2012 Ram 1500 Pickup Truck

Hemi-powered Ram delivers the goods in 11 full-size truck versions

Chrysler's Dodge division adopted the Ram designation for its pickup trucks back in 1981. Last redesigned for 2009, the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup got an official name change two years later, when Ram became the brand name for trucks that had formerly sold under the Dodge banner. The 2012 Ram 1500 pickup gets several detail changes, along with some modified model designations.

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Multiple Choice Ram 1500 Models

Ram 1500 pickups come in 11 versions, stretching from the Tradesman-which flaunts an 11,500-pound maximum trailer rating and 3,100-pound payload capacity-to the Sport R/T and Laramie Longhorn. The six-speed automatic transmission was recalibrated, and a new steering wheel contains cruise-control buttons. An industry-first RamBox cargo management system is available, including weatherproof, lockable, drainable storage bins built into bed rails.

Buyers face a bewildering variety of choices. Three Ram 1500 engines are offered, topped by a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that yields 390 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque. Chrysler's 3.7-liter V-6 develops 215 horsepower and 235 pound-feet, while the flex-fuel-capable 4.7-liter V-8 is rated at 310 horsepower and 330 pound-feet. Depending on engine, either a five- or six-speed automatic transmission may be installed, with either a column-mounted gearshift or an available floor-shifter.

Ram 1500 pickups are available with rear-wheel drive, or with either part-time or on-demand four-wheel drive. Regular cab, Quad Cab, and Crew Cab models are offered, with three cargo box lengths.

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Ram 1500 Styling and Safety

A power bulge sits atop the aluminum hood, above a forward-canted grille. Front and rear bumpers wrap around the bodysides. On Hemi V-8 models, the rear bumper is "radiused" over chromed dual exhaust tips. Chrysler claims more than 30 active and passive safety features for the 2012 Ram 1500. Quad and Crew Cab models are built in Michigan; regular-cab Rams in Mexico.

Surprisingly inviting and appealing even to a non-pickup fan, the Hemi-powered Ram Crew Cab pickup delivers plenty of practical virtues, as expected. But it does so with a lot more comfort and convenience, coupled with refined running, than would have been imaginable a few years back.

Sure, it sounds like a truck when you fire up the Hemi. Why not? Once underway, however, this Ram is easy to drive and the commercial-like sounds ease back neatly. The Hemi V-8 yields plenty of energy to accelerate, though you do feel a sense of heft when pushing hard.

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Interior and Ride Comfort

Climbing aboard can present a challenge for the non-agile, but narrow running boards actually help significantly. So does the grab handle directly above and toward the front. Sure, you must expect some bounciness at times, especially when unloaded. Still, ride comfort isn't much of a drawback anymore.

All occupants in a 2012 Ram 1500 get loads of space. Front seats are comfortable and inviting; rear seats, not so much. Rear seatbacks are too upright for comfort. Leg and toe space are okay, and headroom is fine. But a center occupant faces a higher floor, and will feel even snugger than his mates. The center front position (for a sixth passenger) has an even higher floor, plus a fold-down seatback that's wide and cushiony, but strictly for short-term use. Loading the cargo bed is trouble-free, past a gate that drops down smartly.

Excellent, easy-to-read main gauges have white numerals on a black background, with red pointers. Auxiliary gauges are small but acceptable. The radio sits high, with sufficiently marked controls, and climate controls are logical. The glovebox is a long reach away, but a big open compartment above it could be handy. One annoyance: we couldn't tell for sure when the headlights were on.

Oddly, protruding "DODGE" lettering sits above the center dashboard. Did they have too many leftover panels with the Dodge nameplate, and have to use them up even though the official division name is Ram?

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Fuel Economy and Pricing

Improving the Ram 1500 is one of Chrysler's recent successes, but fuel economy is still a sore point. With the Hemi V-8, a 2012 Ram 1500 gets an EPA estimate of just 13 mpg in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway. Picking the V-6 saves money while cutting into performance, without boosting gas mileage by much: 14-mpg city/20-mpg highway.

At the New York Auto Show in April 2012, Chrysler's Ram division unveiled the 2013 models, including a new 3.6-liter V-6 engine that promises 42 percent more horsepower and 13 percent more torque than the current 3.7-liter V-6. Fuel economy also is expected to grow by 20 percent or more. Gas mileage for the Hemi V-8 may increase by at least 10 percent. A new eight-speed automatic transmission will be available: standard with the new V-6 and available for Hemi-engine Ram 1500s.

Pricing for the 2012 Ram 1500 pickup starts at $23,415 (including $995 destination charge) for the 2WD regular-cab ST model, nearly doubling to $47,265 for the top Laramie Crew Cab edition. Our test Ram 1500 was a four-wheel-drive ST Quad Cab, with Hemi V-8 and a sticker price of $36,245 (including options). The Hemi edition is admittedly tempting despite the extra cost; but the new V-6 promised for 2013 sounds tempting. Once the 2013 Ram 1500 goes on sale, buyers might encounter especially appealing end-of-model-year 2012 Ram 1500 deals.

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