DID you hear the one about the two RAMS in a paddock? Sure it sounds like a bad dad joke, but in this case, it’s the RAM 1500 Laramie EcoDiesel and Express V8 HEMI Crew Cab – two of America’s finest pickup trucks.
On one hand we have the red RAM 1500 5.7-litre HEMI V8; brash, big and charismatic. It’s up against its sibling, the white RAM 1500 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel; endearing and with ample performance, but more the conservative, quieter brother.
We started our liaison with the two RAM brothers with Big Red, and it immediately welcomed us in to its capacious, luxury interior. From the outset, we should tell you these vehicles are remanufactured in right hand drive, here in Australia.
The handiwork is completed by Walkinshaw Group, which goes some way to explaining the higher price for RAM Trucks in Australia when compared to the US. That said, the build quality is exceptional and it’s hard to tell this wasn’t built locally, it’s that seamless.
Slip the key into the ignition and fire the big Mopar V8 into life and there is that delightful thrum that you only get from an engine with two banks of four cylinders. Twist the rotary dial gear selector to D, ease away from the kerb and you realise there is a well of power.
It’s resting under that right foot, and it is eager to gallop away down the road more like a stallion than a RAM. Smooth, torquey and far more sophisticated than you could imagine, the HEMI V8 just purrs away and responds instantly when you jab that right foot pedal.
It roars like a sports car and performs like one as well. Herein lies the true beauty of the RAM V8. One moment it is idling along at particularly low revs, the next it can be instantly snapped to warp speed.
The suspension and handling tune is very good too and even when hurried along it turns into corners well, rides over bumps with aplomb and has steering that is sharp and well weighted.
While many consider the 1500 to be a hulk of a truck , the RAM is 5817mm long, 2017mm wide and 1983mm high. Compare that to a Ranger Raptor, that is 5398mm long, 2028mm wide and 1873mm high.
The RAM in particular has struck a real vain of popularity in the Australian market and while it is a bit more expensive than most of the established Japanese and Euro utes, the RAM is also surprisingly competitive.
That is probably why they are driving out of showrooms at the rate of about 60 to 70 a week. RAM sold just under 2700 trucks last year, and to the end of September this year the tally was just over 2500.
When you crunch the cost numbers you realise the RAM 1500 V8 crew cab as we tested it, priced from $89,950 plus on road costs, is still pretty competitive with the top of the dual cab ute pack.
For a start, a bare bones, dual cab Toyota LandCruiser manual GX will set you back about $82,000 plus on roads with a tray, and nowhere near the equipment levels of the RAM. The Toyota HiLux dual cab SR5 wears a tag of about $67,000.
When you look at the likes of Ford’s Ranger Raptor ($76,490) and VW Amarok TDI 580 ($72,790), the RAM looks like pretty reasonable value, particularly given equipment levels, towing and hauling capacity and overall street presence.
For those 89000 clams you need to shell out for the RAM 1500 V8 Express Crew Cab the biggest attraction is under the bonnet, where the 5.7-litre Hemi pumps out 291kW and a whopping 556Nm of torque.
Of course when you push the throttle down hard and take advantage of all those watts, the fuel consumption will rise appropriately. It has a claimed fuel economy of 12.2-litres/100km, which is pretty hefty but not ugly.
You can get as low as 10.9-litres/100km with the electronic deactivation that silently turns off cylinders too. It’s not light though, tipping the scales at more than 2,500kg. Alternatively you can of course tap Big Red’s conservative brother.
Its 3.0-litre V6 diesel delivers 179kW of power and 569Nm of torque, but here’s the rub, the EcoDiesel is only 0.3 of a litre per 100km better than its showy sibling on the combined cycle.
It doesn’t sound like much but the diesel is actually considerably more economical around town where constant stop start and acceleration will see it sip a lot less diesel than the unleaded the HEMI drinks.
The EcoDiesel equipped RAM Laramie will set you back $109,950 before on-road costs, so it’s a fair bit dearer, and this author’s tiny brain would need an hour with a calculator to work out if the extra $20,000 could be made back in fuel economy.
It is easy to forget, but the RAM is a full four-wheel drive, offering a push button selection for 2WD, 4WD High and 4WD Low range. We didn’t get the chance to go off road in either of the RAMs, we were too enamoured with its on road ride and handling capabilities.
The transfer works on the go and you can easily slip into 4WD high and back into 2WD at the push of the button, totally without fuss. Another thing about the RAM is that it is very well equipped, in both the Express and the higher spec Laramie.
Inside the cabin you get standard climate control air con, the terrific uConnect multi-media system with an 8.3-inch LED control screen with Bluetooth connectivity, and Apple Car Play/Android Auto, six-speakers and terrific sound quality.
The Express gets cloth trim for its vast interior seating capacity while Laramie is trimmed in leather. The front seat occupants sit in terrific supportive buckets separated by a mega console, while the bench in the rear seats three.
It also features some nifty convenience items like the seat being able to be folded up, providing a secure, flat, added load area, if you have no rear passengers onboard.
Standard out back is a spray on tub-liner, to protect the load area from damage, and the Express we tested also had the optional RAM-boxes on each side of the tray. These use the space over and around the wheel mound to great effect.
The boxes have lockable lids so they are secure and open on hydraulic struts, are lined with heavy duty hard poly-plastic and they are drainable as well as being fitted with lighting.
You can store golf clubs, chain saws, tools or camping gear in them safe in the knowledge they are locked away, or you can fill then with ice and drinks as sort of jumbo eskies. The RAM boxes are so good we are amazed other companies haven’t copied them.
The load area is big and usable although it does seem higher and a little more in accessible than the average dual cab pick-up. Even with the RAM boxes there is plenty of space although the payload is a little on the light side at 850kg.
The towing capacity at 4500kg braked is so far ahead of all of the other Japanese/Euro dual cabs it’s not funny. The ambience inside the cab on the road is quiet and cosseted. This is not your typical work truck, it is comfortable and very pleasant.
Surprisingly, there is very little wind noise, barely any rumble from the tyres and the V8 purr even with a sports exhaust is not intrusive at all. There is also very good NVH characteristics, indicating excellent isolation between the cab and the separate chassis.
The fact is there is a huge amount of room in the dual cab, enough to spread out and relax and an equally impressive amount of storage space, from the massive centre console tub to the door pockets and all of the other nooks and crannies around the cab.
Like the similar Chevy Silverado we tested a while back, the RAM has the sort of space to fit the starting five of the LA Magic, without feeling crowded. The leg room front and back is astounding too.
In terms of driving dynamics and the physics of a big heavy pickup, the RAM 1500 is super impressive. Not only does it accelerate well, it also stops and steers tremendously (is that a Trump-ism these days?).
The big four wheel disc set up pulls up the RAM, whether petrol or diesel, with enormous confidence while the previously mentioned steering response and overall handling package is very good indeed.
On a run west across the Blue Mountains, the RAM comes into its own, it is pleasant around town but on a run on country blacktop it really is a joy to drive. It is relaxed, comfortable, eats up the kilometres and handles the bumps and turns with ease.
The RAM 1500 comes with a 3-year/100,000km warranty along with roadside assistance throughout the warranty period. The servicing schedule requires a visit to the mechanic every 12 months or 20,000km.
It is clear the RAM isn’t for everyone. It is big, brash and different to what we are used to in Australia, but a lot more people are warming to the idea. For us, the V8 would be the model of choice, as it’s better value.
Apart from that, we just love the V8 burble and the instant power on tap the big bent eight delivers. If you have a big boat, caravan or trailer to tow and you like plenty of space, power and refinement, then the RAM 1500 is well worth a look.
Our test vehicles were supplied by RAM Trucks Australia. To find out more about the 2020 RAM 1500 Laramie EcoDiesel and Express V8 HEMI Crew Cab, contact your local RAM Trucks dealer.