2019 Ram 1500 Pickup First Drive

2019 Ram 1500 Pickup First Drive

It has been 10 years since the 2009 Ram 1500 pickup rocked the truck world by tossing aside its leaf-spring rear suspension in favor of a more civilized coil-spring setup. For 2013, the automaker bestowed the Ram 1500 with a powerful Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 base engine, an unheard-of (for a pickup) eight-speed automatic transmission, an optional four-corner air suspension, and a spruced-up interior with smart tech features. A year later, the 2014 version offered a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 engine option, the only one of its kind.

To say it was an amazing 10-year run would be an understatement, and we became bigger fans of the Ram as each transformative change came out. But there's only so much you can squeeze from a single generation of any vehicle platform. At some point you've got to hit the reset button, and that's just what the automaker's done with the fully redesigned 2019 Ram 1500 pickup. We recently caught up with a preproduction example and spent some time behind the wheel to figure what Ram's come up with this time around.

More Size, Less Weight
The Ram's coil suspension and eight-speed transmission made it the smoothest-riding and most drivable pickup on the market. But there was a problem. Its crew cab, the most sought-after version of any such pickup, offered the least backseat legroom in full-size truckdom. It wasn't exactly cramped, but the competition felt palatial by comparison.

That's now ancient history because the 2019 Ram 1500 crew cab has the most backseat legroom of them all. Credit the longer frame and a 4.1-inch wheelbase stretch that allows the cab to grow a like amount. All of the gain — plus a little extra earned through clever interior packaging — has been gifted to the back seat to produce a massive 4.9-inch increase in rear legroom. There's now so much room the Ram folks snuck in a reclining mechanism. After trying it out, we can affirm that this is the one we want for a long-distance road trip.

More truck should mean more weight, but that hasn't happened. Fully 98 percent of the new frame is made from high-strength steel, and the shape of the frame rails and crossmembers has been optimized to take full advantage to the tune of 100 pounds saved. Another 120 or so pounds were carved from the body shell using similar optimization techniques and clever materials, and 20 more pounds were taken from the suspension and running gear. The switch to an aluminum tailgate shaved 15 pounds alone. It all adds up to as much as 255 pounds off certain Quad Cab versions of the truck, with most crew cabs losing 150 to 200 pounds.

2019 Ram 1500 Pickup First Drive

One Transmission, Two Engines, Three Powertrains
The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine is back, and it's paired with a brainier version of the eight-speed transmission with more advanced shift logic. The Hemi makes the same 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque as before, and its EPA fuel economy rating remains unchanged at 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway.  But the combination feels more willing because of the reduced weight and smarter shifts. It sounds more refined, too, because this new frame is considerably more rigid and less prone to vibration. On the highway, we forgot all about the faint flatulent drone that signaled when last year's Hemi shut off half its cylinders to save fuel thanks to a new scheme involving active mass dampers and speaker-fed noise cancellation.

The Hemi V8 is the standard offering if your 2019 Ram 1500 begins with an L, as in the Lariat, the Longhorn and the Limited. The 3.6-liter V6 Pentastar is the base engine for the Tradesman, the Big Horn and the Rebel, as well as all Quad Cab Rams, which lack L offerings. The Pentastar's output is unchanged from last year at 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, but the 2019 version includes a transformative change called eTorque.

In a nutshell, eTorque replaces the starter motor and alternator with a belt-driven motor-generator than can make up to 90 lb-ft of torque. It generates electricity while descending and braking and feeds it into a 48-volt lithium-ion battery pack hanging behind the back seat. It then draws from this reserve to smooth out restarts in stop-start mode by essentially getting the truck rolling as it starts the engine. Other times it fills in the torque dips that occur during shifts. There's an optional eTorque version of the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, too, which is much the same except its motor-generator produces up to 130 lb-ft of starting and smoothing torque.

Neither of the two eTorque engines was available to test. But when we sampled a 2018 Jeep Wrangler with a 2.0-liter turbo version of the eTorque system a month ago, the payoff was real in terms of seamless restarts and smooth driveaway. Ram eTorque fuel economy figures have not yet been released either, but the engineers promise "double-digit" percentage improvements. This could mean 2 mpg, possibly more.

2019 Ram 1500 Pickup First Drive

Tows More Yet Drives Better
While it's true that weight has been taken out of the running gear, its actual strength and capacity have gone up. The 2019 Ram 1500 uses six-lug wheels instead of five; its brakes are significantly bigger with 14.9-inch discs all around; and its revised front stabilizer bar design adds roll resistance without adding weight. The rear five-link coil suspension has been refined, and it now uses progressive-rate coil springs that get stiffer as load is added. The rear axle's weight rating has increased by 200 pounds across the board.

As a result, the 2019 Ram can tow up to 12,750 pounds (Quad Cab V8 4x2) or shoulder as much as 2,300 pounds of payload (Quad Cab V6 4x2). Typical V8-powered crew cabs like our test truck can tow around 11,000 to 11,500 pounds and carry between 1,800 and 1,850 pounds of payload. That's roughly about 1,200 pounds more trailer weight and 150 to 200 pounds more payload than before. Ram's also added tow-friendly features such as a blind-spot monitoring system that automatically learns the length of the attached trailer. We also like the backup camera's one-touch zoom feature that zeroes in on the hitch ball for easier hookup.

If anything, the Ram's unladen ride and handling prowess have gotten better along the way. It feels more nimble, yet its cornering attitude is nicely settled. That's likely to do with its markedly quicker steering, along with the calming influence of the extra roll resistance. New frequency-response shock absorbers have two valves that make them better able to distinguish between deep potholes and small ripples, which makes them more adept over a wider range of surfaces. The engineers have managed to raise the Ram 1500's hauling game without upsetting the steady and comfortable ride we've come to appreciate.

2019 Ram 1500 Pickup First Drive

Inside Game
Such a big cab is only as good as its accommodations, and again the Ram has made significant gains from a starting point that wasn't half bad to begin with. The redesigned seats are nicely sculpted and properly padded, and the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel can accommodate just about any driver. One could write epic poems about the humongous and many-layered front center console, which truly has no equal in terms of storage volume or flexibility.

But it is the dashboard and switchgear that stand out most. The center stack has been brought closer to the driver for easy reach, but the design does not project too far into your personal space. And unlike past Ram truck interiors, all of the switches and knobs look like high-quality bits that were made for this specific truck instead of belonging to some overused corporate Lego set. It helps that the materials and fit and finish are top-notch, although we must admit the trim color scheme in our particular Lariat test truck wasn't as handsome as others we saw. That's why there are choices, right?

Our truck also had the 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen, one size down from the marquee 12-inch portrait-oriented screen that got all of the early attention. We tried both, and we can certainly see the appeal of the larger screen, particularly if you use the built-in navigation and set the map to cover the entire screen. But our 8.4-inch screen still had immense capability, fast response, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and it was fed by multiple USB and USB-C inputs spread all around the cabin. The 12-inch screen doesn't offer a huge advantage if you use CarPlay or Android Auto because those will only use the top half of the big screen. It does look good and there's certainly more to play with, but for our money the 8.4 is enough.

2019 Ram 1500 Pickup First Drive

Pricing and Availability
There's a reason why we didn't get a chance to drive the base 3.6-liter eTorque V6 or the optional 5.7-liter eTorque Hemi V8. Both of them will miss the rollout that will have begun by the time you read this. The initial build will only consist of the regular 5.7-liter Hemi we drove on this outing. The timetable for the release of eTorque hasn't yet been divulged, but we're told the eTorque V6 will come first, followed by the eTorque Hemi V8.

In some ways, Ram 1500 pricing has been simplified. The V8 comes standard on every Lariat, Longhorn or Limited regardless of bed length or drive type. A crew cab with the long bed costs $300 more than the short bed, and four-wheel drive costs $3,500 more than two-wheel drive. The V6 will be standard on the Tradesman, Big Horn and Rebel, and the step up to the V8 will be $1,195. Want a Quad Cab instead of a crew cab? Deduct about $2,800. Want an eTorque Hemi instead of the regular one? Add $800.

As for base prices, some have gone up (Tradesman, Longhorn, Limited) while others have gone down (Big Horn). The picture is clouded somewhat by standard engine fitment changes, and additional murk comes from a quiet $250 increase in the mandatory destination charge that is conveniently left out of MSRP advertising. Some examples include $2,445 more for the cheapest Quad Cab Tradesman V6 4x2 ($33,340); $350 more for a crew-cab Rebel V6 4x4 (49,140); $1,750 less for a crew-cab Big Horn V6 4x4 ($43,540); and $745 more for the most expensive crew-cab long-bed Limited 4x4 ($59,335).

We really like what we've seen so far, and even though some prices have gone up, our prevailing feeling is the upgrade in capability, comfort, all-out crew-cab space and interior refinement makes the new prices seem more than fair. But we're frankly disappointed about the lack of concrete information about the eTorque engines on the horizon. It'd be nice to know before you dive in for a purchase, especially since these powertrains — along with the expected return of the EcoDiesel that hasn't yet been pinned down — may yet represent another transformative Ram 1500 change that's worth waiting a few more months for.

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