Tech

2019 Ram 1500: Where Hemi meets hybrid

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I’m feeling right at home on my first drive of the 2019 Ram 1500 pickup. I’m behind the wheel of the off-road-spec Rebel, entering a dry, desert riverbed, greeted by a quarter-mile of deep, soft sand. Four-wheel drive is engaged, as is the truck’s new electronic locking rear differential. Today, friends, is a good day.

But the Ram 1500 is about far more than off-road fun. The half-ton pickup is now in its 15th generation, comes in six different trims, has two different engines (for now), and can be had with two- or four-wheel drive. And with a weight loss of 225 pounds, some nifty new tech and electric assist, the 2019 Ram 1500 is poised to keep Fiat-Chrysler’s pickup competitive for years to come.

The 2019 Ram 1500 is available in six different trims, including the mega-fun off-road Rebel.


Ram

New tech for the next generation

The Ram gets a huge tech improvement for 2019. For the first time, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability is available, as well as lane-keeping assist, forward collision mitigation and blind-spot monitoring that even works when a trailer is in tow. The adaptive cruise is smooth and works beautifully, coming to an easy stop behind a lead car in traffic before starting back up again. Lane keeping assist work as advertised, with a gentle nudge easing me back into my lane. Unfortunately, the majority of the Ram’s driver’s aids are all optional, and only on higher trim levels. Only blind-spot monitoring is a standard feature, and that’s only true on the 1500 Limited.

But let’s be honest — the wow-factor tech upgrade is the truck’s vertically oriented, 12-inch infotainment touchscreen. Standard on the Limited trim and available on Laramie and Laramie Longhorn, the Tesla-size screen runs the latest Uconnect infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The large screen can run two applications at once, and though it’s not possible to run the native navigation system and Apple CarPlay at the same time — something I long to do because I hate Apple maps — it’s easy enough to switch between the two.

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4G LTE connectivity is standard on most trims and there are up to five USB ports, four of which include USB-C. Other charging options include wireless charging and a 115-volt outlet. If any of your smart devices die while on the go, it won’t be the fault of Ram.

Power and eTorque

Ram takes a big step forward in the powertrain department, offering a 48-volt mild hybrid system. It’s similar to what we’ve seen from companies like General Motors and Mercedes-Benz — the system can keep the battery charged, quickly restart the engine when start/stop is used, and can store juice generated from regenerative braking. The 48-volt system can add a boost of torque on launch, too, for better acceleration.

Sadly, Ram doesn’t have any eTorque-equipped trucks available for media testing just yet; I’m told we’ll get a chance to properly try out this technology in the coming months. eTorque will be standard with the 3.6-liter V6, which makes 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, and optional with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which is good for 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet. An eight-speed automatic transmission is mated to both engines, and while Ram hasn’t announced fuel economy just yet, I’m told eTorque should be good for a 10 percent improvement over the previous 1500.

The 1500 has always been as smooth as butter on the road, thanks to its coil suspension in the rear, and for 2019, a number of improvements make it ride even better. Retuned shocks soak up the little jounces of the Arizona pavement with ease and a better-located sway bar helps keep body roll in check. New for this year are dual-rate springs that work to keep the ride feel the same whether the truck bed is empty or loaded up to its 2,300 pound payload capacity. Ram claims the 1500 has a maximum towing capacity of 12,750 pounds, an increase of 20 percent over last year, a lot of which is thanks to the added boost from the eTorque technology.

Dirt nerds like me will like the off-road package that adds 32-inch tires on 18- or 20-inch wheels as well as a lift, e-locker and off-road tuned shocks and is available on any trim for $795, but really, if serious desert-running is your thing, go for the gusto and get the Rebel. That electronic locking rear differential comes standard, replacing the limited-slip setup of last year’s truck. The Rebel also gets a 1-inch lift, Bilstein shocks at all four corners with reservoirs in the rear to help keep things cool, 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires on 18-inch wheels, and all those glorious skid plates. An air suspension is optional.

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel

Ram Rebel makes short work of the dirt.


Ram

The e-locker will disengage in 4-High four-wheel drive at speeds over 25 miles per hour, but will stay steadfast and true in 4-Low and two-wheel drive, regardless of speed. That’s great for when you need high revs and a bit of momentum, like in a dusty, desert wash, or if you’re running Baja. Comparisons to the F-150 Raptor are inevitable — the Ford wins on power and suspension travel, but the Rebel is $4,000 less expensive, or $7,500 less if you opt for a two-wheel drive (but really, why would you do that?).

A hoarder’s dream

If you need a truck that’s roomy with lots of storage solutions, it’s tough to beat the 1500. The cab itself is 4 inches longer than before, most of that extra space benefiting rear passengers. The back seats can recline by eight degrees, a welcome respite on longer trips, and Ram says the rear bench can even accommodate three car seats. Family truck!

There are concealed storage bins everywhere: a hidden box resides under the rear seats and two little cubbies are found behind the driver and passenger seats. The center console is big enough to fit a laptop computer and all the cables you could possibly need. Three phones fit snugly into place across the front of the of console and there’s even a hanging file system. The cup holders slide forward and aft for easy access to all the crap you will inevitably throw in the cubby below.

2019 Ram 1500

Have your cup holders any way you want them with the customizable center console.


Ram

Outside, the Ram Box storage system is a $995 option, but well worth it. The locking boxes are on the outside of the truck and even have a 115-volt outlet. The Ram Box doesn’t impede on the bed’s tremendous capacity.

Priced to compete

The 2019 Ram 1500 starts at $31,695 for a base Tradesman and can go all the way up to $56,495 for a top-of-the-line Limited Crew Cab 4×4. The 5.7-liter V8 adds $1,195 on top of that, and if you want the V8 with eTorque, add another $1,995. That sounds like a lot, sure, but all half-ton pickups are getting expensive these days. Don’t forget, a loaded Ford F-150 starts at nearly $61,000, and while pricing hasn’t been announced for the 2019 Silverado, the highest trim for 2018 starts at $56,695.

If comfort, technology and storage are your main must-have features when looking at a truck, the next-generation Ram 1500 should be on your short list. Look for it to arrive on dealer lots in late March.

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