Big. That’s the best descriptor for how the United States does things. It’s also the best way to describe American pickup trucks.
American cars are referred to as Yank Tanks for good reason, they tend to be bold, blingy and unapologetic for blocking out the sun. Yet there is something about these behemoths that is strangely compelling. It’s not the size of an American pickup that frightens buyers away, it’s the price, which is something that’s about to change.
Dropping back to the local vernacular for a moment, utes are big (there’s that word again) business in Australia. The Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger are the country’s two top two selling models. Dual-cab utes are selling in record numbers and continuing to climb in price.
There’s an appetite in the local market for well-appointed models, buyers are drifting away from poverty packs and favouring those with long spec-sheets. Locals are comfortable with expensive utes, which is good for Ram, the US pickup specialist is looking to genuinely compete at the business end of the segment.
The 2018 Ram 1500 represents the best opportunity to date for full-size pickups to infiltrate the Australian landscape and achieve some volume. The Ram 1500 range opens at $79,950 drive-away for the Express variant, comfortably making it the most affordable ute of its type and placing it within striking distance of buyers shopping for high-end Rangers and Amaroks.
We are testing the range-topping Laramie model, the biggest difference between the two variants is the proportions, the Express has a smaller cab with a longer tray, while the Laramie gets a full-size dual-cab with a slightly shorter tray.
The Laramie takes a luxury approach and kicks off at $99,950 plus on-road costs. Obviously, that’s a substantial sum, but the Laramie blurs the line between high-spec ute and premium family SUV.
Opting for the Laramie brings a considerable amount of extra equipment and a design that befits the pickup’s American heritage. The exterior looks like it’s been driven through the Kardashian's wardrobe, there’s plenty of bling with chrome covering the cross-hair grille, bumpers and 20-inch wheels. It really captures the essence of Americana.
It’s a ute that commands attention. The size alone will capture the eye of other road users. The Laramie’s proportions mean the tray is vast, the bed length is 1712mm, while the space between the wheel arches is 1295mm. To protect the tub, the factory has included a spray in liner to make the Ram work ready.
Pure genius is how we would rate the RamBox cargo management system. This clever storage idea takes advantage of what would be wasted space over the rear wheel arches. Each compartment is lockable and drainable, yes, they can be used as eskis! Good size ones too, the mathematicians have determined each side can hold up to 140 cans. Booyeah.
Climbing into the cabin (this will be an effort for some) reveals a premium interior that is light years ahead of mainstream rivals in both presentation and comfort. At this point, can we ask Amarok and Ranger fanboys to remain calm and hear us out before going HAM?
First, the presentation, the layout and material choice far exceed what we expect from a ute. There are soft-touch points everywhere that distance the Laramie from its commercial origins. Every switch, knob and level feels ready to go the distance.
Careful analysis of every seam and join reveal an impressive level of fit and finish, all the cabin’s trim pieces are held together as tightly as a mother’s love.
With so much space to work with, it’s not really a shock to find an abundance of room. Say goodbye to cramped rear seats, with the front seat all the way back, tall adults will have no problems feeling at home. The rear accommodation is nothing short of epic, there’s more open space in the Laramie’s cabin than there is in some studio apartments.
We’ve discussed presentation and comfort, now for the appointments, the Laramie is well-equipped, as any car at this price should be. Leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, powered front seats with memory, sunroof, 7.0-inch digital driver display, 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreen and a 10 speaker Alpine sound system are all standard.
The Uconnect system has come a long way, in the Ram it’s logically laid out and the response time was quick. The system includes satellite navigation along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Laramie variants feature remote start to get everything warm and ready for the drive. It takes no time at all to get settled behind the wheel. As with most utes, the steering wheel can only be adjusted for height, not reach. In this case, it’s not a big deal, the pedals are moveable, combine this with the multitude of seat manipulation, the sweet spot isn’t hard to find.
From the driver’s seat, the Ram reveals another point of difference over the wider market. Under the bonnet, there’s a creamy 5.7-litre HEMI V8. It’s one for enthusiasts of old-school muscle who like an engine with a bit of character. It’s a strange feeling to drive a ute and not hear the familiar rattle of an oiler.
Most buyers will be expecting a diesel engine, Ram is in the process of testing a 3.0-litre diesel unit that should reach Australia before year’s end. Diesel might offer more efficiency, but it will rob the 1500 of some of its charisma.
Press the accelerator and the big Ram has plenty of poke, the V8 moves the mass effortlessly. The eight-speed automatic transmission moves through the gears decisively, Gordon Ramsay wishes he could exhibit this much poise under load.
The instantaneous delivery of power can be addictive. Off the line, smaller rivals don’t have the lungs to keep up. With 291kW and 556Nm at play with straight-line speed is excellent for a vehicle of this size, the engine disguises the Ram’s proportions, it’s a neat trick, even David Copperfield would need to applaud.
Getting up to cruising speed reveals the Ram’s softer side. It’s refined at triple figures and would no doubt remain comfortable on long runs. With such a large space between the axles, the Ram isn't as susceptible to bounce with an unladen tray.
We were fortunate enough to encounter a few corners on our drive and we can add stability to the Ram’s list of virtues. It feels rock solid which is surprising considering its height.
Getting into specifics, the Ram 1500 is not an all-terrain vehicle, technically, the preferred terminology labels it an all-road vehicle. That’s not to say it can’t handle the rough and tumble of off-road driving. We were able to sample the Ram off the blacktop and it handled everything with relative ease. It is equipped with proper low range gearing if things get slippery.
Potential owners should be aware, the Ram 1500 wasn’t designed to be a bush basher. The Ram was designed as a tow vehicle. The Laramie is offered with two different axle ratios, the higher of the two ratios means the Ram is rated to tow 4500kg, a whole tonne more than the industry standard. The lower axle ratio matches the 3500kg towing capability offered by the mainstream. All Ram 1500 variants come with a heavy duty tow pack with the wiring harness as standard.
There are slight performance and efficiency trade-offs in order to have the greater pulling power. We drove both versions of the Laramie and found the difference in performance negligible.
If driven sensibly, the Ram will deactivate four-cylinders when coasting, one of many measures to deliver competitive fuel consumption. Also of interest is the active grille shutters, first seen on the Maserati Levante, which only open when required to improve the Ram’s aerodynamic performance.
The lower axle ratio Laramie has a claimed fuel consumption figure of 9.9L/100km on a combined cycle, while the larger ratio is listed at 12.2L/100km. During our test, we achieved a figure of 13.8L/100km. This could easily be bettered with a lighter right foot. The Ram likes a drink, but its thirst is proportionate to its size.
Parking serves to not only remind the driver of the Ram’s size, it also exposes the awkward foot-operated park brake that resides on the upper right side of the driver’s footwell. It’s the only ergonomic foible we could find.
An underwhelming aspect of the Laramie is the safety package. Stability control, traction control, trailer sway control, brake assist and a suite of airbags are included, but it misses out on things like autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist. Plenty of high-end utes go without the latest safety tech which is obviously disappointing, it’s even more so when the latest safety gear is not available in a car at this price.
In terms of ownership, Ram isn’t ready to point its cannons at the established players. At this stage, Ram doesn’t offer a capped-price service program for the Laramie and the warranty is the bog standard three year/100,000km coverage. With five year plans fast becoming the standard, Ram’s ownership credentials are off the pace.
Ram Trucks Australia are going all in, the brand has lofty ambitions for the 1500, the goal in the medium term is to sell 4000 units a year. With the current pace of the market, it’s an achievable number to aim for.
The shots have been fired and the Ram 1500 will pull buyers as easily as it pulls caravans if the dealer footprint grows. Ram tells us the dealership count will reach 40 in the coming months.
After a stint in the Laramie, it’s easy to see why our American friends are smitten with big pickups. The presentation, comfort, performance and practicality as a result of its size are well beyond what the humble mid-size utes can deliver.
The Ram 1500 Laramie feels every bit the premium pickup, the sharp drive-away price of the base model Express will see it easily take the volume mantle, but it’s the Laramie that is best positioned to deliver the genuine pickup experience. Either way, make no mistake, the Ram 1500 will have the establishment looking over its shoulder.
2018 Ram 1500 Laramie Specifications
Price from $99,950 plus on-road costs Engine 5.7-litre HEMI V8 petrol Power 291kW @ 5600rpm Torque 556Nm @ 3950rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 9.9L/100km Tank Capacity 98L Length 5816mm Width 2018mm Height 1968mm Wheelbase 3573.5mm Ground Clearance 249mm front 235mm rear Kerb Weight 2600kg Turning Circle 12.1m Service Intervals 12-months/12,000km Warranty three year/100,000km
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