Road Test Review – 2019 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn 4×4 – By Carl Malek

Ram has always had a unique niche in the pickup truck wars.

With Ford and Chevrolet slugging it out in both sales and marketing, Ram has embraced its role as a disrupter that always manages to shake up the marketplace with creative surprise tactics.

A notable example was back in 1994 when the artist formerly known as the Dodge Ram 1500 ditched the boxy squared look of past pickups, and adopted a big-rig esque look with aerodynamically honed curves. Naturally, Ford and Chevrolet followed suit, but the Ram managed to continue this trend time and time again in other ways, including a first ever luxury trim, as well as the most powerful performance pickup ever built, with the Viper powered mutant known as the Ram SRT-10.

With Chevrolet and Ford continuing to up the ante in the pickup truck wars, especially with the F-150’s all aluminium body, the 2019 Ram 1500 is forced to once again play the role of disrupter. But with the stakes higher than ever, can this key model be enough of a revolution to finally allow this truck to power its way out of third place?

The exterior styling of the outgoing Ram 1500 was developed during a time when the Ram brand was still in its infancy, and as a result had the iconic big rig look that was still handsome, but also aging rapidly against the F-150 and the Silverado. For 2019, Ram designers opted for a look that retains some of the butch vibes of the outgoing styling language, but in an evolved aesthetic that pushes the Ram 1500 into the modern age.

The cross-hair grille was eliminated before the truck’s arrival, but passersby will have no trouble finding the 2019 Ram 1500 in a crowd thanks to its redesigned front grille with bold RAM script front and center. Redesigned headlights also add an elegant touch to the otherwise functional front end. The side profile is equally distinct, and leads out to the rear end which is arguably the blandest part of the whole design save for the big center mounted RAM logo. Aerodynamics also played a huge role in the Ram’s redesign, with engineers raking the windshield back by two degrees, as well as adding all new grille shutters to help improve aerodynamic efficiency. The shutters remain closed in colder temperatures to help heat the engine during winter weather.

Coil spring equipped 1500s also feature an all new 2.5 inch deployable air dam under the front bumper. This air dam helps reduce turbulence underneath the truck, and clutched hinges help it withstand impacts from pot holes and other road debris. Our tester featured Ram’s Ram Box storage system which places handy lockable bins in the bed sides for easy storage of tools or smaller cargo items. They can also be used as chests to store drinks, thanks to their water resistant construction, as well as a built in drainage system

Unlike Ford’s bold push into all aluminium construction, Ram has followed GM’s approach to this issue, and largely uses high strength steel in its construction. The two exceptions are the aluminum hood and tailgate, which team up with the lighter steel components to help shed 225 lbs from the truck’s flanks. Ram claims that the steel components are also stronger than before, and in turn, the process of repairing them is much simpler than aluminium panels, which require additional tooling and expense to fix (including a dedicated aluminum room.)

The interior of the Ram 1500 (especially in Longhorn and Limited guises) was already known for being impressively opulent for its class, and Ram designers wanted to enhance this feeling for 2019, while also improving functionality. The end result is arguably one of the best interiors we have seen in a pickup, and Ford and Chevrolet definitely have some catching up to do. For starters, there are more USB ports than seats for passengers, with the Ram having a grand total of 9 such ports for charging mobile devices.

An optional Ramcharger (not to be confused with the long departed SUV) brings wireless charging to the Ram for the first time ever.

A reconfigurable center console offers a wide range of storage options, and can store up to two tablets as well as a full size laptop. Floor mounted storage bins provide additional spaces for storage, and a secure hideaway for valuable electronics. Our Longhorn grade rig had uplevel leather seats that offered good amounts of support and comfort, but Ram claims that all trims benefit from subtle improvements to the bolstering and seat materials. The structure itself now sits 0.8 inch lower than before, and that enhances clearance.

The cabin also benefits from a four-inch stretch that boosts rear seat room to a segment leading 68 cubic feet in crew cab models. Higher trims add power recline to the seat’s bag of tricks which is something neither Ford or GM offer in their trucks.

Our Longhorn tester is a tier below the range topping Limited, but it still had a distinct identity thanks to Oak wood inserts with iron branded Longhorn logo, Natura Plus leather seats with alligator embossed accents, as well as saddle bag style rear seat pockets. Thankfully it had some of the Limited’s toys too, including the fore-mentioned reclining rear seat, as well as the optional 12-inch infotainment system.

This latter item is arguably the highlight feature of the Ram, and is a feature that Ram execs are proud to talk about. This screen is reminiscent of the units we have seen in recent Tesla models, and the screen is fully configurable, which should please tech savvy shoppers. Pixel quality is also very sharp with controls laid out logically on the bottom edge of the screen when in full map mode.

Performance for the 2019 Ram comes from a duet of engines that are largely carried over from the previous generation model. The base 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 is one such example, and while the engine itself is unchanged, FCA engineers added their all new eTorque system to it. Essentially a mild hybrid system, eTorque uses a high output alternator/starter system that is linked to the engine via an eight ribbed belt. The belt helps generate 90 extra lb-ft of torque to the crankshaft, and the system is recharged via regenerative braking.

In the meantime, we got to experience the Ram’s most popular engine option, the carryover 5.7 liter Hemi V8. With 395 horsepower on tap, this potent engine has little trouble moving this lighter Ram around town. This engine also boasts 410 lb-ft of torque and that helped give our tester plenty of confidence in off the line acceleration.

It should also be a valuable asset for those that tow trailers or boats on long distance journeys. The eTorque system is also available for the Hemi, but while the extra 130 lb-ft of torque it provides is welcome, we recommend leaving the engine as is, especially since it does a good job delivering a solid driving experience with the confident soundtrack that buyers have come to love.

Like in the outgoing Ram, an eight speed transmission sourced from ZF is responsible for shifting through the gears, and that’s a good thing. This transmission has been met with accolades throughout the automotive industry since its debut, and it’s easy to see why, especially since it did a fine job delivering smooth shifts, and we rarely noticed it sleeping on the job. Our lone complaint is the placement of the gear shift knob which is on the dashboard, and as a result, requires a brief acclimation period for buyers that are used to a floor mounted unit.

The previous generation Ram was the best riding truck in its segment, so Ram engineers did everything they could to ensure that the 2019 Ram would not stray away from that acclaimed territory. Like before a five link live axle setup lurks in the rear, and buyers can still choose from either air or coil springs. However, Ram engineers tweaked the front suspension thanks to the addition of a new composite lightweight upper control arm, as well as revised geometry.

A relocated front anti-roll bar helps control body sway, and the package as a whole adds even more polish and refinement to its already impressive handling manners. Snaking our tester through the hills of Wisconsin revealed that this truck is alot more fun to drive than a truck of its type should be.

It’s not a formal performance truck by any means, but our tester’s electrically assisted steering was very precise, though like in other pickups, it is still too over-boosted to effectively communicate what the front tires are doing on the road. Larger 14.9 inch front disc brakes helped our tester record stable consistent stops from speed with minimal amounts of nose dive.

Pricing for the 2019 Ram 1500 reflects the diverse clientele that the truck is trying to appeal to with the base Tradesman 4X2 model starting at $31,695. The volume oriented Big Horn and Laramie models firmly occupy the $40,000 pricing barrier, and add features such as fog lamps, leather wrapped steering wheel, chrome exterior trim, as well as heated and ventilated seats in Laramie trim trucks.

While Limited grade Rams are at the top of the pecking order, Longhorn models like our tester transform into a compelling alternative, especially with their competitive $53,695 base sticker price. Our tester  was loaded with a diverse laundry list of optional equipment including the $795 Off Road Group Package, the $3,400 Level 1 Equipment Group as well as other options for a final MSRP of $66,935 which includes the $1,645 destination fee.

This is a lofty price to pay for a pickup, but look past that eye watering sticker, and the Longhorn does have several distinct advantages over its rivals from Ford and Chevrolet. The 12-inch infotainment system is currently unmatched in its segment, and the Ram is also the only one to offer any form of hybrid option for both of its engines. Lastly, the Ram’s chunky yet stylish physique is a welcome middle ground for those that prefer bold sophistication but don’t want to be polarized by the Silverado’s redesigned sheet metal, or the Ford’s aging flanks.

When all is said and done, the 2019 Ram 1500 proves to be a very unique offering. While it’s not as much of a disrupting force as its ancestor was in the 1990’s, this newest iteration of Ram does bring several new game changing features to the pickup truck segment, and will certainly force GM and Ford to take much needed notes, especially once its heavy duty grade siblings enter the ring to take on Ford’s legendary Super Duty lineup, as well as GM’s revitalized HD truck offerings.