Unless the lumber industry suddenly decides to change the size of a sheet of plywood or it becomes cool to put Tap Out stickers on the rear windows of Civics, nothing will change the truck market like the price of gas. A decade ago, all we cared about in a Ram 1500 or the half-ton market in general, was how much torque the engine made and how much weight one could lash to the hitch. The industry has changed with concerns shifting more to how many miles can one eke out of a $4/gallon of gas and how comfortable the truck will function as a work vehicle and family hauler.
Ram has stepped around the industry's trend of replacing traditional big V-8s with engines smaller in displacement with forced induction. Instead, it has decided to use more technology not only in the driveline but also throughout the truck to reach economy goals. This is good news, not only for the high-horsepower fans, but for trucks across the range are benefitting from the advancements.
The first Ram 1500 to stage-up at the end of our test track was an SLT wrapped around Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 sending power through an eight-speed automatic transmission. There was a time when owning a V-6 1500 provided the same amount of pride as riding your moped to the Rock Store. Luckily, the new drivetrain has transformed entry-level sacrifice to great truck at any price. While you will never tow the Queen Mary with this truck, the 6500-pound maximum tow weight is plenty for a weekend boater or far cooler, to get a race car to a track day. In objective measurements, the Ram stacks up favorably to the last Ford 3.7-liter, naturally aspirated V-6 I tested. The F150 was the typical V-6 fleet special, regular cab, cloth interior, even a plain black grille. The lack of amenities and smaller cab saved the F150 a little over 650 pounds compared with the loaded crew cab Ram that crushed our scales at 5362 pounds. The 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque from the aluminum V-6 got the luxo-hauler to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and through the quarter mile in 15.8 seconds at 86.7 mph. The bantam F150 got from 0 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds and the quarter in 15.7 seconds at 89.4 mph.
The eight-speed transmission is a huge step forward for trucks. Not just for the extra ratios, but for the smooth power delivery. Even under full-throttle acceleration, gear changes are fast, but hardly noticeable. Possibly even more important with all those gears, is multiple downshifts happen without hesitation. On the highway, booting the throttle can drop from eighth to fourth in nothing flat.
Hauling down from speed and around corners, the Ram didn't seem to suffer from its considerable margin in mass. The Ram stopped from 60 mph in 123 feet, while the F150 required 135. On the skidpad, the V-6 F150 with 255/65/17 Michelin LTXs pulled 0.71 g while the V-6 Ram wearing 265/70/17 Goodyear Wranglers managed 0.76 g. The Ram had an ace up its sleeve in the ride and handling department. While air-suspension is nothing new in larger trucks, it is in 1500s and Ram may change customers' expectations.
When we test trucks, it is common for them to actually ride and handle better with a considerable load in the bed. On one hand, it's good because when you are actually using your truck as a truck, it doesn't feel like you're sacrificing comfort or performance. On the other hand, since most trucks spend the majority of their time empty, they are spending that time with unnecessarily stiff suspension. With air suspension, the truck adjusts to the load in it, which means it is closer to optimum whether it has a bed full concrete or simply a gym bag in the backseat. On the road, the truck rides closer to a Chrysler 300 than trucks of the past. It's smooth and quiet and covers miles easily. With a load on the hitch, the ride remains unchanged. Handling is good for a truck but definitely leans more towards safe and comfortable rather than sporty.
Overall this is a great all around truck and will probably do everything 90 percent of truck owners will ask. We understand there are still a large number of buyers who would get dolphin tattoo on their lower back before they bought a truck without a V-8, but if you can get past the stigma, this V-6 truck is plenty capable. The SLT trim makes it as luxurious as anything coming out of a Chrysler factory. Comfort, economy, and performance, all the things the modern truck buyer wants.