You don’t need to be Einstein to work out Australians have gone dual-cab crazy. Sailing atop the sales charts, the HiLux and Ranger continue to sell in record numbers. And now, if you need something a little bigger – but not the biggest – another proper US truck has arrived: the 2018 Ram 1500.
There is a newer model in the States – the 2019 is already on sale, and will be offered alongside this 2018 variant for a while – but we won’t be getting the latest one for the moment.
In either case, it's important to note: the Ram 1500 isn't a Dodge. Hasn’t been for almost a decade, in fact, but it is a full-size pickup truck from the US, and this one is converted here by experts. More than that, all Australia-bound examples are flagged as such before they even hit the production line.
There are some hints in the standard specification inclusions indicating this truck is destined for the Australian market from the outset. Trucks bound to come here get Australian compliant tail-lights, a metric driver display cluster, local radio frequencies and satellite navigation.
You’ve seen the work ASV – American Special Vehicles – does with Ram 2500 and Ram 3500, and now it has turned its attention to the little brother, the Ram 1500. Read our pricing and specification breakdown for the full details, but in short pricing will start from $79,990 drive-away for the Express model, and $99,950 before on-road costs for the Laramie model with all the fruit. There are a few cost options like Ram storage boxes, but in the case of the Laramie grade, it’s a heavily-optioned standard offering from the get-go. At launch we tested the high-grade Laramie model.
The Ram 1500 hasn't been crash tested locally, but it would be unlikely to get the full five-star ANCAP rating, given the lack of autonomous emergency braking, despite having the structural integrity required to score well. It's unlikely to be tested either, given the low-volume nature of its import and sale.
All Ram 1500s are covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, with roadside assist for the same period. There’s no capped-price service plan as yet, but there is a growing dealer network around the country, approaching 40 at the time of writing. ASV is also keen to remind us it's the only fully factory-backed conversion outfit in Australia – peace of mind when you’re spending six figures on a truck.
Now, before you trot out the argument that $100k is a lot of money for a dual-cab, let’s look at some numbers. When you see a ubiquitous kitted-up Ranger rolling through town, assume there’s nearly 20 grand worth of accessories added to the standard offering, but even so, the starting price of high end dual cabs has continued to creep up for a while and shows no signs of slowing down.
Approximate starting prices have Ranger Wildtrak at $64k, Ranger Raptor at $75k, Colorado SportsCat+ at $67k, Mercedes-Benz X250d Power at $62k, the X350d Power at $74k and the Amarok TDI550 Ultimate at $69k – all before on-road costs.
We’ve been saying for a while too, Australians have been copping a raw deal with expensive dual cabs – basic interiors, low on creature comforts, safety inclusions that barely counted as basic, and cheap trim and materials. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved American trucks if you intend to use your vehicle for work. They're so much better equipped than the competition, especially given they're the default family vehicle Stateside.
Volkswagen was first to kick that hornet’s nest here with an Amarok that was a lot more car-like inside the cabin, and now just about everyone else has come to the party. Still, in the sense of a useful and comfortable second row, and proper interior space and flexibility, dual cabs still can’t match their SUV brethren.
That’s where the Ram 1500 is going to shake things up a little. The cabin is vast in comparison to other dual cabs. You can see in the video that I sat behind my own driving position with room to spare. At launch, we plonked a six-foot/four-inch journo into the second row and his head wasn’t anywhere near the roof. In the second row there are heated seats, four cupholders, a fold down armrest and proper door pockets – two tiered in the back as well.
Up front, there’s really clever smartphone storage for two devices (with charge cables connected), two-tier door pockets, a massive centre console bin, and heated and cooled leather seats. The latest version of U-Connect allows two smartphones to be paired at once and the system can switch between them as priority, while the general infotainment and displays are both excellent. We switched between Apple CarPlay and Android Auto a few times without incident. One of the features that is made specifically for our market is the instrument display – metric of course – from manufacture on the assembly line.
Climbing up into the Ram is an exercise that requires more effort than most dual cabs, made easier by standard side steps, but the view is commanding once you’re there. Forward visibility is excellent despite the high-riding bonnet line, and rearward vision is also excellent. A suite of parking sensors front and rear, and a clear rear-view camera make low-speed manoeuvring easy. Like JLR products, you might need some time to get used to the gear selector dial, but once you do you’ll appreciate how much the lack of a shifter cleans up the centre console.
Manufactured in Australia by the company that has been making dashboards for Toyota for years, the quality of the fit and finish is excellent and we didn’t notice any vibrations, squeaks or noises from the dash despite, spending plenty of time on rutted, coarse-chip B-roads. In fact, everything about the cabin is a clear step ahead of anything else in the segment, aside from the current high-end Amarok offering.
Motivation comes from the familiar 5.7-litre Hemi V8 petrol engine – there’s no diesel available yet, but we'll be getting a 3.0-litre V6 oiler later in the year. Still, the lack of a diesel might perturb some buyers given the V8's proclivity for fuel consumption. The most obvious question therefore is what is the real world fuel usage, the official claim being a reasonable 9.9L/100km.
At launch, we saw the average drop as low as 13.5L/100km after a 60km run at an even 100km/h, and settle out at 14.3L/100km after close to 300km. That’s with plenty of ‘spirited’ driving though. To my mind, that’s more than reasonable and perhaps even better than you could have expected out of something like a Maloo. You'd see that drop if you were more careful with the right pedal, and if you're not stuck in stop/start traffic all day.
There will be two diff ratios available in the Laramie spec - one that facilitates 4500kg towing, while the punchier gears, which get the Ram 1500 moving noticeably quicker off the line, drop the tow rating down to 3500kg. For me, given the Ram weighs in at 2600kg, I’d take the gearing suited to towing, and give up any desire to be winning traffic light drag races. Payload weighs in at 800kg, which can’t match the segment leaders, but as we know, you won’t see many Ranger Wildtraks running round with close to a tonne in the tray.
Out on country roads, there was some jiggle through the rear suspension as all dual cabs have a tendency for, but I’m looking forward to testing the Ram against the best in segment back-to-back, because my gut feel is that it rides more competently unladen. The steering is as direct as any in the segment, the handling as good as you can expect for a large truck, and the engine, which churns out 291kW and 556Nm produces effortless power through the mid-range. It doesn’t feel like a rocket ship, but it doesn’t need to.
While there'll be plenty of people criticising the Ram for its size and opining that we don't need American trucks here, you could hardly call the current crop of dual cabs small, or 200-Series Cruisers and Patrols for that matter either. If you need a heavy-duty tow vehicle, if you want a dual cab that needs to be flexible, comfortable and feels like it's worth the outlay, the Ram 1500 is going to appeal to you. At the very least, the 1500 is going to keep the established players in the segment on their toes.