The full-size pickup, like country music, has gone mainstream. Sure, the stereotypical buyer may still be from a rural part of the world, drink mass-produced beer and make decisions based on brand loyalty handed down over generations. But those folks are far from the only people buying full-size trucks these days.
Ram —a brand that traffics only in trucks and vans — sold more than 633,000 pickups in 2019. That’s nearly four times as many as they sold when they became an independent brand in 2009. And those sales numbers came when the price of a full-size pickup has never been higher. The average transaction price for one is about $50,000.
Why did America go full-size pickup crazy? Well, in a way, trucks became fancy family SUVs. Carmakers ramped up the interior furnishings, made the insides more spacious and turned them into a practical option for families. By competitive necessity, trucks are now the most sophisticated and over-engineered passenger vehicles America produces — and the current Ram 1500 has found success by perhaps being the most sophisticated and over-engineered of the bunch (though the new Ford F-150 seems poised to give it a fight).
Ram loaned me a Laramie trim for a week, kitted out in a full media-review spec — with options bringing the price tag close to $70,000. I sample it in what is, if not the natural habitat, the habitat where Rams spend a lot of time, cruising around leafy suburbs. The experience, to quote both Cousin Eddie and HGTV’s Ben Napier, was “real nice.”
What We Like
Full-size trucks are enormous beasts, but Ram made driving one feel effortless. That’s true from the moment you step into the truck, with the help of the power running boards that slide out to facilitate entry. Start the engine and twist the rotary knob shifter into drive with minimal effort. The controls are ergonomically optimized and easily reachable; the seats are cushy; the cabin is voluminous and well-insulated. You have a commanding ride view and a massive 12-inch touchscreen. It doesn’t get much more comfortable than this.
That would be enough, but the Ram also handles like a smaller car. It feels incredibly agile, with refreshingly light steering. The eTorque mild hybrid system and intuitive eight-speed transmission get the truck moving smoothly and quickly. You can forget you are driving a truck altogether, as I did when I tried to wing it assuredly into my parents’ driveway and wound up on the receiving end of a cacophony of bleats from the proximity sensors.
Ram makes doing stuff with the truck far less demanding, too. The 1500's multifunction tailgate — which is just a split door to let you get closer to the bed to lift things out — is both the simplest trick tailgate I’ve encountered and the most useful. It would spare your lower back a countless number of awkward bends and lifts over the truck’s lifetime.
I’m not sure where the wazoo is on a full-size truck, but with RamBins, RamBoxes and other compartments, Ram found a way to put storage up there. All these handy lockers and cubbies help store gear and tools — or, in my case, keep glass seltzer bottles from rolling around. Hell, is your high-schooler having trouble with his or her math homework? Ram can assist.
In short, I felt like a little prince while driving the Ram 1500. Well, almost. Ram didn’t include the class-exclusive air suspension, which I’m told is quite luxurious, on my tester.
Watch Out For
The Ram 1500 is still enormous. It’s tall, wide and long. You can access the bird's eye camera view with a push of a button, which is good, because you’re going to need it often to park. Michigan is relatively accommodating to full-size trucks, but in a couple of lots, I couldn't get the whole rig into the parking space. It barely fit in my driveway, and forget about my garage. And if you have a child in a car seat, you'll have to lift them above your head to load them in, unless you’re significantly taller than six feet.
The Ram 1500, as you would expect, also comes up lacking in fuel efficiency, with that big 5.7-liter V8 pushing out 395 horsepower. The EPA rates it at 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined; I earned 15.8 mpg over a week of not-especially-vigorous driving. That said, Ram knows you don’t want to make too many trips to the pump, so the 1500 can add range the old-fashioned way: with a massive 33-gallon fuel tank.
The Toyota Tundra has its fans, and the Nissan Titan...exists, but the competition for most buyers will be a Big Three affair. The main foe for the Laramie with the F-150 would be the Lariat trim ($42,765). With the Chevy Silverado, it’s probably the LT trim ($44,495). And with the GMC Sierra, it would be the second-tier SLE trim ($42,895).
The Ram 1500 was one of the most pleasant vehicles I’ve driven this year. Driving one makes you feel special; I felt more pampered than in some luxury SUVs. The price point is hefty, but the vehicle you get justifies it.
Personally, I would consider opting for the turbodiesel V6 over the Hemi V8. The latter is less impressive than the top-tier gas plants from GM and Ford, and the Diesel gets better fuel economy.
Car: 2020 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4
Base Price: $46,740 (Price as tested: $69,410)
Drivetrain: 5.7-liter HEMI V8 w/eTorque, 8-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Power: 395 hp, 410 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway