All-American beef: Ram 1500 Laramie first drive
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Although they're one of the biggest names in the pick-up business (both figuratively and literally, of course), Ram wasted no time telling journalists attending the launch of the 1500 Laramie that they are no longer known as “Dodge Ram”.
This identity crisis of sorts is only set to grow in New Zealand if movements in the market are anything to go by. More and more people are trading sedans for SUVs and double-cab utes — with the latter established as the dominant force in Kiwi vehicle sales.
The DS-series 1500 — the so-called “baby” of the Ram range — enters the game via an interesting premise.
As you’d expect, pricing is towards the absolute double-cab top end — starting at $94,990 for the entry-level Express, $104,990 for the Black Pack (the model Ram expects to sell in the largest numbers) and $114,990 for the range-topping Laramie. Those prices include standard kit like a spray-in bed liner, a safety suite featuring trailer sway control, and brake assist, and more.
But, for the money, the specs are closer to being in luxury SUV territory. Each model comes with a juicy 5.7-litre Hemi V8 under the bonnet; producing 291kW at 5600rpm and 556Nm at 3950rpm. The cabin is vast, with huge rear-passenger space and a copious amount of toys (we’ll get into those later).
The Ram 1500 therefore slots in somewhere in the middle of double-cab work horse and plush, luxury family hauler. That’s in theory, anyway.
The Australasian Ram 1500 launch took place earlier this week over the Ditch at Bathurst. The township tends to be known only for its famous Mt Panorama circuit, but what’s lesser known is that the “hill of skill” is surrounded by a range of wonderful twisty roads. Here we would sample the 1500’s road-going prowess, with a brief skid through an off-roading course at Mayfield Garden, near Oberon.
The 1500 is 213mm shorter in length, 49mm in height, and almost a tonne lighter than the larger 2500. The Express model sports a 6-foot 4-inch tub and a shrunken “quad cab” seating format, while the rest of the range wears a smaller 5-foot 7-inch tub and a larger “crew cab” interior space (both configurations offer a middling 800kg payload).
While Australians get the choice of two different final drive axle ratios on the Laramie, New Zealanders only get the lower one — the 3.92. But this isn’t an issue, as it means all versions that land here will sport a mammoth class-leading 4.5-tonne towing capacity and impressive performance off the line.
Put your foot flat and 100km/h comes up in less than eight seconds — more than two seconds quicker than the Ford Ranger Raptor despite its 2650kg kerb weight.
That engine was the highlight of the driving experience. Those with lead feet will appreciate the unmistakable Hemi growl, while those intending to use one of these as a daily vehicle will be impressed by how little effort is required to keep it ticking over.
Ram claims 12.2L/100km from the low-ratio V8 (the high-ratio model is claimed at 9.9L/100km). And even with “spirited” driving through the mountains, we landed in the ballpark of both economy figures — perhaps thanks to the 1500’s active grill shutters and cylinder de-activation tech.
The Laramie’s general demeanour on road was of the Jekyll and Hyde variety. Along with its double-sided V8, contrasts also exist in its steering and suspension. The former is soft and usable around town, whereas the latter is firm and bouncy — particularly on the rough and broken back-roads of Bathurst.
This is testament to the 1500s standing as a product of old-school engineering. It’s still a body-on-frame beast of a thing, and its suspension geometry reflects this via a firm ride that begs with every bump for some all-balancing payload weight.
The Oberon off-roading course was a relatively mild one, but nonetheless it showcased the 1500’s impressive articulation and approach/departure angles. With four low engaged, the brutish pick-up felt more than capable enough on the dirty stuff to appease any likely owners hoping to use it as a weekend farm hack.
Admittedly, inernal material quality is scratchy in all the places you would expect. Plastics down low and through the centre console won’t be scaring those from Europe any time soon. But, it’s also worth noting that the authorised Socobell right-hand drive conversion is — literally and figuratively — seamless.
The 1500 makes up for quality shortcomings through its toys — particularly in the Laramie. Its 8.4-inch touchscreen offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and through Ram’s clever U-Connect system two phones can be connected to the system simultaneously.
Ram is hoping to sell more than 200 1500s next year, with an aim of more than doubling that figure by 2021. And the addition of a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel next year will no doubt help them close in on that goal.
And, hopefully by then, nobody will be calling them a Dodge.