TTAC’s Best and Brightest don’t need proof that Chrysler dealers are in a world of hurt. Still, seeing their misery displayed on a LED sign by the side of the road rubs salt into the wound. 76% off 2009 Dodge Ram Trucks! And this was before Chrysler filed for Chapter 11, from a dealer that dodge the ChryCo dealer cull bullet. Fine print? Lots. Slime-filled sales tactics aside, it’s only a matter of time before the real liquidation sales arrive. If so, is Dodge’s most basic of workhorses worth a look?
Behold the grille of your dreams. The Ram’s signature schnoz gives brand-neutral truckers a bad case of Dodge Fever, but work trucks never had it this good. Even the base model has snazzy chrome crosshairs. And a slick face: italicized lighting pods are the starting point for the fender’s flowing brow. Much like the slant-intensive fascia of a 1979 Chevy Monte Carlo, the Ram 1500 is a delightful mix of fast lines and baroque bulges. Even in the least appealing combination of matte black bumpers, regular cab, stubby wheelbase and a short bed, the ST-trimmed Ram looks suitably stout. In fact, the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 is the most aerodynamic truck on the market; the acres of black trim on both Chevy’s blocky schnoz and Ford’s shovel nosed snout simply cannot touch it.
Too bad the stark interior is untouchable, even by (admittedly low) work truck standards. While functionality and durability is paramount, the competition does this without feeling like a penalty box. Take the Dodge’s dash. Please. Ford accomplishes Le Corbusier classicism via Toby Keith’s straight talk. GM and Toyota do the organic look of an entry-level passenger car. The Ram’s dash may be the brand’s high water mark, but even the door panels are the Chrysler Sebring of truck interiors: dull to the eyes and cheap in your hands.
And the business end of the beast isn’t especially noteworthy. The Ram’s short bed lacks tailgate torsion assists, or optional stepladders to reach in, over and around the Ram’s unbelievably tall beltline. In fairness, this complaint is indicative of the general trend of heavier and taller pickups. But this macho factor must meet its maker as modern consumer tastes look for function, form and fuel economy.
But that’s not to say that the working class, zero option Ram is a bad place to kill some time: the spacious tan and black vinyl trimmed seats are leather-like in look and feel, thanks to their snazzy contract stitching. The CD player projects lows and highs with reasonable clarity thanks to six well-endowed speakers.
Probably the nicest feature: a shifter-mounted rocker switch, which quickly lets the driver hold any gear with minimal fuss. And that’s more important when you consider the Ram ST’s standard powertrain: a 210hp, 3.7L V6 with a hollow 235 lb·ft of torque and a rev-challenged four-speed automatic. With two people and an unladen bed, the V6 equipped Ram can merge on freeways and get out of its own way. But just barely.
Obviously the Ram 1500 is not the truck for hauling “mulch” of anything. But things improve in other dynamic tests. Handling is tight enough for government work, with not-quite-scary body roll and modest grip. The prodigious disc brakes stop with just enough nose drive to remind its occupants that hoonage equals a short trip to HR and a lengthy lecture about corporate responsibility.
Much like the other fully-boxed, hydroformed pickup frames on the market, the Ram 1500 feels like it can outlast memories of the parent company from whence it came. Which leads to the best trait of the base by name (and nature) Ram 1500: the supple and luxurious ride. The flow is never choppy and the rear suspension rarely loses its composure, even with the standard wheelbase and zero cargo in the bed. Credit where credit is due: conservatively tuned rear coil springs are a genuine class advantage. The Ram doesn’t ride like a Cadillac. It rides like a real Cadillac from the days of button-tufted seats.
Too bad trucks are bought on the strengths of a leaf spring: low cost of ownership and maximum durability. Be it on the showroom floor or in a depreciated heap on Craigslist, a work truck is just that. Refinement freaks look elsewhere.
After a few minutes in the Ram 1500 ST, I understood why the competition never mentions Dodge in television, radio and print media advertisements in The Lone Star State. GM and Ford are still the boys to beat, and Toyota is the new Dodge. Combined with the V6’s mediocre fuel economy and Dodge’s chronic third (fourth?) place in the sales race, the new Ram is barking up the wrong tree. In the short term, liquidation pricing makes the Ram a winner. But will the post-Cerberus remnants of Chrysler find any value in the Dodge Ram? For the sake of our tax dollars, they’d better.