Talk to any truck folks, and they’ll probably mention the latest Ram 1500, a reworked vehicle from the revamped Chrysler. It’s hot stuff among truckeratti.
Yet even a shiny, pricy, Ram 1500 Crew Cab ($46,000 as tested), gets odd looks around Manhattan. It marks you as an outsider as surely as eating a slice at the Times Square Sbarro or riding the Circle Line.
Which makes sense. Our roads are clogged enough, and trying to squeeze around Tribeca in a long, wide vehicle like the Ram is not doing anybody any favors. Turns are extra wide, and pedestrians eye the tall, flat nose of the Ram warily as they cross in front.
Yet I think that the residents of my fine city are missing out. There’s a reason we Americans have a love affair with the truck. And a week in the Ram reminded me why.
Many of the surprises come from how far the Ram has come from the rough trucks of my youth. Or, really, even from the Ram’s last generation. (Chrysler just made a huge recall of 2009-2012 models because of a problem that could cause the rear axle to lock up, a dangerous situation.)
The 2013 model year is awash in the kind of amenities that you’d have found in a top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz sedan a dozen years ago. Take the eight-speed automatic transmission. It saves gas and is never found hunting for the right gear.
The seats are comfortable. You can get buckets, or you can opt for a bench-style seat. I like the bench seat best because it reminds me of my high-school, hand-me-down pickup. Only a small person will fit in the middle, but you can also fold down a center partition which gives you an extra storage area.
Because my test model was a bigger-than-life crew cab starting at $36,740 (you can get the Ram in any number of cab configurations), it also had big back seats accessed by man-size rear doors. Models start in the mid-$20,000 for a two-door 4X2.
While a truck hood makes a fine table to hunch over a large, wind-fluttering map, you won’t need a Rand McNally in the Ram’s glove box. My test model had Chrysler’s quite-good navigation screen, an 8.4-inch touch screen that is easy to figure out.
I also had satellite radio, which comes in clearly and which scrolls through channels quickly. Mine was piped through an upgraded ($300) Alpine system with a thumping bass. Different from the twist dial I grew up with, which tuned in two staticky AM stations.
You won’t mistake the 1500’s ride for a Lexus sedan, but an optional air suspension ($1,595) keeps it relatively level while cornering. It also allows you to alter ride height. The lowest setting makes for easier access to the cab. The highest is used to clear obstacles if you go off road.
The Ram is built to take abuse, and in that sense is well suited to Manhattan. I bumped along downtown cobblestone streets, rolled over a dislodged metal plate and plowed through Chihuahua-sized divots on the West Side Highway.
So too did the Ram behave brilliantly after the recent snow storm. Slush and snow pileups gave it no pause. However, bad weather in any nose heavy, light-reared truck means you have to get any braking done early and in a straight line.
The model I had was equipped with four-wheel-drive, which you have to engage when needed and is best for off-road use. Otherwise it functions as a rear-wheel drive. Some trucks power all four wheels all the time, better suited for urban cowboys.
The Ram’s full glory was engaged when I moved apartments. A bunch of stuff needed to be stored elsewhere, out in the country. I stuffed the back seats with fragile items and the rear bed swallowed large pieces of furniture.
Out on the highway, the 3.6-liter V-6, with 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, was up to the job of pushing the 1500 up steep hills and past slower cars. It gets 16 miles per gallon city, 23 highway.
For those who can’t resist the call of serious power, Ram offers a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with 395 horsepower and 407 lb-foot of torque. It manages 13 and 19 mpg.
Around a small town in Pennsylvania, the Ram grew admiring glances.
“Beautiful truck,” one old-timer breathed at the gas station.
Then it was back to Manhattan. Near my new apartment, I headed to a parking garage. And then another. And another. At each place, the answer was the same. No, sorry. Uh-uh. Too big. Too long. No room in here for a vehicle of that size.
New York just isn’t a truck kind of town.
The Ram 1500 SLT Crew Cab 4X4 at a Glance
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6 with 305 horsepower and 269 pound-
feet of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Gas mileage per gallon: 16 city, 23 highway.
Price as tested: $46,605.
Best features: All around usability.
Worst feature: Trying to find a place to park it.
Target buyer: A truck lover looking for some luxe touches.