Go big, or go home. It's a popular phrase, indicating somebody should either put in a lot of effort, or not bother at all. It makes sense with towing, as well. Generally speaking, the bigger the tow vehicle is, the better it will be at dragging around something heavy.
Aside from Nissan's Patrol, Toyota's LandCruiser and Land Rover's Discovery, your only options for something relatively civilised that can tow well was a diesel-powered 4X4 ute. These utes are often compromised, in part by suspension that's trying to keep a nice unladen ride, and a small engine that's trying to stay efficient and clean.
Now, there's another card in the deck. It's coming in out of the USA, getting converted to RHD in Australia by ASV (American Special Vehicles), and is being delivered to customers by a factory-endorsed, full-volume distribution operation across Australia. You can get the Ram 1500 in either Express or Laramie spec, and you can choose a body style that favours either a bigger tub or more 2nd-row cab space.
The Laramie moniker denotes top spec, and brings a lot of ticked boxes inside the cab. Think along the lines of Ranger Wildtrak or Amarok Ultimate, but bigger. There’s distinctly American 20” chrome wheels, along with other chrome accents on the exterior. The font seats are heated and ventilated, along with heated steering wheel and 2nd row. The infotainment screen is FCA’s latest UConnect system, with an 8.4” screen and good connectivity/performance.
The drive setup has a slight difference to most 4WD utes, and is a little different to the Laramie spec. 4WD auto mode lets the car choose between 2WD and 4WD, when it senses too much wheelspin at the rear end.
If you’re in the market for a RAM 1500, it’s important to note that there are two different towing capacities available: 3.5 tonnes and 4.5 tonnes. What changes is the final drive (differential) ratio between the two; the higher towing capacity gets lower overall gearing, but the driveline and suspension is otherwise unchanged. Along with a higher towing capacity, you also get a big bump in GCM, which is very important. Let me explain:
Like other utes, you can’t use your full payload and towing capacity at the same time. When towing at your maximum listed capacity, there is only a little of the ~900kg payload left over. Somewhat illogically, where the 4.5-tonne rated unit really makes sense is when it’s towing a 3-3.5 tonne trailer. Having that extra capacity in terms of towing and GCM is what you need, when loading up people and gear into the ute whilst towing something decent. In this regard, the Ram 1500 blows away the competition as a tow rig.
If looking at a Ram 1500 but don’t need to tow anything heavy, then opt for the 3.5-tonne option; You’ll gain a bit of economy and refinement. Going between each is a no-cost option.
Speaking of economy, you’d expect a 5.7 litre Hemi V8 that makes the best part of 300kW in a ute of this size to drink like Boonie on a 1989 flight to London. And when you depress the throttle and access all of those horses near the 5600rpm redline, it probably will.
The good news is running through an 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic gearbox, the engine is quite happy to lug along with a smooth, low-revving character. ‘Eco’ mode denotes when half of the cylinders shut down (inlet and exhaust vales shut completely), and the radiator gets screened off for better aerodynamics.
When you’re towing, the engine doesn’t instantly turn into a high-revving, hard-drinking monster. It’s happy to keep revs well below the 2000 mark, and keeps lots of effortless refinement in the experience.
Ram Australia reckon 9.9 litres per hundred kilometres is achievable on the highway run unladen, and maybe it is. But it’s a relatively difficult exercise to not depress the throttle and enjoy that V8 every once in a while. We were towing 2.7 tonnes in stop-start traffic, and logged fuel usage of around 19 litres per hundred kays. Unloaded, it was more like 14 or 15.
Aside from giving the ute great hustle when called upon (and sounding great), the petrol engine is very quiet, smooth and refined. Especially when you compare it to the almost entirely diesel competition, you forget what a petrol power plant can do for general NVH levels. If you want more noise, Ram will be offering a sports exhaust system to buyers soon.
Aside from the big engine, another reason why this will never be an outright efficient vehicle is it’s overall size. The wheelbase is just over 3500mm, with a 5816mm length and 2018mm width. Kerb weight is just over 2.5 tonnes. Not great for counting your pennies at the fuel bowser, but it pays big dividends when you’re towing heavy loads.
The extra heft and wheelbase means the cart is less likely to drive the horse; and our 1500 never felt fazed by the weight of the Triton over the towball. Braking performance is still good, and the suspension rides well without being either harsh or wallowing, another big benefit of that long wheelbase.
If you’re looking to tow something big and heavy, like a big caravan, horse float or boat long distances, you’ll appreciate the effortless nature of this Ram 1500, and be happy to pay for the extra fuel it uses compared to a smaller diesel.
If diesel is your poison, and you’d rather get put in the ground than purchase a petrol-powered 4WD, then just hold your horses. The 1500 will arrive in Australia soon with the option of a 3.0-litre diesel V6, of which the official specs haven’t been released. Common sense dictates this will be the same as the engine available in the USA, which makes 180kW @ 3600rpm and 570Nm @ 2000rpm. This is the same VM Motori engine as Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and Maserati’s Levante, albeit being in different states of tune.
Let's get one thing straight with these American trucks. People are not buying them in Australia to go off-road, so while the 4WD ability might be there, it's not the focal point at purchase time. You might roll onto the sand here or there, but you're not doing any hardcore off-roading. Rather you're buying this truck for one of two reasons. Firstly, it's a style statement. Secondly, you need to tow a big trailer regularly. If you're buying for the first reason, it doesn't matter what we think.
Sam has looked at the second reason, and I'll weigh in with what it's been like to drive when you aren't towing.
I spent much of the week with the RAM bombing around town in the usual Sydney traffic. First up, the fuel consumption was nowhere near as bad as you might think, mid 15s most of the time, and every mate I have with an AMG is using more than that. Therefore, there is no reason you couldn't mount a case for the fuel running costs to be well within the tolerance you could expect.
Next up, the physical size of the thing. It's big yes, but it feels no wider than a 200-Series Cruiser on the road, despite the fact it is significantly longer. Once you get your head around how that wheelbase plays into your day to day driving, you'll be fine. Manoeuvring it around town is easy and I didn't have any issues parking it either, although underground shopping centre carparks mostly won't work.
I actually think the 1500 is the best platform of the three (2500 and 3500 above it) for day to day driving. It doesn't feel like a lethargic big truck with slow steering and heavy brakes. The engine is responsive, the ride beautiful and the general dynamics a lot more car-like than you'd think on face value.
Yes, it's a big truck, but it is a hugely capable big truck, and if you tow regularly and a petrol 200-Series is in your consideration set, you'd be mad not to take a look at the RAM 1500 at the $100k mark. All the little creature comforts and general quality of the cabin make it hard to argue with the value proposition even though it costs more than it does in the USA.