2018 Ram 1500 Road Test, Review
We’ve all been calling it a Dodge Ram, but a decade ago, Ram Truck Division was spun off from the Dodge sub-parent by FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) and is now known simply as RAM. The late Sergio Marchionne was credited with bringing the American-Italian car maker from the brink.
In Australia and New Zealand, RAM is imported and re-manufactured by Ateco Automotive PTY LTD.
RAM 1500 differs from its larger, butcher, stable mates by being smaller and lighter by around 900kg. Positively dainty by American standards. The Yanks call RAM 1500 a “mid sized” pickup. Like their meals, American trucks are enormous.
There are 2 variations: a version with a 1,939mm tub Express, crew cabbed model called the Laramie. Over all length for the 2 models is 5,718mm.
Range topping Laramie has a more spacious cabin and a slightly shorter tub. RAM says Express will appeal to younger buyers, while Laramie would be for the family man, or someone buying RAM instead of an SUV.
Optional extra RAMBOX cargo management systems allow buyers to customise their tubs in the fly. Internal dividers section off parts of the tub, or can be used to extend the payload over an open tailgate.
In addition, the wasted areas over the wheel arches is turned into independently lockable bins. They can hold tools, guns, or with inbuilt drain holes, ice for keep drinks cold.
Tie-downs are placed within the bounds of the tub so you can secure your load, and still have full access to the boxes. 20” chromed wheels. It’s worth noting the tub is fully lined, and even with the cargo system, will take a regular Australian pallet. Handy for bulk buying at Aldi.
Full length side steps are essential. RAM is a proper truck and sits at 1,924mm high and a massive 2,017mm wide.
The handsome front has a grille with shutters which close to prevent airflow for quick engine warming. When open, the massive intakes suck in enough air to cool a power station. Standing beside it is slightly intimidating. The top of the grille is chest height.
Despite its massive bulk, RAM manages to look in proportion and has that same sexy allure that the classic trucks of the past have.
RAM claims the interior is luxurious, and it certainly has the feeling of a gent’s clubhouse.
Every surface, knob, fitting and fixture oozes testosterone. Americans do luxury in a different way to the Europeans, or indeed the Japanese. While there is a ton of leather, there is no finesse. It feels raw and masculine, but in a good way.
Leather seating is surprisingly comfortable.
There is reasonable adjustment, and you’ll need it because the steering wheel only has height adjustment.
You can move the peddles in and out at the touch of button, but it seems slightly bonkers not to just have the wheel move in and out.
RAM says there are 18 cup holders, and that wouldn’t surprise me. I couldn’t find them but I’m sure they were hiding in plain sight.
Laramie has a slightly nicer interior, and a few more gizmos. There is seat and steering wheel heating, and a sunroof. The front seats having cooling as well.
The steering wheel looks small for such a massive vehicle, and at times you have to remember you’re in a truck, not a family sedan.
The cabin is vast. You fellow passengers feel like they each have their own post code.
The centre console is wide enough to fit 3 cup holders across it, and the centre stack fits an 8” touch screen with a full set of controls down either side. Wood grain surrounds feel a bit passé.
The gear selector is to the right of the screen, along with buttons for the 4WD system.
Conversion to righthand drive usually means a dash that gets hopelessly mashed in the process. Ateco uses a local manufacturer to make bespoke units to drop in in place of the original. The righthand drive conversion takes only a few days.
Body and chassis are divorced, altered, then re-married. After the job is done, there is no evidence anywhere that RAM was ever anything other than a righthand drive car.
Ateco stresses that Australian RAMs are built in left-hand drive, but to Australian specs in the Detroit factory. There it is fitted with an Australian VIN.
Laramie’s 8” Uconnect touch screen is familiar to anyone having driven a Chrysler in the last few years.
The unit is ready for Australian radio stations, and comes with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. In fact, there are all the comforts of home.
Steering wheel controls are also Chrysler-esque with volume and channel selection on the rear face, and cruise control and phone/voice buttons on the front. The central boss is a RAM, just to remind you you’re in a truck.
There are two diff ratios depending on whether cruising of towing is your thing.
Laramie has an 800kg payload and a 98L tank, while Express can carry 845kg and 121L of fuel. Both can tow a respectable 4,500kg of braked load. As always, watch your CVM (combined vehicle mass: IE don’t put 4.5 tons in the trailer, and another 4.5 tons in the tub).
Grey nomads can fit a fifth wheel to the tub of some RAMs. Handy to know should 4 wheels not be enough! Seriously though, towing is a serious business.
Rear overhang is very short. That’s good. The less distance between the axel and the towball, the better.
Should you get a tank-slapper going, Anti-Sway kicks in an uses the ABS to sort things out.
- Uconnect 3 5” in Express
- Uconnect 8” (Laramie)
- Heated front and rear seats (Laramie)
- Cooled front seats (Laramie)
- 5 genuine seat capacity.
- 5”multi view cluster (Laramie)
- Colour coded bumpers
- 20” chromed wheels, chrome grille, bumpers, accents (Laramie)
- Alpine sound system. 10 speakers and subwoofer (Laramie)
- 5 ton braked towing (3.92 axel ration only)
Drive and Engine
This is where things get interesting.
You’d expect something the size of a small moon to be ghastly on the road. Not so. In fact, RAM was fun, great big huge fun.
The 5.7L Hemi V8 Petrol sounds just beautiful. It puts power to the selectable 4X4 (aka 4WD) system through an 8 speed TorqueFlite automatic. RAM claims around 9.9L/100k fuel economy. For a truck weighing over 2,600 kg, that is extraordinary.
The Hemi shuts off cylinders to save fuel. It can go from 8, to 6, to 4 cylinders, and will shut off different cylinders to keep the engine block toasty warm. Cold spots could do bad things, as we all know.
Steering is almost nimble. There is enough road feel to consider the electric power steering excellent, for a truck. Australian steering is bespoke. Ateco has been quite clever, and have managed something even the Americans quite fancy.
Road tyres are fitted as standard. SPOILER ALLERT: they’re rubbish in the mud, but more about that later. Ride is exceptionally good without a load.
As with all pickups, this would be even better with a load on.
RAM got a pretty thorough workout, both on and off-road. The 4X4 system features on-the-fly changing, though, we couldn’t find a descent control button.
Our drive took us through picturesque Bathurst, out through Oberon, the lunch at Mayfield Estate. The private garden on the large country estate is full of large rolling hills with treacherous washouts, and plentiful lakes.
The day turned turtle the second we got there, and rain which had held off for months, decided to dampen our day. By the time lunch was over, the dry grassy hills had been moistened sufficiently to make things difficult. The hardness knob turned a few full spins as we headed into the wilds.
The first RAM churned up the track. The second RAM made it worse, The third RAM started to slide, and the 5th RAM got stuck half way up the 1st hill.
The moral to the story is if you’re going into the hills, the sound of music is not enough to carry you over the top. You-needs-them-thar-off-road-tyres, and that’s that.
A huge V8 throbbing as you climb a steep ravine is music to an ear. Even low-range didn’t help the road tyres get grip, but it was fun trying.
After a day in the big American, I got out smiling. Who’d have thought it?
Airbags and stability control are standard of course, but trucks and commercial vehicles are not rated by ANCAP, and are not held to the same safety standards as regular passenger cars.
- Gutsy engine
- Smooth auto
- Towing capability
Not So Good Bits
- Luxury interior misses the mark
- Feels old
- To big for inner city use
RAM is an awesome looking thing.
It is big and bold and has balls the size of the great outdoors. It is fit t for purpose and in many ways sits in a unique niche. It is up against Hilux and Navara and blitzes them for power and towing.
If a buyer doesn’t need that power or towing capability though, the price would put it off the list of most shoppers.
It is fun on the road, and is surprisingly economical. With off-road tyres it manages dry conditions well. Off-road tyres are needed for anything else.
Facts and Figures: 2018 RAM 1500
- Engine: 5.7L V8 petrol producing 291kW/556Nm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
- Warranty: 3/ 100,000km
- Safety: Not tested
- Origin: USA
- Price: from $79,950 drive away
Author: Alan Zurvas