Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie 4x4
When Dodge debuted its new half-ton Ram models in 2009, the company was quick to point out in its advertising that it came with a coil-spring rear suspension. Great for ride quality and off-road ability. Not always the best choice for towing trailers.
So before you jump to any conclusions, let us tell you that the Ram 1500’s ride does benefit greatly from the rear coil springs, especially when compared with trucks with leaf springs. What’s more, the setup is beefy enough to withstand the rigors of towing duty. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Towing With It
Even in four-wheel-drive trim, the Ram 1500 we tested was rated to pull 10,000 pounds,which means the 4,200-pound trailer we towed didn’t pose much of a challenge, but it did give us some insight into how this truck behaves while towing.
For example, to make our test a bit more challenging, we disconnected the trailer brake controller to see how the truck would handle it. In a word: beautifully. The Ram 1500 has tremendous brakes, with or without a trailer in tow. It’s a four-wheel disc setup, with pedal feel that makes the system easy to modulate, yet provides lots of stopping power at virtually all pedal positions. The pedal is sensitive enough to make it easier for the driver to brake smoothly, yet is not the least bit touchy. It’s a fantastic system, one of the best we’ve tested on any half-ton pickup.
Three towing features we really liked were the power sliding rear window, the seven-blade and four-pin connectors on the bumper and the backup camera in the rear tailgate handle, which displayed an excellent rear view on the dash-mounted nav screen.
With tow/haul mode engaged, the transmission will drop down a gear when necessary to provide engine braking. It even rev-matches the throttle to smooth the transition, and it makes it much easier to control downhill speeds with a trailer in tow.
While towing on the highway, the truck hummed along at 1,900 rpm at 60 mph. The exhaust note is throaty and sounds terrific, yet never produces bothersome harmonics or becomes intrusive in the cabin. It’s clear a lot of thought went into the exhaust system. The rear bumper also featured cutouts in the lower edge of the bumper to accommodate the large stainless tips, a first on a pickup, and a very cool design element.
Going up a mile-long 7 percent grade with a trailer in tow, the five-speed transmission proved its worth. The engine dropped down to fourth gear, and only required 3,000 rpm to maintain 60 mph with the cruise control engaged. If you plan to tow, the five-speed 545RFE automatic is the transmission you want.
Were it ours to outfit for towing, we’d go with two wheel drive and a limited slip axle, which ups EPA mileage figures to 14 city, 20 highway. However, if you live where it snows, four-wheel drive is a bit like a having a gun: better to have one and not need it than to need one and not have it.
Living With It
For most people, the vehicle they use for towing is also the one they use everyday, which can mean sacrifices in fuel economy and maneuverability.
In the case of the Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4 x 4, those sacrifices are no worse than those of any other four-door pickup. During our weeklong test, we found parking spaces that were convenient to the front door of the grocery store, but too small for us to park in. We had to find a larger space, which always seems to make for a longer walk to the store.
The Ram 1500 is a big half-ton truck, bigger than the model it replaces. It is wide and tall and has immense doors, but that seems have become a dominant trend over the last decade. If you don’t believe us, park a 1997 or 2006 Dodge Ram next to a new one and you’ll see. Likewise, park a new F-150 next to an old one, or a new Silverado next to one from even one generation ago. They’re all remarkably larger.
The good news is that they are all better too, and so is the new Ram 1500. For starters, the Ram’s ride is far better than that of previous models. On comically flawed stretches of Southern California freeway, the Ram soaks up most of the small bumps quite well. More significant bumps, such as sections of patched and repatched asphalt, do transmit to the cabin and tend to unsettle the steering more than we would have liked, but if we were not testing the vehicle, we would have steered around that kind of pavement.
On the highway, during a trip to Bakersfield for the nostalgia drag races at Auto Club Famoso dragway, we netted right at 18 mpg, which is spot on what the EPA estimates tell us. The trip included going up and over the Grapevine, a steep, 4,100-foot mountain pass that leads from the Los Angeles basin to the San Joaquin Valley. During suburban driving, we saw 14 mpg, which is about average for a half-ton pickup these days—and also right on par with EPA numbers. Earlier versions of the 5.7-liter Hemi were much less fuel efficient, so it’s good to see improvement.
Dodge was able to get that kind of mileage from its Hemi for a couple of reasons. One, the engine now is fitted with variable valve timing, which helps to increase torque and lower its peak in the rpm range. For example, the 2003 model we tested with a 5.7-liter Hemi without variable valve timing produced 375 pound feet of torque at 4,200 rpm. The engine in the 2010 Ram produced 407 pound-feet at 4,000 rpm. The older Hemis in Ram trucks seemed to require a lot more throttle to get them going, which equated to poor fuel mileage, particularly when compared with GM’s Vortec engine line. The new engine has a noticeable increase in grunt and yet is more fuel efficient.
What really helps the truck achieve that kind of highway mileage is the Multi Displacement System, which debuted in 2006. MDS deactivates four of eight cylinders, which enables an increase in fuel economy of up to 20 percent. The system activates on the highway and even idling down 25-mph streets. It engages seamlessly and is only barely detectable when all cylinders come back online. Pretty neat.
In terms of creature comforts that make daily use more pleasant, the Laramie has them. All of them. The leather seating surfaces front and back are heated, as is the steering wheel, and the front seats also have a ventilation system for those sticky summer days. The SiriusXM satellite radio has everything you can think of to listen to, and the system also picks up the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, which display the DVD player on the ceiling and on the dash nav screen. To keep driver distraction to a minimum, the dash display reverts to radio or nav settings when you put the truck in gear. The system also comes with wireless headsets for backseat passengers. It’s a $1,695 option package your kids will love.
Inside, the Laramie edition is fitted with every power option, including two-driver memory seats, dual-zone temperature controls, MP3 and iPod connectivity. The Laramie interior also features rich materials, a nice mix of silver tone dash panels, faux woodgrain and a tasteful smattering of brightwork, a big improvement over the model it replaces. Dodge designers also eliminated the blind spot at the base of the A-pillar, which was something we never liked on any of the earlier models.
When Dodge delivered the Ram 1500 Laramie Crew, it was surprising how much better it was than the trucks it replaces, not because earlier models were subpar, but because of how much thought went into the new product. From the interior trim and materials to the ride quality, creature comforts, engine characteristics and weight ratings, the new Ram 1500 is a capable tow vehicle you could drive every day.