A Ram in Ram's Clothing

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman

It is not often when a car guy gets a chance to work with a truck.

Every month, an estimated average of 130,000 pickup trucks are sold monthly in the USA. The strength of this market continues for both domestic and foreign makes – all of them built within the NAFTA zone. Their purpose is simple: To be the backbone is this vast land.

We recognize this as an output of the national psyche. This is the reason it is now an annually scheduled story here at Victory & Reseda to discuss trucks through the experience of driving one. To accomplish this, I would scour the world of trucks to find one to put it into its daily routines – commuting, running errands and testing it out to find the happy medium in its primary purpose within the context of metropolitan life.

And, we could not have asked for a better truck – The Ram 1500.

In March at the Twin Cities Auto Show, I had a brief drive in the Ram – a 1500 Big Horn Crew Cab. With the 5.7litre HEMI underneath the hood, I just simply fell in love with this truck. Every aspect of it was right to my taste.

I thought I was done with the Ram. My ticket was simply punched and I have moved on. I was wrong – another Ram decided to show up. This time, it was waiting for me on my doorstep.

Deep down inside, I was hoping for something along the lines of the Big Horn – luxurious, lathered in leather and full of gadgetry. No. What I got was an honest and true work truck – the Tradesman.

Before Fred Diaz was elevated to brand CEO of Ram Trucks, the entire commercial vehicle business resided under the Dodge brand. Decades ago, Chrysler sold a van that changed the way American vans were built – the Dodge Tradesman. The Tradesman was a repairman's friend – from plumbers to television technicians. They were simply easy to drive and loaded full of volume for tools, parts and the lunch box.

Ram decided to bring back the name for their pickup trucks – which does not seem too odd these days. Instead of repairing televisions, today's Tradesman drivers work on road projects, home building and renovations, farming and other related occupations.

2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman 5

A work truck is great for its intentions, but have you seen the average truck out there? Drive through the parking lot of an industrial workplace, a Gander Mountain, Fleet Farm or Home Depot and examine each truck carefully. Private truck buyers do not simply buy a truck. They have to have luxuries. The bed may be full of plywood, studs, bathroom fixtures, power tools, and so forth…but look inside the cab. You might find leather seating, multi-zone climate control, power windows, central locking, top of the line audio system with navigation and carpeting! The rims even shine even there’s a bit of dirt around the wheel wells.

In the face of a North American obsession with car comforts inside the hardest working vehicles within a reasonable budget, what about the Ram 1500 Tradesman? Where does this pickup fit within the suburban landscape and psyche of today's well-equipped truck world?

For starters, the Ram 1500 is the best looking full-sized pickup truck in this market – in my humble opinion. The Ram's design language can be traced back to the 1990s when Chrysler introduced a Dodge Ram pickup that embodied a heavy-duty tractor-trailer style with a big grille and lower fenders capped with the headlamp unit. The latest Ram is an outgrowth of that design – still announcing its arrival at work with the big grille up front. Modern Rams still do it for me – unlike the competition.

The Tradesman may not have the acres of chrome seen in the average pickup of today. The plastic black grille, black finish on the bumpers and mirrors along with a lack of side trimming denotes more of a commercial application rather than a private one. Sporty rims are a dead giveaway to style for contractors wanting to use this in town.

You can get the Tradesman in only four configurations for the 1500: A Regular Cab with either a 6-foot-4-inch bed or an 8-foor bed, a Quad Cab with a 6-foot-4-inch bed or a Crew Cab with a 5-foot-7-inch bed. This model is the Regular Cab/Short Bed model, which may seem small on the outside for a truck. This configuration actually works in some ways – especially when you run a business that does not require hauling a lot of equipment or materials around.

The Tradesman's bed comes with two side compartments to balance out smaller parts of the load. The Ram Box was developed to replace a large toolbox normally installed at the nose of the bed. These two compartments are lockable to protect anyone looking at taking your power equipment or hand tools you might need for the job. Inside the bed are two rails with locking tie-down anchors to ensure more precise cargo management. For longer loads, you could put up the bed extender guard. Once you put down the lockable tailgate, you set up this heavy plastic guard to either manage heavier equipment or materials.

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The Regular Cab seats three inside when the center compartment is folded up. Ideally, this is a two seater, since the driver would most likely use the center armrest and storage bin for work-related materials. It fits a 14" laptop with room for a cord or two. Seats are done in durable cloth material with two-tone black/tan woven inserts. They offer a lot of room with some bolstering, but could wound up being uncomfortable after a while behind the wheel. Only two adjustments are available on the driver’s and passenger seat – rake and recline.

Rams are known for having the best interior in the pickup truck market. Even in this basic cabin, the quality of materials is high and durable. Switches are also of high quality and very familiar for Chrysler drivers and owners. Because this is a work truck, do not expect a slew of luxuries we come to know from our other vehicles. There are no power windows, remote mirror adjustments, central locking, push-button ignition and power seat adjustments on here. You do not even get carpeting under your feet. Why do you need all of that when you are mainly working on in dirt, mud and snow?

There are a few "nice" things inside the Tradesman's cabin. The audio system is the familiar AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio with an auxiliary jack port. The rear view mirror is the self-dimming kind. You might also think that the instrumentation came out of one of the more luxurious models in the Ram lineup. In all, it is a great cabin for a work truck.

2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman 19

When shopping for a Ram 1500, it would be a mistake to pass up the HEMI 5.7litre V8 and six-speed automatic combination. No matter the cabin trim level, cab or bed configuration, the HEMI is the best engine to get. With 390 horsepower and 407-pound-feet of torque on tap, it has strong enough to do anything you ask it to. Towing a trailer? No problem. Doing your weekly run to the home improvement center? Piece of cake! Moving sod to a landscaping job? Your accountant will love you!

It also helps to have a four-wheel-drive system that is easy to use. This is an absolute must in the Upper Midwest.

In this particular Ram 1500 Tradesman – the one with the regular cab and short bed – the HEMI shows off another side of its personality. Chrysler enthusiasts know the power of a HEMI – the robust power band and the massive response from the throttle. Put into a truck with a lower GVWR and a shorter chassis, it becomes a sport truck. A "wolf in sheep's clothing," if you would – except this wolf is a Ram. Or, is it a "wolf in Ram's clothing?"

Though it may have a high performance driveline, the suspension set-up is not amenable for getting a bit loose on the tarmac. The Ram has one of the softest and most compliant suspensions in the full-sized truck world. There is plenty of feedback from the road, especially with the four-wheel drive system with an empty bed. You do bounce when road imperfections are thrown at you.

It is when you start loading up the bed is where ride quality comes into play. The rear suspension compensates for higher payloads, but this Tradesman is capped at 1,417 pounds. The more you fill towards the limit, the better the ride will be. If you are looking for a more compliant work truck with a better ride to balance out loads and better towing control, get a longer wheelbase model – either a regular cab with the eight-foot bed or at least the Quad Cab with the six-foot-four-inch bed. You can pull 8,900 pounds of trailer and load behind you with this Tradesman.

One thing that would surprise you on the Ram 1500 is the quick steering action. It is one of the sharpest turning reactions in the business. Even though it is a short pickup, sharp turns are easy to do. This helps tremendously when towing a trailer. If you are positioning a trailer, you can correct your approaches easily and exactly. Brakes are strong, but would require some earlier reaction to ensure a full stop. However, panic braking is very good as the system reacts quickly to the pedal. Panic stops were downward and direct, but do take a longer distance to come to a full stop than regular automobiles. For a non-truck person, this may be discerning.

Ram Box - Bed Extender Demo

The only thing that would challenge your balance sheet is the fuel economy with the HEMI. Overall fuel consumption came to an average of 14.4MPG – expected from a powerful V8. If you do the math, you may want to play with your vehicle budget to compensate for low fuel efficiency from the HEMI in terms of your fuel costs.

Another shock would be the price you pay for a Ram 1500 Tradesman. You can get one at just over $30,000 for the regular cab/six-foot-four-inch bed as equipped in this review. You could go less if you choose to just have a two-wheel drive model with the standard 4.7litre V8. Truck buyers will tell you to stick with the HEMI over the older, smaller and less powerful engine.

The point of a work truck is not to hoon on one. It is to get the job done. Your clients are asking a lot for their money. The right truck would be the key to a successful bottom line. Add it all up and the Ram 1500 Tradesman could be the solution to your bottom line.

Why the Ram? Why not the competition? You may or may not be surprised by this fact – the Ram pickup is the best selling single product in the Chrysler lineup. Sales include heavier duty Rams – including big dual rear wheel models and cab/chassis commercial applications. However, Ram sales in the U.S.A. are about half of that of Ford's F-Series – the best selling vehicle in North America.

It brings up the proverbial "so what." Consider that the five full-sized pickups and the three remaining mid-sized trucks sold in North America are enough to make your accountant’s head spin. For the rest of us, a truck has a huge emotional decision threshold that brings out the macho in you. If you must have a truck – choose wisely. I said this before, but it is worth repeating…

But, if you must have a truck – choose the Ram, please? Now, back to cars and crossovers…

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Chrysler Group, LLC

All photos by Randy Stern

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