BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS MEDIUM
The remanufactured RAM 2500 and 3500 RHD models have achieved success in Australia, and were joined by the lighter-duty 1500 version in mid-2018. A petrol V8 is the standard offering and a three-litre diesel option was released in August 2019 .
The RAM 1500 was launched in Australia in mid-2018, providing buyers in Australia’s fastest growing market sector with a sub-$100k full-sized American crew-cab ute. The RAM had typical American-ute towing ability and cabin space, according to the sole Australian authorised importer and distributor of the brand, RAM Trucks Australia, part of the Ateco Group.
The RAM 1500 released in Australia wasn’t the 2019 model that had just been launched in the USA, but was the 2018 model, planned to be marketed in the USA alongside the 2019 model.
The RAM 1500 complemented the RAM 2500 and 3500 range that was launched in 2015 and increased its sales by 36 per cent in 2017, compared with 2016, according to official VFACTS figures.
Powered by a 291kW/ 556Nm, 5.7-litre petrol Hemi V8 engine, the RAM 1500 claimed best in class towing, power, cab size and cargo space, with a tub length of nearly two metres. Options included the class-exclusive RamBox Cargo Management System.
The Chrysler-Jeep VM Motori three-litre diesel, 179kW/569Nm V6 option became available in August 2019.
The North American-built RAM 1500 arrives in Australia as a left-hand drive vehicle and is remanufactured to right hand drive at a purpose-built facility in Melbourne. From June 2019 that factory was operating three shifts per day, to meet demand.
The chassis and body are separated and a re-engineered steering system is fitted; a new dashboard that was designed, developed and produced in Australia is installed and a RHD-specific heating and ventilation system is fitted, before the body and chassis are re-married.
The work requires production-line levels of quality, fit and finish, and means that the re-engineered vehicle is officially classed as a remanufactured vehicle, not a conversion.
A comprehensive three-year/100,000km warranty, backed by a nationwide dealer group, applies.
At launch, the RAM 1500 was available in two equipment levels, with a choice of two cab sizes: the Express with the Quad Cab and the Laramie with the Crew Cab. Although the Quad is the smaller of the two, an interior volume of 3.3 cubic metres placed it ahead of the majority of Australian-market utes.
The Laramie had an American-market-sized crew cab, similar to that in the RAM 2500, with 3.5 cubic metres of interior space and rear seat leg room length of more than a metre.
The 1500 Express had a leather lined dashboard, colour-matched grille, bumpers and trim, and could be enhanced with a Black Pack.
The RAM Laramie had a traditional chromed grille and chrome highlights; heated and cooled, ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; heated steering wheel; leather-faced seats and trim; deep pile carpeting and an equipment list that put some luxury cars to shame.
All Australian-market RAM 1500s were built on a 3569mm wheelbase. Payload capacity varied, but was in the in the 800kg range, confirming their design as American-maket ‘half-tonners’, not one-tonners like the RAM 2500 models. However, towing capacity was up to 4.5 tonnes, making the RAM 1500 models
a tonne better than popular Australian-market mid-sized utes.
We reckon that RAM 1500 models are best used by people who want towing capacity, not on-board payload capacity.
Under the bonnet of the RAM 1500 is a legend. The ‘Hemi’ name came from hemispherical combustion chambers – a revolution in pushrod V8 design in the post-WWII years – that provided an efficient combustion chamber, with space for two large valves.
The latest Hemi continues to power racing cars and muscle cars, as well as the RAM 1500 and matches the Hemi design with the latest technology including a coil-on-plug ignition system, variable valve timing (VVT) and two spark plugs per cylinder to shorten flame travel, leading to more consistent combustion
and reduced emissions.
It can save fuel through a Multi-Displacement System (MDS) that can shut off four cylinders – two on each bank – under light load to improve fuel economy.
Early MDS engines suffered from lifter and camshaft issues, but that seems to have been solved with a 2012 redesign of these components.
The grille hides active grille shutters that admit the right amount of cool air into the engine bay. This means more consistent engine temperatures, faster warm up from cold starts and less aerodynamic drag.
When the active grille shutters are closed, airflow is redirected over and around the front of the truck, slightly enhancing aerodynamic performance.
A rotary dial controls the Chrysler TorqueFlite eight-speed transmission that is a licence-manufactured ZF 8HP70 design. This dial allows quick transitions from Reverse to Drive when towing or ‘rocking’ out of mud or sand.
The driveline is selectable full-time 4WD, using a Borg Warner transfer case, with a low-range ratio of 2.64:1.
The RAM 1500 features electric power steering (EPS), removing the previous hydraulic pump, high-pressure hydraulic hoses and cooling circuit. This greatly streamlines the RHD-conversion process.
Additionally, EPS senses constant input from the driver, such as counter-steering against the pull from a crown in the road and reduces that steering wheel rim effort.
The RAM 1500’s 4.5-tonnes-capacity towing ability comes from its advanced separate chassis and suspension construction. A towbar, trailer electric brake controller and 12-pin trailer plug are standard equipment.
The 4.5-tonnes trailer rating applies to V8 petrol RAM 1500s supplied with 3.92:1 final drive ratios. Some early models were available with an optional economy 3.21:1 final drive ratio that limited towing capacity to 3.5 tonnes.
Diesel V6 models come with the 3.92:1 final drive ratio and are rated at 3.5 tonnes towing capacity.
The front rails employ high-strength steel and the side rails are fully boxed.
The RAM 1500 has multi-link, coil-spring
rear suspension and that provides improved ride and handling characteristics. The front independent suspension combines steel upper control arms, aluminium lower control arms and coil springs. Interestingly, both front and rear axles are rated at 1770kg capacity.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on all RAM 1500 Truck models. The front rotors measure 336mm in diameter and are clamped with dual-piston callipers, and the rear rotors are 352mm with single-piston callipers.
RRPs for the RAM 1500 models start with the Express Quad Cab with two-metre tub that has a driveway tag of $79,950. Tub-side RAMBoxes add five grand and the Black Pack a further five grand.
The Laramie Crew Cab versions start at $99,950.
In March 2019, a new grille was fitted to the RAM 1500 models, along with a much larger ‘RAM’ badge on the tailgate. The budget-priced Express version was also fitted with a reversing camera and trailer brake control kit, making it even better value for money.
RAM Trucks put on a press drive in the
Bathurst (NSW) region that took in main and secondary roads, some gravel and steep off-road country. The evaluation vehicles were Laramie versions and unloaded, giving an opportunity to check out ride quality empty – normally a downside of ute behaviour.
The test vehicles, being Laramie versions, had full-sized crew cabs and were fitted with all the ‘fruit’ buyers should want. Oddly, though, there is no downhill descent control in either Express or Laramie model specifications. On the plus side, engine braking in low-low proved to be quite powerful.
Pre-trip checks were easy, thanks to a gas-strut-assisted bonnet and clearly marked fluid reservoirs. The pancake air cleaner was easily inspected and we liked the air induction location in the front inner mudguard.
The legendary Hemi sat low in the engine bay and well back, for good weight distribution and ease of access to the serpentine belt and the igniters. RAM must hold the Guinness Book of Records award for the length of the top coolant hose!
There was no clue to the right hand drive conversion cut and shut in the engine bay: everything looked factory-stock.
Getting in and out of the 1500 Laramie was easy enough and side steps bridged the gap for shorties. Powered leather-faced seats with lumbar adjustment and a tilt steering column made getting comfortable simple.
Instrumentation was comprehensive and the telematics display gave detailed information that’s ideal for heavy towing work: transmission oil temperature, for example.
The big V8 fired up readily and made a pleasant burbling sound was we set off. (A louder exhaust pipe is a Mopar option!)
Although the revitalised pushrod donk runs a 10.5:1 compression ratio it’s happy to drink low-octane 89 RON fuel and is compatible with 10-percent ethanol petrol. Less praiseworthy is a small, 80-litre fuel tank, but the Express gets 100 litres capacity.
Immediately obvious was ride quality similar to that in large 4WD wagons, broadening the appeal of the RAM 1500, we reckon. Handling and precise steering were also wagon-like.
The eight-speed Torqueflite transmission shifted seamlessly and performance was sparkling, to say the least. The RAM 1550 could be tootled along gently at cruising speed or given its head for sports-car-like acceleration, with expected exhaust note.
We picked up a Laramie test vehicle with the then optional ‘taller’ 3.21:1 final drive ratio and coupled it to a three-tonnes plant trailer that had a ball weight around 100kg. The rear suspension deflected some 40mm as the coupling was connected.
We towed this trailer through hilly terrain and were impressed with the performance of the Hemi V8.
Shifts in the eight-speed auto were almost imperceptible and manual downshift buttons on the steering wheel made it easy to downshift for engine braking.
With cruise control engaged the box automatically downshifted progressively, to maintain revs and engine braking.
At 4000rpm the 5.7-litre braking power was impressive, holding the combination to required road speed on 10-percent gradients. Once the province of diesel engines, engine braking is no longer a feature of small-capacity turbo-diesels.
We measured fuel consumption when towing this load at 17.5L/100km.
On and off road
Our second test Laramie was fitted with
3.92:1 final drives and revved noticeably higher at highway cruising speed: 1800rpm at a true 110km/h vs 1500rpm for the 3.21:1 diff model.
Fuel consumption was slightly higher, averaging 12-13L/100km/h lightly laden, compared with the 3.21:1 version’s average 11-12L/100km/h. Towing economy didn’t change.
The ‘lower’, higher-ratio diffs gave our second test mount even more acceleration!
In general driving there was perceptible difference between the two machines, so we concluded that the 3.92:1 model is best for those who want the higher 4.5-tonnes trailer capacity. This choice might also have somewhat higher resale value, as well.
Both test vehicles were set up for on-road towing work, not for off-roading. They came with 20-inch street tyres, chromed, spoked wheel caps over aluminium wheels and low-slung side rails/steps, so our off-road testing was confined to gentle fire trails.
There is an off-road suspension and equipment kit available from Mopar, to fit out the Laramie for off-road work. In the USA there’s a Rebel version with all this off road kit fitted, but there are no plans to bring this version Down Under.
The basic off-road credentials are good: powerful traction and stability control, 2.64:1 low-range ratio and generous coil- spring wheel travel, so taller springs and shocks, a 140-litre fuel tank, plus some underbody plating should be the main bits needed.
We found the stock suspension fine on smooth bitumen and dirt surfaces, but the damper settings were too soft and with too little bump damping to work well on lumpy bitumen and heavily rutted and corrugated gravel. Stiffer monotube shocks would be our choice for Australianising the Laramie.
At around 100 grand the RAM 1500 Laramie should attract a great deal of interest from those who want to tow.
MY2019 Eco Diesel model
In late August
2019 we tested the newly-released Laramie three-litre diesel model. The diesel model was driveline-similar to the V8 petrol models, but there were
some significant equipment changes. It came without sidesteps and a standard towbar, although both items can be fitted by RAM dealers. Also, there
was no RAMBox option.
We reckon there’s a twofold reason for the changes: cost control and weight control.
The diesel engine is much more expensive to make than the ubiquitous Hemi petrol V8 and needs to carry a heap of emissions control equipment. To keep the
pricing penalty for the diesel within 10-percent of the petrol machine’s RRP, it made sense to delete some of the ‘fruit’ that the petrol Laramie got
On the weight front, the diesel donk is heavier than the V8 and its emissions gear also adds weight. If the Eco Diesel model carried all the petrol-1500
kit its payload rating would have dropped below 700kg and that was obviously perceived as a step too far down the scale. As specified for Australia
the Eco Diesel Laramie has a claimed payload figure of 735kg.
Those potential buyers
who don’t plan to tow with their RAM 1500 Eco Diesel won’t miss the towbar, but the vehicle is tow-ready, retaining an integrated trailer brake controller.
Those who go seriously off-road won’t miss the sidesteps that intrude on the belly angle.
Potential buyers who do want to tow with the Eco Diesel can haggle with their local RAM dealer about the cost of a heavy duty towbar and won’t miss the
fact that their payload is adversely affected by the weight of the bar.
Interestingly, the Eco Diesel model comes with a ‘capless’ diesel tank filler: a sprung-loaded steel ball seals the spout and is easily depressed by a
fuel hose nozzle.
We were given a preview of a pilot-build Laramie Eco Diesel that had a fitted towbar. Time was limited, so we didn’t do any off-road driving, figuring
that the diesel would only enhance the RAM 1500’s already excellent off-road credentials. We were primarily interested in whether the diesel would
deliver better solo-vehicle and towing economy than the petrol V8. And it did.
Although matched to the same 3.92:1 final drive ratio as the petrol machine, the diesel operated happily at all road speeds, using lower revs, in higher
gears, than the petrol model.
It wasn’t as quick off the mark as the Hemi that
delivered 150 more horses, nor was it as exciting in overtaking ‘roll-ons’, but, with more torque at lower revs than the V8, the diesel performed smoothly
and quietly, and would meet most people’s needs, we reckoned.
Diesel ‘clatter’ was evident at idle from outside the vehicle, but inside, at all speeds, peace reigned.
The diesel payback came in the economy figures. We measured 10.1L/100km lightly laden and 15.4L/100km when towing our three-tonnes plant trailer. We were
careful to use the same roads, so we compared apples with apples.
You pays your money and you makes your choice…