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Ram 1500 — 7,000 miles later

By: 11 February 2011 One Comment

At the end of June, I bought my first full-sized pickup truck — a 2010 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT.

Since the 2011 Rams are virtually unchanged from the 2010 models, this seems to be a good time to write a review of my Dodge so as to give people an idea of how those trucks hold up after the “new” has worn off.

The long and short of it is this — the Ram is a great truck that has held up well after 7,000 miles (not a lot, I know) and is afflicted with only a few annoyances. Dodge cut a few corners here and there and that’s inexcusable, but the Ram 1500 is an overall solid choice for people looking to buy a pickup.

My Ram

As I mentioned, I purchased a Ram SLT with a sticker price of $31,950. I opted for the crew cab, the mango tango paint job (it’s burnt orange no matter what Dodge calls it) and the 4.7 liter V-8 under the hood. The truck comes with a 5’7″ bed, the Media Center 150 MP3/CD/satellite radio with six speakers, 17″ wheels, heated mirrors and a powered rear window (essential because you can’t exactly reach back and slide that quarter-window on the back glass while driving).

The good

The 4.7 liter engine is plenty stout, pumping out 31o horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. That V-8 has been overlooked quite often in favor of the 5.7 liter Hemi, which is good for 390 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of torque. Both engines generate similar fuel economy as the Hemi has an ace in the hole — it shuts down to four cylinders when cruising.

As for my 4.7 liter, I get about 23 miles per gallon on the Interstate with the cruise control set at about 75 miles per hour and around 13 MPG in town. I understand the results for the Hemi are similar. But, honestly, if you buy a truck that weighs over 5,000 pounds, it’s highly unlikely you are overly concerned about fuel economy. Luckily, all Rams come with a handy fuel cutoff system that kicks in when the vehicle is decelerating and ups the fuel economy quite a bit.

Frankly, I’m glad I chose the 4.7 liter rather than the Hemi, but that’s simply a matter of preference. The 4.7 liter kicks out plenty of horsepower for me and a couple of Dodge’s statements about the Hemi are a concerned. For one thing, regular unleaded — the 87 octane stuff — is listed a merely “acceptable” for the Hemi while mid-grade, 89 octane unleaded is preferred. Regular unleaded is what is recommended for the 4.7 liter and feeding this truck is expensive enough with gas prices hitting around $3 a gallon around here. I’d hate to feel compelled to spend more money.

Again, engine choice is a highly personal choice. If you’d like to pony up the extra $1,300 and get a Hemi, go with it. Those who decide to stick with the 4.7 liter, however, shouldn’t feel like they’re missing out on anything. That engine is plenty powerful and a dramatic improvement over the available six cylinder. The 4.7 liter is more than enough for most of us, although it’s hard not to give in to the temptation of opting for the more powerful Hemi.

One thing that I do appreciate about the Ram is a very good traction control system. We got around six inches of snow here in central Arkansas on Wednesday and my wife insisted on driving 30-miles to work in spite of the weather. Conventional wisdom suggests that a rear-wheel drive truck isn’t the best vehicle to take out in such weather, but the Ram handled it just fine and didn’t slide around in the snow even on those garbage stock Goodyear Wranglers that Dodge put on the vehicle. The truck doesn’t do that well on ice, but what vehicle does? For those who get a lot of winter weather, spend the extra bucks and get four-wheel drive or — at the very least — get rid of the Goodyears and buy some decent tires. The traction control system does its job — it keeps the truck manageable and reduces the slipping and sliding that destroys vehicles on snow-covered roads.

Also, the ride in the Ram is outstanding. Dodge got away from the traditional design that calls for all leaf springs in the back. Starting in 2009, Dodge mixed coil springs in with leaf springs in the back, resulting in a ride that absorbs bumps and shocks with ease and feels almost car-like. Apparently, the design doesn’t sacrifice a whole lot in terms of how much weight you can lug around in the bed of the truck and towing capacity was retained, too.

A lot has been made of how well the Ram handles, but I’m not so sure those claims are justified. You’re still lugging around a big tuck and the notion that the Ram handles like a car is ridiculous. The handling feels rather assured and the truck behaves very well while lumbering down the Interstate, but nimble cornering simply isn’t in the cards for this beast. It’s a big truck and behaves rather like one.

Speaking of big, the crew cab is fantastic. Rear-seat passengers enter through full-sized doors and there’s enough room back there for three adults to sit in comfort. The seats throughout the vehicle are comfortable, too, although the stock cloth seat covers stain very easily. Hey, I’ve got kids and children spill things. That’s very apparent in the back seat of my truck.

Complimenting the roomy crew cab is a very quiet ride. Passengers can converse with ease as road and wind noise is kept to a minimum throughout the cabin. Combine that quiet cabin with a smooth ride, comfortable seats and tolerable gas mileage and you’ve got a vehicle that shines on long trips. Prior to purchasing the Ram, I had a 2003 Toyota Matrix — a small vehicle that was reliable enough, but would simply beat me to death on long trips. Driving the Matrix long distances resulted in “road fatigue” — a condition that went along from a loud cabin, a stiff suspension and seats that inflicted pain after about 100 miles. That fatigue is a thing of the past with the Ram.

Another thing to keep in mind on long trips is that the storage in the Ram is excellent. There are cup holders all over the place, a huge center console that is about as wide across as a person when folded down on the front bench seat (and tall enough to store plenty of stuff in), a dual glove box and big compartments in the doors.  Also, there are two removable storage bins under the back floor mats that look suspiciously like beer coolers. That back seat also folds up and offers storage areas for useful things such as a small tool kit, jumper cables, hold-down cables for cargo in the back, etc. I’ve been in a lot of trucks that offered very little storage space in the cabin and that’s not the case with the Ram at all.

Dodge gave a lot of thought to storage and the same is true of the instrumentation. The base stereo is an embarrassing mess (more on that later), but the tachometer and speedometer are huge and easy to read, the heating and cooling controls make sense, handy oil and temperature gauges came with my truck and the chrome accents used on the instrument displays are attractive. The dashboard and, well, everything about the cabin is attractive and within reach. I would have liked a power port in the rear of the vehicle, but the two  I have on the dash have been good enough so far.

Finally, the Ram 1500 is an attractive beast. Yes, we’re getting into a highly subjective area here, but some of us look the ridiculously aggressive and Peterbilt-like styling of the truck. Furthermore, Dodge does offer more color choices than Ford or Chevrolet in 2011, but I’m sad to say that mango tango has been canceled. That’s a shame since most of the color choices are rather bland — blue, white, tannish, two shades of red, etc. I would love to see mango tango back in the mix or at least an eye-popping yellow, but Dodge seems to be going with “safer” colors this year. That’s how it goes.

In short, this is a powerful, comfortable and refined truck that I plan on having around for awhile. The crew cab is great, the gas mileage is tolerable and the traction control system works very well.

The bad

Most of the problems with the Ram come across as the result of a financially-struggling company that felt it necessary to cut some corners here and there. Here’s the problem with that — people who spend $32,000 on a truck don’t deserve to be shortchanged.

Let’s start with the tires — Goodyear Wranglers. They are already showing signs of wear. To make matters worse, the truck is pulling a bit to the right after it’s been driven strictly on pavement for 7,000 miles. I figure on having to shell out some cash for a new set of tires within a year and those aren’t cheap. Shame on Dodge for installing these awful things on my truck.

Ah, and then there’s the base stereo. Remember those cheap Delco radios that GM chose for the base stereos for vehicles in the 1970s and 1980s? The Media Center 150 is the version of that awful thing for the 21st century. Yes, it’s got a jack for your MP3 player, Sirius satellite radio and it will play MP3 discs, but the thing has all the bass response of a clock radio at loud volumes. Is the stereo terrible or is the fact Dodge didn’t bother with a woofer in any of the six speakers in the cabin the real problem? Who knows? All I know is that it’s a shame the stereo in my $32,000 truck sounds worse than the one that was in my Matrix that didn’t cost near as much. There’s simply no excuse for going cheap on the stereo.

Ah, but there’s more. The thing is also confusing to program and leaves one bailing for the users manual often to figure out things such as how to set the clock, program in stations, etc. At least I got a year of free Sirius satellite radio and that’s worth something.

Speaking of cheap, the owners manual stinks. You get a slim volume that hits the high points and a DVD that — apparently — covers everything else. That’s just what you need when stranded on the side of the road — a DVD that might have some helpful information that you can’t watch because you don’t have a player. Owners manuals are handy things and those of us who purchased Rams deserve a full one to pull out during emergencies.

And then there’s the Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC), an LCD screen that rests between the speedometer and tachometer and exists primarily to show the driver a Ram logo upon starting the vehicle and then flashing annoying messages the rest of the time. One annoying message informs me far too often that an oil change is due. Dodge claims this thing goes 6,000 miles between oil changes, but that’s nonsense — I get that “change oil” message nagging me at exactly 3,000 miles.

Another aggravating message is attached to the hypersensitive tire pressure sensors. If you live in a state like Arkansas where the weather changes often, just expect to be notified that one or more tires is low on air pressure regularly. To make matters worse, it takes a couple of days for the idiot sensor to pick up on the fact that air was put in the tires that were low on pressure.

The EVIC does serve at least one useful feature — it’ll let you know how many miles you’ve got left before you need to fill up your gas tank. That’s very convenient, indeed, when you’re talking about a gas slurping machine like the Ram.

One thing that’s just downright annoying is the five-speed automatic transmission. Hey, a six speed is more or less standard these days and with good reason — a well-tuned six gear can contribute to fuel economy.

Another complaint I have about this vehicle has to do with the defroster. That will clear off the front window when the engine is warm, but it takes an ridiculously long time to clear up the side windows. A better-designed vent would for the sides would have been appreciated. My final gripe about this vehicle has to do with a big blind spot in the back of it — that’s dangerous in a vehicle this size.

Conclusion

In spite of some annoyances and cheapskate moves on Dodge’s part, I do like this truck and will seriously consider another Ram 1500 when it comes time to buy a new pickup. The next time around I’ll seriously consider getting four-wheel drive, a better stereo and might take a second look at that Hemi (just because more horsepower is cool whether I need it or not). I like my Ram, but not so much that I won’t take a look at what Ford and Chevrolet/GMC have to offer, however.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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