Buying a full-size truck used to be about two things: your money, and how much of it you were willing to part ways with. Now you’re lucky if your local dealer doesn’t shake you down for a college degree when you walk through the door.
That’s because, genetically speaking, full-size trucks like the 2013 Ram 1500 share less DNA with an ancestor like the Ford Model T as humans share with maple trees. I understand that 90 percent of our DNA is similar, but try tapping me for syrup and see what happens.
It’s true. Of all the segments out there, full-size pickups might be the most relied upon with the least amount of understanding. Few people know what a half-ton is compared to a full-ton, the differences between a quad cab, super cab and mega cab, or the dimensional characteristics of a short box and a long box. To laypeople, it’s Greek — maybe even Aramaic.
But to the folks who need this stuff, it’s vital. That’s why the Ram 1500’s feature availability sheet, normally one or two pages for most sedans — is 11 pages long.
For starters, there are five cab configurations and four powertrain configurations to choose from — before you even get to choose the color. I’d rather take the LSAT than order a truck from the factory.
As the rest of the automotive manufacturing world slowly creeps toward the inevitability of a universal crossover that’s neither wholly exciting nor wholly useful, the truck world is predicated upon diversity. Nay, the truck world demands it.
Redesigned for 2013, the Ram 1500 is all about that kind of customization. Largely considered as a “mid-cycle refresh” the changes in 2013 are mostly skeletal and more substantial than a few new bends in the sheet metal.
First, knowing that Ford has been successful in capturing a small, but growing segment of the full-size market, fuel-efficient full-size, Ram is now offering the 1500 with its 3.6-liter V6 engine. The change from its outgoing 3.7-liter engine means a 40 percent bump in horsepower with the new engine combined with a 20 percent boost in fuel economy. That’s math that even the most numerically inept would consider a win-win.
Of course, the Ram is still available with a 5.7-liter V8 that’ll draw comparisons to other torque monsters of the same ilk, but each engine will be available with an 8-speed automatic that will wring every last MPG from either mill. (Ram also offers a 4.7-liter V8 in Tradesman models, which is ideally suited for fleet sales.)
Ram’s approach may be to “kill ‘em with customization,” but it’s hard to ignore what’s packaged in each powertrain from the factory. First, the V6 achieves 305 horsepower with 269 ft.-lbs. of torque, while the larger engine produces 395 and 407 horsepower and torque figures respectively. Either option is mated to either a 6-speed or 8-speed transmission that optimizes output on demand. Exhale.
What that translates into the real world is either a brute that can tow, haul or drag what you’re looking to shuffle down the highway, or a bigger brute that’ll do the same, except sound tougher.
The “six and eight” combination may be the most interesting of the group however. I’ve driven similar combinations of that engine and transmission in other Chrysler models (the Chrysler 300, notably) and can say that the 8-speed is more refined in the 1500. I had the chance to drive one up a canyon pass in Colorado and kickdown in highway passing seems more responsive, as does the settle when you’re cruising at comfortable highway pace.
Our test car for the week was an eight cylinder paired with the 6-speed transmission (an eight and eight will be available later this year) and the truck returned a respectable figure of around 20 mpg in combined driving.
Inside, the Ram’s draw will likely be the availability of creature comforts like a Wi-Fi hotspot and refined trim. While other automakers battle for blue-collar dollars, Ram seems content to appeal to buyers that ask to be a little more comfortable than others. Fully kitted, Ram will offer the 1500 in options that would appeal to luxury car buyers — like power seats, heated steering wheels, deafening entertainment systems, 8.4-inch touchscreen navigation, dashes with more lacquer than a Kardashian and top-grain hides — in ways that may seem unfamiliar. The creep toward more creature comforts is mirrored in other manufacturers, but Ram’s is just a little more Grey Poupon.
Also new this year is the air suspension that auto levels for heavy loads in the back, and driving. The suspension was on display in the six and eight and represents some of the smarter features that Ram has included in the last five years, among which are also their Ram Boxes, which survived for this model too.
Gadgets, of course, are dictated by the amount of money you’d like to spend on the truck. Considering that the truck starts at $24,000 and crests at the level of your imagination and ambition, there’s good value across the lineup.
Even without a college degree, it’s easy to see why Ram has a lot to offer sophisticated and unsophisticated buyers alike.
I guess it still depends on how much money you’re willing to part ways with.
Aaron Cole is a Colorado-based automotive writer. He knows he’s wrong, he’d just rather hear it from you. Reach him at email@example.com.