First Drive: 2009 Dodge Ram  trucks first drives
2009 Dodge Ram. Click image to enlarge

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Dodge Canada

Review and photos by Howard Elmer

Photo Gallery:
2009 Dodge Ram

Santa Barbara, California – The Dodge Ram has serious fans; like the guy who ran up to me in the Starbucks’ parking lot to show off his Ram logo tattoo. Then like a wide-eyed kid on Christmas he circled the 2009 two-ton Crew Cab Ram finally commenting, “Man, that’s pretty”.

What my tattooed friend was reacting to is the subtle (yet powerful) redesign of the Ram “big-rig” look that first dropped in ’94. With some rounding of the fenders and a forward-tilt to the cross-hair grille the truck has kept its silhouette, yet by pulling the lights back over the new one-piece bumper it’s taken on a faster, rakish, slipperier look. This new profile it comes by honestly – spending some 300 hours in wind tunnel testing alone. The result is better aerodynamics but it’s also the quietest Dodge cab yet. With the air following smoothly over and off the truck there is none of the buffeting noise of the previous generation.

First Drive: 2009 Dodge Ram  trucks first drives
First Drive: 2009 Dodge Ram  trucks first drives
2009 Dodge Ram; bottom photo courtesy Dodge. Click image to enlarge

Currently it’s safe to say that with this make-over (it’s now in its third generation), the Ram is reaching icon status. But homage in ink aside, the bigger story is inside where a completely new design shows up the old one as just plain bad.

The new interior features redesigned, bolstered seats, soft-touch material in two and even three-colour patterns (rather than nasty, hard battleship-grey plastic). Elements include a new centre console, upper and lower gloveboxes and a sculpted dashboard featuring chrome, leather and cloth accents – including items like real saddle stitching across the dash. Other available options include power adjustable pedals, double the number of previous storage spaces and for the first-time, items like heated and cooled front seats; heated rear seats and even a heated steering wheel.

In a nod to the current realities of the Canadian truck market (sales are down about 10 per cent overall) the new Ram will arrive on dealer lots this October better-equipped and cheaper than last year’s models. On average, they will be $2,200 cheaper. New models will start at $25,995 for a base 4×2 Regular Cab ST model and easily arrive in the upper 40′s for a dressed Crew Cab Laramie 4×4.

All this arrives at a time when all truck sales are sagging – so for the Ram brand these new trucks will be a boost; but it’s far from business as usual in Auburn Hills – as even with the California dust obscuring my vision I noted some obvious absences in the new line. Mega Cab, the oversized four-door crew that put a new spin on the term Cowboy Limousine is gone from the 1500 series (it’s strictly a HD option now) as is the third wheelbase that made it possible. Cut back to just two footprints, the Ram is now restricted to the size of boxes it can offer with its Quad and Crew Cab options. Frankly, they get just one each – 6’4″ and 5’7″ respectively. The only eight-footer will come with the two-door Regular Cab now.

First Drive: 2009 Dodge Ram  trucks first drives
2009 Dodge Ram “Rambox” feature; photo courtesy Dodge. Click image to enlarge

So while box options are limited Dodge has added a slick new feature called “RamBox”. These are two weatherproof, lockable storage bins that run the length of the 5′ 7″ box. Wide as the wheel well – they create a space big enough for a full set of golf clubs, yet inside the width of the truck bed stays at four feet. It will be a $1500 option on Crew Cab models only.

Engines too are largely the same as last year – with only the 5.7-litre Hemi getting a few tweaks (bumping up torque and horsepower with added VVT). But the tranny remains a five-speed (vs. the coming F-series six-speed gearbox) and the smaller 4.7-litre V8 and base 3.7-litre V6 (coupled to a four-speed) are both long in the tooth and not hugely fuel-efficient.

So while design, materials and execution on the new Ram shine (most of which was already done under Daimler’s watch) the choices are reduced and the powertrain got cheaped out on.

First Drive: 2009 Dodge Ram  trucks first drives
First Drive: 2009 Dodge Ram  trucks first drives
2009 Dodge Ram rear suspension; photo courtesy Dodge (top) and new tailgate. Click image to enlarge

The exception to this underside fiscal cutback is in the new rear suspension. A complete departure from the long-used leaf-springs, Dodge has gone with a new coil spring rear suspension that changes the ride of the solid rear axle for the better. All owners know how leafs skitter over washboard roads – well, the coils soak up the impacts and I found the rear wheels didn’t snap and dance at all – though the axle is still stiff the coils make the truck holds its line better, particularly on dirt.

Which brings me to the rear of the truck – a design cue that is sure to take off are the twin tail pipes (they come with the Hemi) that push through half-moon cut-outs in the bumper. Also, four and seven-pin trailer connectors have been moved up into the step bumper – nice and neatly out of the stream of mud, snow and water. It will tow 4128 kg and has a payload of 862 kg.

However when you drop the tailgate don’t expect it to lower gently – Dodge still hasn’t added a spring assist to its design; instead they spent money on a pronounced sheet metal lip (looks a bit like a spoiler) to the top of the gate. This looks nice but note that if you’re loading say an ATV off a ramp the painted steel is what is going to be touching. Oops!

For you aftermarket boys – consider this an opportunity – I’m sure you’ll come up with a durable add-on cover to solve this problem – while someone at Dodge will be kicking themselves for missing that obvious fault.

The new Ram – excellent interior, good design progression, a worthy link in the icon chain. Now get to work on the other stuff.

At a glance: 2009 Dodge Ram

Price: Regular Cab ST $25,995; Quad Cab ST $30,295; Crew Cab SLT $34,190

Engines: 3.7-litre V6 (four-speed automatic); 4.7-litre V8 (five-speed automatic); 5.7-litre HEMI V8 MDS (five-speed automatic)

Power/torque: 3.7-litre: 215 hp and 235 lb-ft; 4.7-litre: 310 hp and 330 lb-ft; 5.7-litre: 390 hp and 407 lb-ft

Fuel Consumption (4×2 models): 3.7-litre: 14.8 L/100km (city) and 10.0 L/100km (highway); 4.7-litre: 15.6 L/100km (city) and 10.8 L/100km (highway); 5.7-litre: 15.4 L/100km (city) and 10.2 L/100km (highway)

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