2013 RAM 1500

New Ram 1500 adds civility to the full-size pickup class

After a 2009 redesign that added refinement and improved road manners, the 2013 Ram 1500 is redesigned again. This time it adds even more interior and driving refinement, as well as powertrain updates that include a strong new V6 engine and an advanced eight-speed automatic transmission, both of which enabled best-in-class fuel economy. While the Ram may not move up from third in the full-size pickup sales race, these changes make it the most livable truck on the road.

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Bottom Line

The 2013 Ram 1500 is offered with three cab styles and three bed lengths. The regular cab is available with 6-foot, 4-inch or 8-foot beds, the Quad Cab has the 6-foot, 4-inch bed, and the Crew Cab has a 5-foot, 7-inch bed. Trim levels consist of Tradesman, Express, HFE, SLT, Big Horn/Lone Star, Outdoorsman, Sport, Laramie, and Laramie Limited.

The Tradesman is very basic, with air conditioning, vinyl floors and seats, cruise control, manual windows and doors, 6-speaker AM/FM stereo, and 17-inch steel wheels. The Express gets carpeting and floor mats, 20-inch aluminum wheels, and more body color trim. The fuel-economy conscious HFE has active grille shutters, a tonneau cover, and an automatic start/stop feature. It also gets cloth upholstery, power windows and door locks, power heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, and satellite radio. Standard on the SLT are a power sliding rear window, and most of the creature comforts of the HFE. The Big Horn and Texas-exclusive Lone Star add upgraded cloth upholstery, power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, fog lamps, and a Class IV trailer hitch receiver.

True to its name, the Outdoorsman comes with skid plates, 17-inch on/off-road tires, tow hooks, and a larger fuel tank. It also adds a universal garage door opener, auto-dimming power-folding mirrors, floor-mounted center console, Ram's UConnect 8.4-inch touchscreen, and an alarm. The Sport gets body color trim, a sport-tuned exhaust, and a more advanced version of UConnect that enables a Wi-Fi hotspot, emergency response, and access to apps through a paired smartphone. The Laramie comes with dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable pedals, leather upholstery, power front passenger seat, heated/ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. The Laramie Limited is loaded with most of the features mentioned above, plus rear park assist, remote starting, HD radio, navigation system, Sirius Travel Link and real-time traffic, leather and wood steering wheel, heated second-row seats, premium leather upholstery, and a full-size center console.

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New Powertrains Improve Fuel Economy Without Sacrificing Power

The big powertrain news for 2013 is the addition of Chrysler Group's 3.6-liter Phoenix V6 and an electronically controlled eight-speed automatic transmission. With this combo, the Ram delivers EPA fuel economy ratings of 17 mpg city/25 highway, and the HFE model improves those numbers to 18/25, the best among full-size pickups. Not bad for 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. The combination is so good that Ram considers the 4.7-liter V8, with its 310 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, the base engine. It uses only the six-speed automatic transmission and its fuel economy is rated at 14/20 with rear-wheel drive.

The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 also returns. It churns out 395 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque and is offered with the six- or eight-speed automatic transmission, depending on the model. Fuel economy estimates are 14/20 with the six-speed, and we expect the eight-speed to improve those numbers by an mpg or two.

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Smooth, Usable Power

Ram made only the 3.6 and Hemi engines available for testing, but the 4.7-liter V8 is a familiar engine that offers decent power. However, both of the alternatives are better. The V6 is smooth and powerful, pushing the Ram from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, a full three seconds quicker than the ancient 3.7-liter V6 it replaces. It works well with the new eight-speed transmission, which shifts smoothly and keeps the engine in its power band when needed. Owners will enjoy driving this powertrain and we recommend it for anyone who doesn't need the extra towing capacity of the Hemi V8.

For those who need or want more, the Hemi V8 gets the Ram moving with ease and provides confident passing power. It makes robust truck sounds and launches the Ram from 0 to 60 mph in as little as six seconds. The eight-speed automatic is just as smooth and responsive when paired with the Hemi as it is with the V6.

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Midpack Capability

Since we like both the 3.6 and the 5.7, it's probably best to choose the powertrain based on towing and hauling needs. The 3.6 tops out at 6500 pounds of towing capacity and 1930 pounds of payload, while the Hemi can tow 10,450 pounds and haul 1720 pounds of payload. By comparison, the top numbers for the Ford F-150 are 11,300 /3060, while the Chevy comes in at 10,000/1794. In this regard, the Ram 1500 is certainly capable and it beats the Chevy, but it's bested by the Ford.

Like any good truck, the Ram boasts four-wheel-drive capability. Full and part-time systems are offered, each with low-range gearing. We much prefer the full-time system, which is offered with the Hemi engine, because it works when needed and doesn't need to be disengaged on dry pavement.

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Stiffer Chassis, Better Ride

Ram engineers also made several improvements to the chassis. They kept the smooth-riding coil-spring rear suspension introduced with the 2009 model, but constructed a new frame with greater use of high-strength steel to improve rigidity and reduce noise, vibration and harshness. The Ram team also developed an optional air suspension that improves the ride and offers five different ride heights. The Normal mode has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, an Aero mode lowers the ride 1.1 inches to improve fuel economy at speed, Off-Road 1 and Off-Road 2 raise the ride height 1.2 and two inches, respectively, to allow the vehicle to clear off-road obstacles and improve approach and departure angles, and a Park mode lowers the truck two inches to make it easier to get in and out or load the bed.

All this chassis work has paid off. Dodge made competitive models available for testing and we can confirm that both the coil-spring rear suspension and optional air suspension make the Ram the best riding truck on the market. Other pickups have rear leaf springs that cause bounding motions over bumps. The Ram irons out those motions, giving it a more carlike ride.

The handling is also quite good, but the sheer size of the 1500 means it's not very agile and is hard to maneuver in tight spaces. It also leans noticeably in turns but it still feels far more agile than the Chevy Silverado. The steering is fairly direct and it feels natural, but we found the F-150's steering to be a bit quicker and therefore more satisfying. The Chevrolet Silverado's numb steering is frustratingly slow compared to both trucks. The Ram's brakes are also progressive and easy to modulate, but it takes a long time to slow down this big beast. With handling characteristics that are a close match for the Ford F-150, and superior ride quality, the Ram 1500 offers the best road manners on the market.

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Welcoming Cabin

The interior changes for 2013 also give it the best full-size truck interior. While most pickup cabins feature a sea of hard plastics, the Ram gets soft-touch materials on the upper doors starting at the SLT level, a stitched soft-touch dash on Laramies, and open-pore wood trim on the Laramie Limited. It's simply the richest, most attractive pickup interior, and it's appropriate, too, given how easy it is to spend $45,000 on a pickup truck. Pay that much for a Ford or Chevy and you still get all that plastic.

Buyers get a functional interior, too. Small items storage bins abound, including a dual glove box and handy door pockets. While the center console is large, it isn't big enough for a laptop computer or file folders. When the eight-speed automatic transmission is ordered, it moves the gearshift to a dial on the dash, which opens up space on the center console that can be used to set even more small items. The familiar RamBox bedside storage system is also standard on most trucks. It provides lockable, drainable, and lighted storage in each bed side, and is a great way to carry hunting or fishing equipment.

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New Amenities

The Ram adds plenty of features as well. Two versions of Chrysler Group's 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen are available, one with navigation and one without. It runs the radio, MP3 players, and phones, and provides access to apps through owners' smartphones, including Bing local search and Pandora and iHeartRadio internet radio. In this day of connectivity, we find UConnect Touch to be one of the easier systems to use.

The Ram is also offered with an Alpine sound system, UConnect Access, which turns the truck into a Wi-Fi hotspot, and a seven-inch configurable screen in the instrument panel. This screen provides trip computer information, as well digital versions of analog gauges and audio, digital speed and trailering info.

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