New-look-ram-04185602A Willie Vogt
NEW LOOK: The 2019 Ram 1500 gets plenty of new sheet metal, new chassis and a total cab redesign. The 'big rig' look remains, but is significantly toned down. These Laramie models are mid-range machines ready to get to work.

Taking a ride in a new Ram

Commentary: Pickup experience shows that the bar keeps getting higher for luxury, ride and performance in this market segment

It's not often that a farm writer gets a chance to do some quality seat time in a new pickup. We get invited from time to time, and every time we enjoy the experience. And for the 2019 Ram 1500 series there's a lot to learn, and experience for a truck that's essentially new from the tires up.

Auto and pickup writers from around the country traveled to Phoenix for some desert driving in the new pickup. The folks at Ram (these were Dodge Ram pickups until 2009) have been busy updating this truck, bringing along so many features that the writers often commented that there was too much to cover.

For purists, the biggest outward change is the end of the cross-hair grill. That had been phasing out in more recent models, but for 2019 it's gone for good and replaced with the word RAM worked into the front.

As for the trucks themselves? The company has narrowed the product list to models from the base Tradesman Quad Cab (that looks little like a 'base' pickup) starting at $31,695 to the top end Limited Crew Cab 4x4 V-8 at $57,390. Those prices don't include destination charges.

Willie Vogt

OFF ROADER: The Ram Rebel includes a higher lift, four-wheel drive and some durability. This early build truck handled like knew though a wide range of journalists had been pushing it around the off-road course.

The six models include the Tradesman, Bighorn, Rebel, Laramie, Longhorn and Limited. Each model has its own unique personality and branding, and most can access a range of tech option add-ins that raise their base prices.

Ram has loaded these machines with some significant underpinnings, from variable rate springs for improved ride and handling whether empty or carrying a load, to Frequency Response Damping shocks that boost ride and handling based on your travel speed. And there's higher hauling and towing capacity. These trucks can haul as much as 2,300 pounds and pull up to 12,750 pounds depending on the engine options and packages you choose.

In the cab, the key word is "luxury" even the more barebones cloth seat interior offers plenty of storage space, comfort and on-board tech to get you through the day. Moving above that Tradesman, you can access tech options including a ground-breaking 12-inch center screen mated to an exclusive SiriusXM service you'll not find on any other vehicle.

"Since we became a separate business in 2009, we've had a clear, laser focus on the truck customer," says Jim Morrison, how heads up RAM marketing for North America. He notes that the brand has worked to better understand the needs of customers.

It must be working, from 2009 to 2017 Ram sales have risen from about 260,000 units per year to more than 700,000 trucks per year. And in 2017 there were some months that Ram was No. 2 to perennial leader Ford in the light-duty segment.

For 2019, Morrison says the new Ram is a "no compromise" truck including its capacity, technology and luxury.

As for strength, the new chassis uses 98% high-strength steel with 50% used in the cab and the box. The box itself has been made stronger using a unique approach to engineering the rear brace that frames the sides and bottom of the bed. That brace is now a single, hydro-formed piece of high-strength steel, reducing the welds and brackets needed to obtain greater rigidity.

As for the tailgate on that bed? It's dampened (which most buyers now expect), and raises easy too. You can even lower it with your key fob on some models.

On the road

So how does it ride and drive? We got a chance to do highway driving with a Ram truck powered by the 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi. The trip also included narrow-road national park driving and even some off-roading with a Rebel model. Today's pickups ride like you're on a rail, and the Ram must meet or beat that standard. Rest assured, it does.

On the highway, riding with a passenger, conversation was in a normal tone of voice. The truck keeps out most wind noise and provides a quiet cabin. Acoustic glass for the windshield and a big investment in insulation helps. An active noise suppression system is available too, but mostly for the Hemi engine to dampen changing sounds when it goes into economy mode using only four cylinders.

Driving the truck with an empty bed, you never felt a tug of the wind through the back. Aerodynamics have changed, the new Ram has no "aerial" instead a shark fin, centered on the cab provides access to radio, SiriusXM and 4G LTE connectivity.

And this is a roomy cab, stretched an added four inches from its predecessor from front to back. That boosts room for front passengers by 1 inch and for rear passengers by 3 inches. This is a roomy place to do business.

On narrow roads, with tight curves, the steering response is solid. These days power steering can be dialed in to provide specific feedback at various speeds. The Ram engineers seem to have gotten that right. There was plenty of feedback for the driver without being fatiguing. Even a run through a posted 10 mph stretch of curves was handled at 40 mph with no problem - don't try this at home.

When towing - we pulled 6,500 pounds of boat and trailer - you knew you were in a light-duty truck, but it accelerated just fine. The tech in the truck allows the driver to know when lanes are clear for changes, because the truck "knows" how long your trailer is - the system takes a measurement with an onboard camera. For the boat, the truck knew we were pulling 30-feet of trailer.

And for the off-road experience, Ram has a new electronic locking rear differential. Hitting desert sand, and rugged river bottom areas was smooth. You always feel in control.

Conclusions

Ram has done plenty with this truck. The 12-inch screen is bigger than an iPad and provides you a top notch operating environment. The SiriusXM 360L system offers you programming you didn't know existed, including enough caching to keep you listening even in areas where getting a signal is tough; and it will only be offered in Ram trucks.

Willie Vogt

SCREEN TIME: The new 12-inch screen in the 2019 Ram 1500 is based on the popular Uconnect system from Chrysler. This is the latest version, and includes a Ram-only Sirius XM 360L system that helps users maximize their entertainment. There's even a 19-speaker, Harmon Kardon audio option for most models too.

We don't have the room here to go into all the luxury features, the 151 liters of in-cab storage (we're not kidding), and the advanced heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls. Today's pickup offer more luxury features than cars.

The new styling is toned down, but still retains the "big rig" look the company pioneered in 1994. But for 2019, and this is purely subjective, this new Ram looks more refined, less the toss-about young kid that the original big rig look offered. Now this truck is saying "I'm grown up, but I'm tough - enjoy the ride." We were not disappointed.

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