hours a day in them at times on this trip, and I had very few aches or pains that the seat heater couldn’t handle. They’re roomy yet supportive, and in the Limited trim with all the bells and whistles the seat is fully adjustable and the pedal box can be shifted forward and back as well, which makes finding the ideal seating position a snap.

You want opulence? The first row is roomy enough, but the back row is fit for royalty. Not only are the front seats heated and ventilated on the Limited trim to go with the heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, adding the Level 1 equipment group gives ventilation to the second-row seats as well. My daughter says it’s the fanciest truck she’s ever been in. (Beware this feature with little ones, though. You’ve never seen so much crap caked into tiny little upholstery holes in your life.)

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My only comfort quibble is one that seems to be inconsistent with the experiences of others. Ram says that it’s used acoustic glass, frame-mounted active tuned-mass modules to control vibrations, and in-cabin active noise cancellation to reduce ambient sounds to 67.1 dB and make this Ram 1500 the quietest ever. My reviewer colleagues tend to agree that the interior is quiet, but this doesn’t match my experience. I still found that I had to ask my daughter to speak up so that I could hear her over the wind noise. I’m not sure where that discrepancy comes from – the towing, perhaps? Strong winds? At any rate, I don’t feel this was my quietest pick-up truck experience.

With the split side mirrors and large rear window, visibility is all-around excellent. This is a big and bright greenhouse, and the power panoramic sunroof is a huge and gorgeous but expensive option. It let so much sun (read: summer heat) into the cabin that we kept it closed a lot of the time, which is a rarity for our family. The thing is, so much light streams in from the rest of the windows that we never felt the interior was dark enough to need that extra source.

Updated Design

The 2019 Ram has a nipped and tucked nose and more streamlined headlamps – though not silly-streamlined like on the new Chevrolet Silverado – with a tighter grille design that looks tough and yet more sophisticated than the outgoing version.

A very close inspection while cleaning the maritime bug guts off the front end showed that the body colour wraparounds on each side might be a tad easy to catch on things. There’s also a visible seam on the chrome wraparound toward the back of the side windows. It doesn’t show through in photos, but it’s quite evident in real life.

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The inside is where the more dramatic changes have taken place, most notably with the massive 12-inch screen that’s part of the Level 1 equipment package on the Limited trim (more on that in a moment) and the enormous centre console that slides around in various ways to allow for 12 different potential configurations. You can slide the cupholders to the front and fit a small purse in the back, or you can push the cupholders back some and drop a clipboard in front of them. Versatility, thy name is Ram.

Tablet-Style Infotainment

Before you get excited about the 12-inch screen, bear in mind that it takes a significant spend to get there. This isn’t exactly a $50 option.

That said, it’s as much of a dream to operate as it looks like. In combination with Uconnect, which is one of the better infotainment systems on the market to begin with, this screen allows you to run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the top half – functionality for both is standard – and another function such as music, comfort controls, or navigation on the bottom half. I gave up on the on-board navigation after a while because it takes a lot of steps to find something that’s not in the same town you’re in, and it was far easier to just use Google Maps.

In fact, the screen is so huge that it’s just not possible to put in a place to rest your hand for balance, which leads to blind finger-jabbing at times. Given how much functionality it puts at my fingertips at one time, I forgave that quickly.

There are USB ports everywhere, and the Limited trim has a wireless charging pad as well. This isn’t the usual kind that you lay a phone down in horizontally; instead, you push the phone down into a rubber clip and it sits vertically up against the charging surface. This is fiddly to hit in the right place until you get used to it, and it keeps the phone in full view of the driver, which can be too much of a temptation for some. Since the phone needs to be plugged in to a USB port to use the on-board compatibility anyway, I didn’t use the charging pad all that often.

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Not So Many Towing Features

I’m a towing novice, and I was nervous as all get-out about taking it on for the first time. My husband’s most prized possession, his race bike, rides in that trailer, and I really didn’t want to be accused of being responsible for its demise in the style of Mrs. Parker and the leg lamp from A Christmas Story.

The Ford F-150 is touted for its features that make towing easier for people like me, such as dynamic hitch assist and trailer back-up assist. The Ram 1500 has no such features, and I wondered how I would fare as a newbie without them.

All in all, I did okay (by which I mean that the bike and trailer made it home unscathed, as did all vehicles within proximity, which is good enough to be a win in my book). Backing up never did feel easy, but the Ram’s surround-view camera (a package option) helped a great deal, especially with lining up for hitch hook-up, and that in combination with the old thumb-at-the-bottom-of-the-wheel trick got me around just fine.

What both trucks have that I find immensely helpful is an extended blind-spot monitor. The Ram is indecisive on the exact length of our trailer – I prefer when it decides it’s a nine-metre rather than a six-metre despite the latter being correct, but it’s out of my control – but either way, misjudging a lane change never becomes a concern, which is very comforting.

Verdict

This was a hard one to give back. Yes, $85,000 is an awful, awful lot for a pick-up, but by dropping single-cab configurations from the new generation, FCA is sending the message that trucks are moving into the premium space and we’ll have to decide if we plan to get used to it. For those who have the money to spend, that price is a steal for the features and capability the 2019 Ram 1500 delivers.

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