First drive: 2019 Ram 1500, the all-new and highly capable pickup truck
We recently took a trip to Arizona, to drive the all-new 2019 Ram 1500 pickup truck. After a day on the highway, offroad in the dirt, and towing a boat, we walked away with a clear feeling for what this truck is and what it can do. Ram Trucks put a lot of work into this new 1500 and it definitely shows.
Out in the elevated desert of Scottsdale, Arizona, we found several renditions of the 2019 Ram 1500 ready for our perusal. From the everyday Big Horn package to the high-falutin' Laramie rendition and in the rough-and-ready Rebel build, there was a Ram package for everyone. With a few exceptions.
The 2019 Ram 1500 debuted in Detroit this year and quickly became one of the most-read items on our website. As noted then, the Ram 1500 is not much different from the outgoing generation, but with several key differences. The Ram logo, for example, now dominates the styling both up front and on the rear – this comes as Ram Trucks finally sheds all of its Dodge roots and, a decade after becoming a separate division, has finally rebranded itself completely.
Up close and personal, with our hands on the wheel or our feet in the bed, there are a lot of differences between the outgoing generation of Ram and this new 2019 1500. Before we talk about driving the rig, let's look at key changes made to the truck.
Key Points To the New Ram 1500
To start with, the styling on the truck is more fluid. Gone (finally) are the Dodge crossbars on the grille, and in is a huge RAM logo surrounded by grille slits and a heavy surround. Bodywork is similar, but less edge-prone with smoother side panels. The rear tailgate is noticeably different (once the giant Ram's head logo is seen past), with a smoother tailgate and tighter seams. The Ram retains its high clearance both from the ground and around the tires in the wells, though, and has the same square windows and fast-flow roofline as before.
The 2019 Ram 1500's coefficient of drag is now 0.357, which is in the arena of sedans rather than pickup trucks.
The new styling for the 2019 Ram 1500 plays a big part in its segment-leading aerodynamics, and comes thanks to extensive use of high-strength, low-weight materials like the high-strength, low-alloy steel in the bed, 6,000-series aluminum on the hood and tailgate, and 210 bake hard steel in the fenders. Overall, the Ram 1500 is now 225 lb (102 kg) lighter than the outgoing generation of the truck.
Much of that comes from the framing, which is now almost exclusively high-strength steel. This lighter-weight, stronger frame supports a bigger truck (about four inches longer) that is more capable, with higher towing and cargo hauling capacities than before. The most obvious statement to that latter fact are the six-lug wheels and much larger brake discs behind them. Maximum payload is now 2,300 lb (1,043 kg) and maximum towing is now 12,750 lb (5,783 kg), depending on the truck's configuration.
Underneath the bodywork and on top of those lightweight underpinnings are several gadgets making that Cd happen. Active grille shutters are now standard on the Ram 1500 as is an active air dam up front, which raises and lowers according to the truck's speed. Trucks equipped with the optional air ride suspension also benefit from the body raising and lowering in a similar way, improving highway aerodynamics. Subtle changes to the body, such as the curvature of the roofline, the higher bed rails (1.5 inches or 38mm), and the modified shape of the tailgate's spoiler curve, all add to these aero improvements.
Powertrain changes were also prolific in the new Ram. At issue with our driving opportunity, however, was that most of those changes were not available for us to try. The new eTorque mild hybrid system, which helps maximize towing and hauling as well as fuel efficiency, was not available. Neither was the new V6 engine with its myriad of changes for improvements in power delivery and efficiency. Instead, we drove the largely unchanged 5.7-liter V8 engine which, we will note, is still very impressive as a strong, well-vetted engine as the mainstream offering for this truck.
What has changed on that HEMI V8 are smaller things which went a long way towards improving fuel efficiency and power delivery. Gone is the clutched cooling fan, replaced by a completely electric one that is electronically controlled. The engine's cylinder deactivation for fuel saving is also improved, with better computer control and lower highway noise.
Attached to that engine is a re-programmed, re-tuned TorqueFlite automatic transmission. With eight gears to choose from, the transmission has a wider spread of gear ratios and more aggressive lower gearset for better power delivery at the start and less fuel consumption at speed. Both the V6 and V8 engines used this transmission, though the smaller engine's trans is a slightly different model with gearing and programming tuned towards the six.
Actually Driving the new 2019 Ram 1500
With a bit of understanding about what's changed on the new Ram 1500, getting behind the wheel was a lesson in understanding how all of this comes together. Ram designed a new shift knob for the 1500, which is now easier to grip and more positive in terms of letting the driver know a gear change has been made. We liked that, and it adds to the overall ambiance of work-readiness that the 2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn we started out in gave off.
Right off the bat, we spun the tires in the parking lot as we left, not realizing how much more power the V8 was capable of outputting to the rear wheels when in two-wheel drive. Our next lesson was in how aggressive those huge brakes are. The huge 14.9-inch discs up front and 14.8-inch discs at rear (378.5mm, 375.9mm) are sports car-like in their immediate response and aggressive stopping – and require a little time to get used to – but they really come in handy when towing, which we learned later.
This was also true of the higher amount of softness the truck has when on the road. It absorbs road bumps extremely well and is very smooth and quiet on the highway. There is a bit more body roll than was found in the previous generation of the truck, oddly enough, despite the improved stiffness of the new design. Road noise is far lower than it was before, however, and much of that comes from improvements to noise-vibration-harshness (NVH) in the truck's overall build plus the use of active noise dampening in the cabin to lower more stressful sounds. Ram is now using frequency response damping (FRD) shocks as standard. These shock absorbers have valves that open and close to change the amount of dampening and absorption in any given situation.
Those were put to the test in some light offroading with the Big Horn we drove, which proved itself more than comfortable on dirt, gravel, and washboard – more so than we can recall experiencing in any full-sized truck. This smoothness also imparts confidence for the driver when driving on less than ideal roadways.
We then got into the 2019 Ram 1500 Laramie, for a more luxurious drive with a less workaday and more comfort-oriented cabin. In this truck, we noted the same attributes in the drive quality and feel. The improved infotainment, with the latest in Uconnect interfaces, remains the best in the business as far as we're concerned, with crisp graphics, fast responses, and extremely capable ease of use.
With the Laramie, we added a boat and trailer, weighing around 6,300 lb (2,858 kg) in all. We towed that for a little while on a back country roadway at low speeds (25-35 mph, 40-56 km/h) before turning onto a highway and pulling that trailer up a four percent grade at 65 mph (105 km/h). The engine barely noticed as we hauled that trailer up and back down that grade.
We noticed several things, however, that are key to this truck. The 2019 Ram 1500 had little trouble pulling that trailer, but what changed was the ride quality and highway noise. The ride in the truck became a bit rougher, but remained very comfortable as the suspension took on the added load. Highway noise didn't increase at all, though engine noise did go up as the truck worked to move the trailer up the grade – enough to let the driver know that the engine was working, but not enough to be intrusive.
Also noted was that the Ram's faster power delivery from the start and more aggressive gearing (especially with the 3.92 rear differential) are very conducive to smooth and easy towing. The truck got started and moved the trailer without hesitation, and quickly moved into traffic and got up to speed without any of the usual nervousness associated with that. In the truck we were driving, the load we pulled made up better than half of the truck's overall capacity, which was about 11,200 lb (5,080 kg) in that pickup's configuration (4x4, Crew Cab, 5-foot 7-inch box).
Off-road in the 2019 Ram Rebel
Finally, we took a 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel off the road for some dirt-digging, sand-throwing fun in order to test its off-pavement capability. Our first run was with a fellow journalist who'd just spent a week in Baja doing what automotive types would normally do in Baja: Driving like a nutjob off the road in trucks made to make Dukes of Hazzard stunts look like beginner level antics. Paul left the Rebel in 4Hi and we dug, slid, and flew through the landscape. At the heavy hill, we climbed up with no worries at all and in the rougher, rockier portion of the off-road, he let the Ram hit the harder points so we could feel the absorption of the impressive suspension setup on the Rebel model.
When our turn came to get behind the wheel of the 2019 Rebel, we put it into 4Lo to see what the gearing changes would mean. It meant slower going (limited to roughly 25 mph / 40.2 km/h), but much more torque for slinging sand and digging through deep terrain. It also meant that the high hill was barely noticed as we climbed and the rougher terrain later was less impactful on the truck's ride.
In all, the 2019 Ram 1500 is a very well done design which returns good fuel economy, strong performance, and all of the things one would expect from a capable pickup truck. We were disappointed that we weren't able to try the new powertrain technologies Ram announced for the new 1500, but look forward to seeing those at a later date.
Product Page: 2019 Ram 1500
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One area that might improve aerodynamics is to reduce the frontal area. I drove a Ram recently as a rental and the strongest impression I had was that it was HUGE. Put it next to a Suburban or pickup of the 93-2000 vintage and you will see what I mean (I have done that). I guess size matters.