2009 Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie Quad Cab 4×4 Review
By Kevin Miller
I’m on record at Autosavant as not being a “truck guy”. I tend to view trucks as a necessary evil, with road manners, ergonomics, and day-to-day usability that fall behind passenger cars. I’ve wondered aloud and rolled my eyes at people who use full-sized pickup trucks as family haulers and daily commuting vehicles.
As the large-truck and SUV craze exploded earlier this decade and then suddenly contracted when gas prices ballooned last summer, drivers of full-sized trucks panicked, selling or trading (or simply parking) their oversized trucks to save money. That happened to coincide with the beginning of the planet’s economic slowdown, but it also coincided with the launch of the latest generation full-sized trucks from Ford and Dodge.
While some would say that our nation’s obsession with full-sized trucks and SUVs led to domestic manufacturers ignoring smaller, more efficient vehicles, the focus on full-sized trucks has led to the latest generation of those vehicles offering outstanding packaging, handling, and feature content.
When I learned I would be reviewing a Dodge Ram 1500, I was underwhelmed. A week with a full-sized truck? Would I be able to give it a fair shake, or would my bias against trucks overshadow the product? I’ve never been a fan of previous-generations Ram styling, nor of Chrysler vehicle interiors, which was another hurdle the new Ram would need to overcome.
When the Mineral Gray metallic (two-tone) 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab Laramie arrived, it made a good first impression. With good-looking 20-inch chrome wheels, a big chrome grille and bumpers, and dual exhaust ports the Ram is a good-looking truck- several people I encountered during my week with the Ram complemented me on the truck. To my eyes, it is better looking than the new Ford F150, and better looking than most of the Chevrolet/GMC trucks, though I did pass a very nice looking GMC Sierra Denali which I thought equaled the Ram’s good looks.
Inside, the Laramie trim level as equipped offers a very impressive level of amenities, as well as a very handsome and functional console layout. Previous Rams in which I’ve been a passenger have had interior fittings that look to be made out of hard, shiny plastic, with wide, uneven panel gaps and cheap, parts-bin controls arrayed across the dash by people who may have never even heard the word “ergonomics”. The new Ram features a dash cover with very convincing faux French-stitching, legible instruments with an information screen between them, dual-zone climate control, uconnect stereo with navigation, satellite radio, hard disc, and rear-seat TV, electric windows (including the rear sliding window), and a 110-volt outlet on the dash. The leather-upholstered front seats offer heating and cooling, and the steering wheel is also heated. Better still, each of the controls has a high-quality feel when it is actuated, and the controls are situated in logical, ergonomic fashion. Neither of the displays washes out from the sun nor when wearing polarized sunglasses. From a design perspective, the interior really looks sharper than the rival Ford F150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Toyota Tundra. I really liked the single-piece chrome surrounds that circled each of the air vents.
During my week with the Ram, I had the opportunity to be a passenger in a new Toyota Tundra. While the Tundra didn’t have the highest trim package, I was surprised by how much hard plastic was used in very noticeable places throughout the Tundra’s interior. By stark contrast, I was truly impressed with the Ram’s interior; while some hard plastic is used, it is only in lower or secondary locations where it doesn’t stand out, and where you neither see nor feel the mold lines. Nearly everything you see or touch from the driver’s seat looks and feels nice.
While I am clearly singing the praises of the new Ram’s well-equipped, upscale interior, there are few small complaints: the sun visors need extenders for blocking out sun on the rear halves of the side windows; the steering wheel needs a PHONE button (because the phone button on the uconnect head unit is a LONG reach from the driver’s seat), and the otherwise-clear instrument panel is subject to sun glare on bright days, and it reflects in the driver’s side window at night.
Between the front seats, the center console offers a wide padded armrest, which covers a shallow tray containing with a 12 V power outlet and room for electronic devices. Beneath the shallow tray is a deep bin in which I kept a bag of chips, some snacks, and the two headsets for the backseat TV. Ahead of these covered storage compartments were two cup holders, a deep rectangular bin with another 12 V charger, and three additional bins where my cell phone, sun glasses, gum, lip balm, and other necessities ended up conveniently riding. Each of the bins and cupholders had a removable rubber insert, which keeps contents from rattling when underway, and which can be removed for cleaning. Additional large bins and bottle holders were located on each door.
The four-door Quad Cab sits in the Ram lineup between the standard cab and the Crew Cab (which offers a larger backseat). The 60/40 split rear seat’s bottom cushion can be folded up flat against its backrest. Below the bottom cushion is a fold-out platform which can be deployed to form a flat load floor, which held my two equipment cases, a suitcase, and various other items for a two-night trip from Seattle to Portland, OR. If the fold-out platform is hinged up instead of folded out, bins are revealed which do a good job of holding grocery bags, preventing them from sliding around the floor.
When the rear seats are in place, knee room is a bit tight for adults, though my preschooler’s booster seat offered her adequate legroom, and there was plenty of space in the center position for my infant daughter’s rear-facing convertible car seat (it protrudes forward over the front seat’s center console). Trying out the Sirius Backseat TV, my daughter really had to crane her neck upward to see the monitor. Configuring the Backseat TV from the navigation screen/headunit was straightforward after finding the right control screen, and I was able to easily switch the unit’s input between TV and DVD, as well as switching the truck’s speakers between the video’s sound and another program of my own choosing.
The uconnect head unit does a good job of controlling the front and rear entertainment systems and navigation system, though it is lacking on telephone features (there is no way to directly dial a phone number, and voice recognition of my phone’s contacts was hit-and-miss, compared to Ford’s SYNC system). The head unit does have some confusing screen menus, and it only has a single disc CD/DVD player, but music (or photos) can transferred onto the system’s 40 GB internal hard drive (from disc or USB), and can select different sources for speakers and each headset.
The Ram sits high above the ground, and the one I tested didn’t have running boards. While I was able to hoist myself into the truck without undue effort, both my wife and my preschooler had more difficulty getting in. Once inside, the Ram towers over other traffic, sitting higher even than full-sized Ford and Chevrolet trucks; I looked down on those trucks as well as every car when in the Ram. It was an interesting perspective, and one that I enjoyed more than I thought I would.
Behind the wheel of the Ram, the truck’s most notable feature is that it drives more like a car than any truck I’ve ever driven. Steering was fairly precise, and the ride didn’t have the oversprung, bouncy ride I associate with trucks and SUVs, whether in town or on the highway. I was comfortable for three-hour legs between Seattle and Portland without stopping, and without growing weary from driving the way I can when the driving is hard work. Piloting the big Ram was really pretty effortless, which is a compliment for a full-sized truck. Of course, in wet conditions the throttle needed to be used judiciously; the standard electronic stability control was quick to intervene if it detected wheelspin.
My Ram was equipped with Chrysler’s 5.7 liter “HEMI” V8, offering 390 HP and a 13/18 MPG fuel economy rating. The engine features cylinder deactivation and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with Chrysler’s AutoStick gear selection. The transmission was usually smooth shifting, though stomping on the gas from a stop or when underway could result in a harsh downshift. When cylinder deactivation occurs, a “Fuel Saver” indicator appears in the IP’s info display, and it is usually not noticeable. On one occasion while loafing through a parking garage with the window cracked open, I did detect a different sound while the engine operated in “Fuel Saver” mode; a prod of the accelerator pedal extinguished the indicator and returned the HEMI’s muscular growl. The HEMI’s 390 HP handily beats competing Ford F150 and Chevrolet Silverado models we’ve recently tested.
My first tank of fuel lasted a surprising 477 miles. Nearly 400 of those were on Interstate 5 with the cruise-control engaged. While the Ram’s trip computer told me I averaged 17.1 MPG, simple mathematics from putting 29.799 gallons into the 32-gallon tank at a fill-up showed that I averaged just 16.0 MPG. After a week and 720 miles, the trip computer indicated 14.6 MPG average, and the fuel gauge indicated slightly less than ½ tank remaining.
On my trip to Portland, I had the opportunity to parallel park the Ram on downtown streets. While I figured it would be a daunting task, it really wasn’t. The Ram has rear parking sensors (it didn’t have the optional rear view camera) and mirrors that tilt down when the truck is shifted into reverse. While the Ram took up every inch of the painted-on street parking spaces, it was easy to park and easy to exit. Parking the Ram in busy Home Depot parking lot on a sunny Saturday afternoon was actually a bit more challenging; though it has a fairly tight turning radius, the truck’s length can make straightening in a tight parking spot somewhat challenging.
That sunny Saturday I mentioned earlier gave me the opportunity to finally use the Ram for its intended purpose of hauling stuff around. Seattle’s unusually-cold winter killed off some shrubs in my yard, so I cut them down, dug out their stumps, and threw the debris into the Ram to take it to the yard waste transfer station. Then I headed to the home improvement store and a nursery to pick up some compost, landscaping stones, and new plants. The Ram’s molded plastic bed liner put up with the yard debris and the stones very well, though it did shift in place somewhat when I tossed in bags of compost, and the tailgate’s protector was easy to lift on its frontward-edge when sweeping out the bed. I also learned that because of the tailgate’s swept-back shape, reversing with the tailgate open caused a continuous beeping from the rear parking sensors. Too, the tailgate lacks the easy-open struts of Nissan’s Titan.
The Ram I tested had a pretty hefty MSRP of $46,980. That price includes the following comprehensive list of standard and optional features: Base Price $41,090 includes 5.7 liter HEMI V8 and 5-Speed Automatic Transmission, Electronic Stability Control, Four-Wheel Antilock Brakes, Electronic Shift-on-the-fly Transfer Case, Cruise Control, Remote Start/Keyless Entry, TPMS, Leather-Trimmed Front Bucket Seats, Dual-Zone Climate Control, uconnect tunes with Sirius Satellite Radio, uconnect Phone, 506 Watt Alpine Surround Sound System with 9 speakers plus subwoofer, 115 V AC power outlet, Power Memory 10-way Driver’s seat, 8-way Power Passenger Seat, Trip Computer, 20” x 9” Chrome Wheels, Automatic Headlamps, Heated Power Exterior Mirrors, Fog Lamps. Optional Equipment included Leather-Trimmed Bucket Seats, Floor-Shift Console and Ventilated Front Seats ($250), Customer Preferred Package 26H (ParkSense Rear Park Assist, Electronic Shift-On-Demand Transfer Case, Dual Rear Exhaust) for $795, Protection Group (Tow Hooks, Transfer Case Skid Plate, Front Suspension Skid Plate) for $150, 3.92 Axle Ratio with Anti-Spin differential Rear Axle for $375, 32-gallon Fuel Tank (replaces standard 26-gallon tank) for $75, uconnect GPS with Sirius Traffic ($945), P275/60R20 OWL All Season Tires ($125), Class IV Receiver Hitch ($335), Under Rail Box Bedliner ($245), uconnect Studios Sirius Backseat TV ($1695), and $900 Destination Charge.
Of course, the recent historic slowdown in vehicle sales has retailers cutting great deals on most models, including full-sized trucks, even ones in their first model year like the Ram. A bit of online research showed that most buyers are paying close to invoice for these trucks, and are additionally getting rebate money. That means that average transaction prices are about $8000 less than the MSRP on fully-equipped Laramie models like the one I tested. While many buyers may be unsure about buying a vehicle from currently-in-bankruptcy Chrysler, those who do buy can get a great truck at a great price.
Living with the Ram 1500 Laramie Quad Cab for a week helped me understand why so many families choose large trucks as family vehicles. While they don’t get good fuel economy, they can be spacious, comfortable, and equipped with luxury-car amenities. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed driving the Ram, and my family enjoyed traveling in it. I was sad when my weeklong review of the truck was complete. If I was in the market for a truck, the Ram would be my truck of choice.
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