2009 Dodge Ram Laramie Crew Cab Preview
By Chris Haak
Since its debut at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this past January, I’d been very eager to drive the new-for-2009 Ram, having driven all of its competitors except for the also-new 2009 Ford F-150 (which itself hasn’t launched yet, and is also on our wish list here at 100 Full Metal Autos Plaza). This week, I finally had a chance to take a brief drive in a 2009 Ram. Even better, it was un-chaperoned and in a curvy, mountainous setting with both fresh blacktop and a stone parking lot.
Outside, I’ve been a fan of the 2009 Ram from the get-go; I’d consider it to now be the most attractive full-size pickup on the market. When the Chevy and GMC full-sizers debuted for the 2007 model year, even GM fans took a while to accept their appearance. Most Tundra buyers I’ve spoken with liked the Toyota reputation and spec sheet more than its amorphous jellybean-like shape, and the Titan is not only the oldest design in the segment, but appears to try a little to hard to look tough. That leaves the F-150, which was conservatively styled in 2004 and conservatively restyled for 2009. The looks are more refined than on the old Ram, and engine power, fuel efficiency, and interior quality have been improved. The plastic-heavy dashboard of the outgoing truck was replaced by a stitched dash top (reminiscent of the Cadillac CTS and other luxury or near-luxury cars) and soft-to-the-touch surfaces everywhere. It’s obvious that Chrysler put a lot of effort into the interior, and although it has attractive materials, etc., the design isn’t what I’d necessarily call flowing. It follows the standard Chrysler squared-off look for the most part. Storage abounds, including inside the optional Ram Box bedside storage, which can hold 120 twelve ounce cans per side. There is also storage in the previously-unused area beneath the floor and under the seat in crew cab models, such as the one that I drove.
On the road, the 5.7 liter HEMI has been upgraded with more power and MDS cylinder deactivation, now producing 390 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of torque (up from 345 horsepower and 375 lb-ft in the 2008 pickup). The Ram now has Chrysler’s MDS (multi-displacement system), whch deactivates four of the eight cylinders when not needed to save fuel, so the 5.7 liter HEMI has better fuel economy than the 2008 truck did, and in fact, better economy than the weaker 4.7 liter V8 has. When driving gently, MDS seemed to stay engaged longer than it does with GM vehicles that are equipped with it; the only time I witnessed a Suburban with the 5.3 liter V8 turn off four cylinders was downhill with my foot off the gas, but Chrysler’s system will actually even let you accelerate VERY gently in V4 mode (as it does in the large cars such as the 300C AWD that I tested earlier this year. Transitions between V8 and V4 mode were apparent, but not awful. Acceleration was good, and completely on par with the Tundra’s 5.7 liter (although the Tundra is paired with a six-speed automatic, so it may be a bit quicker, depending on each truck’s axle ratio). Dodge is also proud of its coil spring suspension, which is unique in the pickup segment. It improves the ride (honestly, I didn’t really notice anything special, but I also didn’t notice a skittish rear axle over bumps, so that may be a good thing). The truck soaked up bumps and road imperfections very well, and was quiet at highway speeds.
Chrysler expects to gain marketshare with its new 2009 Ram, in spite of the segment shrinking fairly rapidly. Like many vehicles, the Ram’s success or failure over the next 24 months will probably be driven in very large part by the direction fuel prices take. However, the fact that the truck has better looks, a better interior, better performance, and better fuel economy than both the truck it replaces and many of the other entries in the segment, Chrysler may be able to meet its market share growth objectives. Nissan must have seen something they liked in the 2009 Ram, as it’s going to form the basis of the next-generation Nissan Titan, which will be produced by Chrysler.
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