Introduced in 2010, the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor took a decidedly a different approach to off-roading than Ram's rock-crawling, heavy duty-based Power Wagon. Instead of rocky trails, the Raptor was made for high-speed desert running. Although some consider the Power Wagon and Raptor to be competitors, it's not exactly apples to apples. After bearing witness to the Raptor's popularity, Ram decided that it needed to come up with a response. The closest they've gotten is the vehicle you see here, the 2012 Ram Runner.

Unlike the Raptor, which drives off the line in Dearborn fully-built and ready to hit the dunes, the Ram Runner is a dealer-installed package from Mopar, Chrysler's in-house accessory division. This approach gives the Ram Runner some advantages over the Raptor, notably is a la carte configurability. It allows buyers to select just the functional hardware pieces or go whole hog and get all the cosmetic bits like the spare tire carrier, fiberglass front and rear fenders, and cat-back exhaust as well. As an added added bonus, owners of any 2009-2011 Ram 1500 4x4 can add the Ram Runner pieces to their truck.

The power of choice comes at a cost. Our 2012 Ram 1500 tester with the Stage II suspension package, fiberglass front and rear fenders, front tube bumper, spare tire carrier, and cat-back exhaust added a startling $18,705 to the already-substantial $46,035 cost of our well-equipped Sport Quad Cab. Additional accessories like LED bar lights and special wheels and tires bring the final tally to a hefty $68,490. By contrast, a Raptor starts at a comparatively-cheap $43,970 for SuperCab model and $46,870 for the four-door SuperCrew. Adding the luxury package and the moonroof brings you to just a tad over $50k.

Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to take the Ram Runner out to the Glamis dunes or any of the other high-speed off-roader destinations around Southern California. What we can tell you, based on a few days in the suburbs, is what it's like to live with on a day-to-day basis. With a few exceptions, it's a relatively livable everyday truck. Probably our first modification would be the installation of some power steps to help get into the high-riding cab. If you're on a budget, and you or your significant other is vertically-challenged, it might not be a bad idea to keep a small step-stool in the back seat.

Once you're situated in the cabin, it's pretty much standard-issue Ram. If you like the sound of a traditional American V-8, you'll love the optional cat-back exhaust, which lets the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 speak with authority. Although some might tire of the Hemi's emphatic bass burble at cruising speeds, we never found it overly obtrusive. The Hemi also provides ample power in most situations, with a surprising midrange kick from 4000 rpm upward. Our 0-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds is respectable, but at least a full second slower than the 6.2-liter V-8-equipped F-150 Raptors we've tested.

The Ram Runner's suspension is also surprisingly civilized and agile on the road. We've ridden in some aftermarket trucks with long-travel suspension that feel as though they'd tip over going around corners at anything faster than a walking pace, but the Ram Runner takes corners and bumps as easily as any other normal truck and never felt squirrely or out-of-control. Though we occasionally heard a metallic clunk from the suspension, it wasn't a constant reminder that we were driving an aftermarket-installed kit.

Because of the Ram Runner's kit nature, there are some fit and finish issues. We could clearly see spider-web cracks in the paint finish of the fiberglass fenders. Although fiberglass is preferred among some off-road enthusiasts for its relative affordability and ease of replacement compared to composite or sheetmetal, its relative fragility is a tradeoff owners will have to accept if they want the Ram Runner's flared-fender look. To be fair, our tester had more than 13,000 miles on the odometer, likely many of those in the hands of journalists who showed little mercy in their testing and evaluation of the truck. The fact that the interior was as tight and rattle-free as it was is a testament to Chrysler's vastly-improved quality over the last few years.

The only real objective negative about the Ram Runner is its value equation, especially relative to the Raptor. As it currently stands, the Raptor positively trounces the Ram Runner. Even taking into consideration the potential performance edge of the Ram Runner's more aggressively-tuned suspension, a five-figure price difference is too big to ignore.

There's a chance Ram is testing the waters for a more full-fledged production version by offering the package through Mopar. Our recommendations for a factory-installed package would be metal or composite fenders less prone to stress cracks and. most importantly, a dramatically-reduced price. The Raptor's $5000 premium over an F-150 FX4 seems about right. Even $8000 over a standard Ram 1500 4x4 seems like it would be a reasonable value.

Whether or not we'll ever see a factory-built Ram Runner, it's refreshing to see that Ram has the moxie to take on the Raptor and prove the adaptability and capability of its platform. Although specifications and configurations beg comparison between the two trucks, the dramatically different approaches defy easy comparison. That doesn't mean we're not going to do it anyway.

2012 Ram 1500 Ram Runner
BASE PRICE $46,035
PRICE AS TESTED $68,490 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front -engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door, pickup
ENGINE 5.7L, 390-hp/407-lb-ft V-8
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 5900 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 140.6 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT (BASE) 229.0 x 79.4 x 75.7 in
0-60 MPH 7.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.0 sec @ 88.5 mph
BRAKING 60-0 MPH 141 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.69 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.7 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 13 / 18 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 259 / 187 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.31 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently