According to Fred Diaz, President and CEO of the Ram Brand, so far in the 2012 calendar year, the Ram truck has gained 2.5 percentage points of market share. That's extremely hard-fought territory, because Ford, GM, and Chrysler derive a lot of their profits from the sales of full-size trucks. Model-year 2013 is Ram's turn to bask in the spotlight with many changes and new features to pique buyers' interest. But following right on its heels in the 2014 model year are a new-generation Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, and not long after that the next version of the sales-leading Ford F-150. The big factor that's boosting full-size truck sales is the return of the personal-use buyer. During the recent recession that saw both high unemployment and high gas prices, work-truck demand stayed relatively constant, but many recreational truck buyers either delayed a purchase or downsized to something more affordable and fuel efficient.

Back in 2009, product planners were figuring the 2013 Ram 1500 pickup would be a mild refresh, but along the way it became a major program with lots of new content. Taking a page out of Ford's F-150 play book, the 2013 Ram 1500 pickup is launching with a multitude of models, featuring 11 different trim levels, making it easier than ever to have a Ram truck your way. Back for 2013 are three body styles: the three-passenger Regular Cab, 5-6-passenger four-door Quad Cab and, with about six inches more rear legroom, the 5-6-passenger four-door Crew Cab. The Regular Cab can be had with a 6-foot 4-inch short box or 8-foot long box, Quad Cab with the 6-foot 4-inch box, and Crew Cab with a choice of 5-foot 7-inch short box, or the longer 6-foot 4-inch box, a new option this year. A spray-in bedliner is optional. So is a cargo management system with a movable, lockable center divider, and sliding bedside cleats. The Ram-exclusive, lockable Rambox bins on the outer panels of the bed are now available with every cab and all beds except the 8-footer.

There's better efficiency, more luxury, and way more features this year. Although the fleet SL model does cheap out with crank windows, hard-plastic door armrests, and deletes the upper glove-box door, the retail models Ram sells to the public are fairly well equipped. All retail trucks, even the base

Tradesman, get standard tilt wheel, cruise control, A/C, intermittent wipers, automatic headlamps, USB port, mobile device auxiliary jack, two 12-volt outlets, power windows with driver's one-touch up and down, a locking tailgate, trailer-tow pin connector, 4-wheel ABS, stability control, traction control and roll mitigation, hill-start assist, trailer-sway control, tire-pressure monitor, and a full-size spare.

The lineup now includes the work-oriented Tradesman with a standard 4.7-liter V-8 and the sporty, value-filled 5.7-liter Hemi-powered Express. There's also the rugged Outdoorsman with LT265/70R17 on/off-road tires, front suspension and transfer-case skid plates, power folding mirrors, 5.7-liter Hemi and more. The ultra-luxurious Laramie Longhorn adds power adjustable pedals, LED courtesy lamps, real wood center stack, door and steering wheel trim, dual-zone A/C, power memory front seats, heated and ventilated front seats with driver's lumbar adjust, heated steering wheel and rear seats, leatherette seat trim, and 110-115-volt outlet. There's a new HFE high-mileage model with stop/start technology. At the other end of the spectrum is the street-tough R/T 4x2 regular cab short box with 285/45 all-season tires on 22-inch forged aluminum wheels, the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, 4.11:1 final drive, sport dual exhaust, billet grille, body-color grille surround, door handles and rear bumper, sport performance hood, and Sport LED turn/stop/tail/running lamps.

Before the first "big-rig" look Dodge Ram made its debut for the 1994 model year, the Ram was a distant third in the U.S. full-size pickup rankings, kept alive by government fleet sales and a small but dedicated contingent of horse-trailering equestrians who were drawn to the Cummins turbodiesel. Sales leapeddramatically with the 1994 model and its gaping cross-hair grille and slope fenders have been with the Ram ever since. Several styling iterations later, the big-rig design still makes the Ram stand out in a cowboy bar parking lot.

When it came time to "refresh" the Ram for 2013, the rallying cry was: "don't screw up the great Ram pickup look!" So the new Ram's grille is enhanced, an inch taller, and bolder than ever. The bumper is now more heavily contoured with vertically oriented foglamps (for better light distribution) and the tow hooks on 4x4s are more prominent, easier to latch onto. The uplevel headlamps on Sport, Laramie, and Laramie Longhorn are now bi-function projector beams. LED turn/stop/tail/running lamps add crispness and nighttime drama at both ends of Sport, Laramie, and Laramie Longhorn models. There are actually seven different grilles, with black, chrome or body-color surrounds and variations of blackout hexlink, chrome mesh, and cool billet inserts. Available on Sport and standard on R/T is a "performance" hood with power bulges.

The real action, however, happens behind the grille, where a new movable air shutter system (on models with 8-speed transmission only) blocks off up to 80 percent of the airflow through the grille to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy by sending more air around the truck instead of into the engine bay, except when max cooling is needed for big loads and/or hot days. Speaking of fuel economy, the new Ram's front fascia dips down lower to the ground as well, again in the interest of improving aerodynamics. The pliable edge of the air dam allows it to deform, then snap back into shape if it encounters a rock or curb. Also aiding the fuel-economy effort are new optional side steps, which continue past the cab and terminate at the rear wheel openings, helping smooth airflow around the truck. As an added bonus, the Ram's side steps are useful when loading cargo in the front of the bed.

With the 2009 Ram introduction, Chrysler's full-size truckmeisters definitely raised the bar on interior design, material usage, and feature content. Already impressive, the new Ram's interior is even better for 2013. It's a quiet and comfortable place, with thoughtful details like a central locking system that locks not only the doors, but the tailgate and available Rambox bins on the exterior of the bed. This year, Ram expands the use of soft-touch materials and introduces genuine wood trim on premium models. There is generous application of ambient lighting, illuminated by LEDs in premium models. New for 2013 is a reconfigurable 7-inch color multiview display between the speedo and tach, available on SLT, Big Horn, and Outdoorsman and standard on Sport, Laramie, and Laramie Longhorn. The display communicates vehicle status such as trip odometer, digital speed readout, trailer-towing information, audio status, stored messages, transmission temperature, compass heading, ambient temperature and much more. New options include remote start, passive entry, keyless start, Rain Sense wipers, Smart Beam auto-dimming headlights, and a power sliding rear window with defrost.

There's big news under the hood with the introduction of the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6. It's so good that buyers no longer have to automatically default to the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 as a viable powerplant for a full-size pickup weighing north of 4500 lbs. The V-6 is standard on the high-volume Ram SLT and high-mileage HFE models. This four-valve-per-cylinder DOHC 3.6-liter V-6 recently made its debut in the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger. Ram engineers have done a great job of tuning the engine's throttle progression and the new standard wide-ratio 8-speed transmission's shift maps for quick response. With variable valve timing and continuously adjustable cam phasing, the 305-hp 3.6-liter V-6 is so responsive throughout its rpm range and gets such good fuel economy that it makes the carryover 310-hp 4.7-liter V-8 largely superfluous. At an EPA-estimated 17-mpg city/25-mpg highway, that's a 20 percent gas mileage improvement over last year's standard 3.7-liter V-6. The new 3.6-liter V-6 will tow nearly as much (up to 6500 pounds) as the middle engine choice, the 4.7-liter V-8. And the 4.7-liter, despite its smaller size, does no better in the fuel efficiency department than the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. For the Ram buyer who runs empty most of the time, is looking for max fuel economy and plans only occasional light-to-medium towing, the new Pentastar V-6 deserves a serious look and a test drive. It's E85-compatible as well.