What do you bring to a wedding in the countryside?
Being somewhat of an urban person, it took some creativity to figure out these details. What do you wear? What should you expect when you get there? Which vehicle to drive? What kind of exit strategy should I have when things go wrong?
These are considerations I had in mind when thinking through the wedding invitation of a couple of friends of mine at their private wedding ceremony over an hour away from home in outstate Minnesota. The setting is familiar – it was a farm turned into a family retreat. Knowing the happy couple for years, I had no expectations on how this will go down.
Or, as Jeremy Clarkson would say on occasion: "What could possibly go wrong?"
I was grateful for the invitation. However, as an automotive writer, it is obvious that I needed something appropriate to drive in for the occasion. It is on a farm, with gravel road access several miles from the Interstate. I would need something that would go through such terrain without destroying the vehicle.
This is where the Ram 1500 comes into play. Chrysler's full-sized pickup truck already proved to be one solid workhorse in the recent past, Since my time in the 2012 Tradesman, Ram upped the game by adding the Pentastar V6 and ZF eight-speed automatic to their 2013 lineup. They massaged an already fantastic cabin by adding the 8.4-inch UConnect touch screen on some of its models and a better TFT screen for the instrument binnacle.
Add some nips and tucks, and the 2013 Ram became a winner – Motor Trend Truck of The Year, North American Truck/SUV of The Year and the Truck of Texas, as awarded by the Texas Automotive Writers Association. Last year's model was also shortlisted for V&R's Vehicle of the Year last year.
For a country wedding, the most important piece of the truck is the trim level. The Tradesman is fine, since all you need to do is clean the rubber flooring after use. A Laramie Longhorn is a bit too much, since the wedding is in Minnesota – not Texas. Come to think of it, the Ram 1500 is available in several trim levels, including an R/T model and other purpose-lifestyle packages made for any given pickup owner.
The trim level of this Ram is the Outdoorsman, a package based on the SLT. The idea is to combine everything a recreational pickup truck buyer needs to go to the cabin. For Ram, it would entail a choice between a Quad or Crew Cab with a shorter box, a pair of Ram Boxes, the 5.7litre HEMI V8 and more of a tilt towards choosing four-wheel drive than two.
You might call this a "purpose-lifestyle" package.
Outdoorsman models are seen wherever there is a high propensity of sporting hunters, fishers and recreationalists. Some might opt for the optional Mossy Oak appearance package to go along with their camouflage motif wear and equipment. This example did not come with such a package. Perhaps that would be best considering how much camo does not agree with me.
There is a lot more about the Ram 1500. The interior is fantastic! The new TFT screen in the instrumentation binnacle has superb, straightforward and easy to understand graphics. Compared to General Motors and Ford, the Ram’s screens – the 8.4" UConnect touch screen included.
Driving the 2013 in the Crew Cab shows serious improvement in driving dynamics. Adjustable air suspension is smooth and comfortable over many roads. You no longer the bumps and cracks as much as you did before. The suspension has a trick where the truck lowers down to an "Aero" height when rolling down the highway at higher speeds. That way, airflow is restricted underneath the chassis when the truck is driven over 55MPH. You could also raise the suspension for greater clearance by a touch of a button on the lower center stack. Be forewarned that you cannot go higher than approximately 30MPH at its highest setting.
If you think that it would sort out the Ram's tendency to roll and lean in the corners, you may be disappointed. But, you do expect that when you corner this truck at high speeds. It prefers to be taken easy around the bends, with or without a load in the back. That is if you do not go crazy on the sharp and quick action steering on the Ram. In two-wheel drive, it is magnificent. In four-wheel-drive, be careful how you rudder due to the typical conflict with the axle and the steering box.
Braking is also great – even better than in my previous experience in the shorter Tradesman. Give yourself some time and distance to stop and it will respond accordingly. This is a constant reminder for someone who is used to driving nothing larger than a Jeep Grand Cherokee on a regular basis – that would be me.
Without question, the Ram 1500 is the one pickup I would choose above its competition. Sure, it is not the greatest in fuel economy – an average of 14.6MPG in my care. It is not the cheapest – the sticker for this Outdoorsman came to $45,630. But, if I wanted a pickup to haul a few things for friends, pick up a bunch of IKEA flatpacks or get out in the country and chill – the Ram 1500 suits me just fine.
I would go further to say how much the Outdoorsman trim suited me the best. It speaks to us Upper Midwesterners as recreational people and as a daily pickup driver. Sure, the SLT would be more suitable with its chrome grille and such, but the Outdoorsman has a menacing look with its body color grille surround and black inserts. It has a bit of a sporty look, which is very attractive.
However, I am conflicted. In May, I drove the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ in the Z71 four-wheel-drive package. I was pleased to see the work GM did to improve this truck. The flex between the cab and bed was minimized to near zero with seals between the two body components, while dramatically improving the ride/handling mix. I have never driven a pickup truck of any size that drove like a car with its fantastic handling and smooth ride while unladen.
Though I would need some more time with the Silverado and/or its more luxurious brother, the GMC Sierra, there was something the Ram 1500 had that any other pickup does not. It has soul.
I prefer my vehicles to have some form of personality. It should have something to tell me how much alive it is. There should be nothing contrived or mundane about it. It should tell you when it wants to play nice or encourage you to play a bit harder. It should return the love you give it.
On some level, I sometimes see the vehicles I work with a companions on the journey. A friend, when you need one. On occasion, it may be my date to a gathering or event.
It just seems appropriate that this Ram 1500 Outdoorsman would accompany me as my "date" to this wedding in a bucolic section of Minnesota. Despite the rain, it was a lovely ceremony in the outdoors – very befitting of the couple. I am so happy to see them in holy matrimony, 'till death do them part.
Even in their own way, you could see their collective soul in this celebration of matrimony. There was nothing contrived about the way they shared this moment with their family and closest friends. It was exactly the way they wanted it to be.
Did I mention it was a wedding for a same-gender couple? Rather, this was my first such wedding I ever attended – after over two decades of being "out." Or, does it matter anymore since it is now legal to do so in the state I currently call home? Maybe it matters on some level, but for the purpose of this treatise – it is truly part of the story.
It is the story of how a little piece of happiness could converge at once. For the newlyweds, it is a lifetime of happiness, joy and making love work for good. Between my friends and the Ram 1500 – this makes for a very happy ending.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Chrysler Group LLC.
All photos by Randy Stern