Redesigned for the 2009 model year, the 2012 Ram carries over largely unchanged except for a new automatic transmission.
Ram is Chrysler's entry in the traditional full-size, half-ton (1500) pickup market. As of 2011 Ram is its own brand, a sub-brand of Dodge.
The 2012 Ram 1500 is available in Regular Cab, Quad Cab (an abbreviated Crew Cab with forward-hinged doors), and four-door Crew Cab versions; there are three bed lengths as well.
Ram 1500 offers a choice of three engines: A 3.7-liter V6 rated at 215 horsepower, a 310-hp 4.7-liter V8, and the 390-hp 5.7-liter Hemi. The V6 is fitted with a 4-speed automatic transmission and the V8s have a 5-speed automatic. The V6 comes on smaller rear-wheel drives only, but the two V8s are available with either two- or four-wheel drive and only Ram and the Tundra offer the largest, most powerful engine choice on Regular Cabs.
On the outside, Ram carries the familiar big-rig look initiated by the 1994 Dodge Ram. Like many Dodge cars, the Ram's front end has a forward tilt, but it remains as aerodynamic as other pickups.
The Ram is a conventional full-size pickup truck, but it differs in rear suspension and powertrains from all of its competitors, primarily the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and to a lesser extent the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. Because the Honda Ridgeline does not have a separate frame, cab and bed, nor a choice of two or four-wheel drive, we do not consider it a conventional half-ton pickup, although those buying a crew cab pickup primarily as a second car would be wise to consider it.
Underneath, where for decades pickup trucks have had live axles with leaf springs, the Ram's live axle is suspended by coil springs and it is located by four trailing links and a lateral Panhard bar. The RamBox cargo box remains unique and for 2012 it's available on more models and costs less. The front suspension, steering and brake systems parallel other half-ton pickups.
Inside, the Ram offers seating for three to six people, in-floor storage on Crew Cabs and environments that span working-grade vinyl and rubber to French stitched leather with ventilated and heated seats. Though it varies by region there are a dozen Ram 1500 nameplates.
Changes for 2012 are limited to a new steering wheel, paint colors, wheel styles and so on. Ram says the V8 trucks get a new 6-speed automatic transmission but we say in reality it remains a 5-speed automatic.
Brand loyalty in pickup trucks makes some sports rivalries look like "he said, she said" arguments, and many will recommend only one despite the fact that there are no bad pickups. Online "competitive comparisons" that imply drum brakes are better than disc brakes (we disagree), and payload and tow ratings that change frequently make shopping more difficult. We recommend avoiding any buying decision made purely on brand or maximum tow rating.
With so many versions there is not shortage of Rams to choose from. Compared to the competition, the Ram's rear suspension is unique and the styling is less conservative. GM and Ford half-tons offer more engine choices. GM, Ford and Toyota pair their V8s with a 6-speed automatic versus the Ram's 5-speed. The Nissan Titan is the only one that offers a full eight-foot long bed on their Crew Cab model.
A V6 and four-speed automatic are standard on 2WD Regular and Quad Cabs, the 4.7-liter V8 and five-speed automatic on most Ram 1500 low-line 4WD and Crew Cab, and the 5.7-liter V8 Hemi is standard on Sport and Laramie and optional on everything else. No manual transmissions are offered.
Ram ST models come in all cabs and are workhorses, with standard vinyl floor, manual windows and gray vinyl 40/20/40 bench seat. However, they do include chrome grille outline, air conditioning, stability control, CD player, tilt wheel, variable intermittent wipers, locking lift-assist tailgate, trailer plug, and underfloor storage (Crew Cab). Options include chrome wheels, cruise control, sliding or heated rear window, trailer mirrors, carpeting, cloth seats, limited-slip differential, sliding rear window, and Sirius radio.
Ram Tradesman is a low-trim pickup with standard Hemi and spray-in bedliner designed for the commercial operator or independent contractor. A 1500 Heavy-Duty version using a 2500-series frame and components, in 2WD Regular Cab long-bed only is $28,605 and as of February 1, 2012 had the highest load and towing ratings of any 150/1500-badge pickup.
Ram Express models, available in all cab styles, add visual cues to an ST with 20-inch wheels, body-color trim, dual rear exhaust and fog lamps; interiors get carpeting and floor mats.
Ram SLT, Regular Cab only, adds to ST with a 4.7-liter V8, 5-speed automatic, cloth seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, power sliding rear window, Sirius XM, cruise control, EVIC (electronic vehicle information center), overhead console and remote keyless entry. Options include navigation upgrades, better upholstery and bucket seats, rear camera, 506-watt Alpine sound system, UConnect, 20-inch wheels, Class IV hitch, trailer brake controller, towing mirrors, five packages and RamBox.
Ram Outdoorsman is offered in all cab styles and includes body-color grille, painted bumpers and fender flares, tow hooks, skid plates, 32-gallon fuel tank, power heated auto-dimming outside mirrors, cloth bucket seats, power driver seat, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, 115-VAC outlet, HomeLink, heavy rubber floormats, 3.92:1 axle ratio, and truck-duty LT265/70R17E tires. Options include rear park assist and surround-sound audio system, 20-inch wheels/tires, sunroof, UConnect, navigation, and Sirius backseat TV.
Ram Big Horn and Ram Lone Star specials come on four-door cabs only and include a Hemi, 20-inch wheels, bright grillework, fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant controls, a Class IV receiver hitch and unique badging.
Ram Sport is available in Quad and Crew Cabs. Sport includes the 5.7-liter Hemi, slate-gray contrast-stitched bucket seats, body-color bumpers, fog lamps, on-demand 4WD and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels. The Sport R/T Regular Cab 2WD short bed ($31,685) gets a 4.10:1 rear axle and 285/45R22 tires on polished aluminum wheels but will still tow 5000 pounds. Options are similar to those on the SLT.
Ram Laramie four-door only comes with leather heated 40/20/40 front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, driver memory system with power front seats and outside mirrors, rear park assist, heated steering wheel, woodgrain trim, power-adjustable pedals, surround sound, UConnect, accent fender flares, and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels (17s are available). Extra-cost features include remote start, sunroof, navigation, back-up camera, heated/ventilated front seats, floor mats, heated rear seats and rear-seat entertainment.
Laramie Limited in Crew Cab only is the top of the line and adds to a Laramie with natura plus piped, French-stitched leather upholstery, leather on the dash and door panels, piano-black trim, Berber floor mats, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, leather-wrapped shift knob, navigation with SiriusXM Travel Link, rear camera, accent-painted running boards and bumpers, 32-gallon fuel tank and spray in bed liner. Options are few: skid plates, axle ratio, limited-slip differential, alternate wheel finishes and rear seat entertainment system.
Where not standard an under-rail or spray-in bedliner, smoker's package, and engine block heater are available on any Ram.
Safety features include dual front multi-stage airbags, three-point belts in all seating positions with constant-force retractors, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks, electronic stability/traction control and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. Full side-curtain airbags for four-doors, rearview camera, and rear park sensors are optional.
One distinction of the Ram is that a lot of the usual gaps and spaces are noticeably narrow and tight, such as spaces between tires and fender openings, and between the cargo box and the cab. This not only looks neat and clean, but it also helps reduce wind noise and improve efficiency. From the outside the Ram looks clean and tidy. The side mirrors stand off from the door glass, the sides are fairly flat, and the tailgate spoiler and windshield are both rounded for improved aerodynamics. Seen from behind where the tires appear almost flush with the body panels, the truck looks quite trim.
There is no large seam between the front bumper and the grille and lights, and if the truck does not have fog lights the bumper does not have the outline marks that show it's missing something. The large rear bumper has half-round openings for the sport exhaust on trucks so equipped, and both seven- and four-pin trailer plugs are fitted adjacent to the rear license plate. The tailgate has a lock and a torsion bar system that cuts its apparent weight in half for ease of lowering and raising it; lower it slowly to avoid the big thud.
Even the least expensive model has some chrome on the front rather than the complete industrial gray that typifies base models from some other manufacturers and there are plenty of paint choices. On upper trim-level variants the mirrors have LED puddle lamps and the headlamps are dual-bulb units, and on the Sport the front bumper is deeper and body-colored. Spend more, get more chrome.
An aluminum hood is used on all models to save weight, and there is plenty of space below it for the aftermarket to fit superchargers and other go-fast goodies. Laramie models come with two-tone paint but you can specify a single shade, and rather than chrome-plating the aluminum wheels plastic chrome covers are used for dress-up.
The RamBox Cargo Management System is now offered on more bed/cab configurations. A pickup box with a rectangular interior and no wheel-well intrusions, it measures 49 inches wide inside so it can accommodate the ubiquitous 4x8 sheet of building material flat on the floor. Side rails with cleats secure the cargo, and a bed divider that locks into place segments the bed into smaller areas or can be flipped over and used as a bed extender with the tailgate down. Moving the interior walls inward results in sidewalls with much thicker sections, and in the tops of the two sides of the RamBox are two locking bins, capable of holding 120 standard 12-ounce cans on the left side (where the fuel fill is located) and 130 on the right, or anything else of that same volume, such as dirty clothes, tools, golf bags and so forth. These boxes have locking lids, drains, lights and 90-degree opening lids; together the volume exceeds that of a 55-gallon drum. You can fill them with ice and beverages for tailgate parties and camping. They might even hold trailer sway control equipment, though the heavy bars may be pushing the limits of the boxes. The RamBox has some trade-offs. It reduces total cargo box capacity, adds weight that comes off payload and, since the lids for the cargo bins open upwards, it is not compatible with such things as camper shells, tonneau covers and many racks.
The seats come in a durable fabric that you won't stick to you in summer heat or be crusty and chilly in a blizzard. They offer good support and plenty of room. We swapped through a few Ram models back-to-back to compare the trim levels and found the seat in the base model is the same design as in the top-line models, and we had no complaints after a full day of driving. We also found we could sit in the back of a Quad Cab for 20-minute jaunts, but a six-foot passenger will be happier in a Crew Cab where rear dimensions are essentially the same as the front; only the Crew Cab has a center rear headrest.
Instrumentation includes a tachometer. The gear indicators are orange with the gear chosen shown in green. The gauges are illuminated amber at night while the controls are bathed in green. The electronic stability control switch (standard) and 4WD switch are on the dash (both 4WD systems are electrically-switched).
A typical steering-column lever controls the transmission, with a thumb toggle for independently selecting any forward gear; some people with small hands may prefer this to the bulky floor shift that comes with center console trucks. Common operating controls such as lights, wipers and cruise control are on column-mounted stalks.
The dashboard is nicely framed, with symmetry on both sides of the wheel and both sides of the truck. Upper models may be ordered with bucket seats and a fixed center console that houses storage areas and a stubby T-bar shifter on the driver's side; the shifter has chrome bulges on either side that look suspiciously like buttons but aren't. The only drawbacks to this arrangement are the loss of one seating position and the space under the central dash.
With so many trim levels to choose from you should be able to find one that meets your requirements. We found the basic ST work truck model particularly impressive. Entry-level pickups have a tendency to be penalty boxes lacking any amenity beyond a seat cushion and an ashtray, but we didn't feel penalized at all in the ST. The ST models have plastic door panels that are easy to clean and fairly scuff resistant. The standard radio does an exceptional job in light of the budget-conscious price.
As trims and prices rise so too do standard goodies and optional extras. The key goes in the dash on base trucks but others have pushbutton start, and mid-grade trucks add a voltmeter and an oil pressure indicator. Chrome rings the gauges, leather wraps the wheel on upper models, and the vehicle information center between the larger gauges offers myriad functions from trip computer and transmission fluid temperature to radio data.
The MyGig infotainment system with 30GB hard drive is available, along with navigation, dual-zone climate control, rear park sensors with audible beeps and LED warnings above the rear window, and a 150-watt, 115-volt AC outlet. A moonroof is offered on both four door cabs as is a rear-seat DVD entertainment system (though you can't get both on the Quad Cab). Alpine supplies the premium Surround Sound system, with speakers in the Crew Cab headliner above the back seat and a subwoofer under it.
Storage in all models is good, including double gloveboxes. On the Crew Cab, Chrysler claims 42 places to put things (we got bored after counting up the first 18). On some four-doors you can get under-floor insulated storage compartments, which are a clever idea but hard to reach from the driving position. The Crew Cab has a pair of AC vents mounted low in back, coat hooks that will hold plastic hangars, and cupholders in the center armrest, but there are no reading lights in back. The tunnel hump in the floor is just a couple of inches high yet plenty wide enough for the center rider to have both feet on the same level.
We found we could converse in normal tones at highway speeds back seat to front, with less than average wind, exhaust and tire noise from behind. Even a base model, with a V6 engine never recognized for a quiet or smooth demeanor, does a fine job of minimizing distracting and fatiguing noise and vibrations.
The new Ram Laramie Limited cabin goes head-to-head with GM LTZ or Denali trim and Ford's Platinum or King Ranch in a slightly more understated way, the imported-from-Detroit gauge bezels notwithstanding. Neither the Nissan Titan nor Toyota Tundra offer such luxurious cabins. Titan has good room, instrumentation and controls but doesn't reach the refinement of the Ram. Tundra offers similar features but the instrument panel is less integrated.
The Ram's 4.7-liter V8 scores basically the same EPA numbers as the Hemi, one mpg lower on the highway because it doesn't have the MDS. However, it will realistically get better mileage overall; you can't use the Hemi's 80 extra horsepower without using more gas. The 4.7 feels the smoothest and is the quietest engine in the Ram line.
The 3.7-liter V6 provides 215 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque, in the same neighborhood as GM's similarly archaic 4.3 and behind Ford's 3.7 and Toyota's 4.0. This is adequate for trucks that don't tow more than a garden tractor or routinely carry around landscape, handyman or pool service equipment. Although it comes with only a four-speed automatic, proper axle gearing (we'd recommend the 3.92:1 ratio) makes it livable and able to merge at highway speeds.
2012 literature lists the Ram V8 automatic as a 6-speed because you can manually select two ratios that before counted as one, but it has the same ratios as it did before. Where the competitors genuine 6-speed automatics have ratio spreads from about 4-4.2:1 to 0.65-0.69:1 the Ram's so-called 6-speed automatic runs from 3:1 to 0.67:1, meaning the Ram transmission doesn't have the same low-gearing for accelerating, be it on flat ground, a launch or on-ramp, or in the mud. (The technical details: In the previous version there were two different ratios for second gear, one for upshifts from 1st gear, and one kickdown for when you floored the pedal in a higher gear. At 1.67:1 and 1.50:1 the ratios are too close to be compared to any other 6-speed automatic.)
Transmissions work as expected with modern, electronic-authority automatics. If you wish to select a gear manually use the thumb toggle on the column-mount stalk or slide the floor shift left for downshifts and right for upshifts. To revert back to full automatic control, simply hold the toggle on the column shifter + or push the floor shifter right for about one second.
A Tow/Haul mode is standard and useful when towing. Activating Tow/Haul may take the truck out of top gear but it does not lock it out; you can still cruise in overdrive with tow/haul on. The Tow/Haul mode keeps the transmission cooler when towing by holding gears longer (and reducing hunting between gears) and shifting faster (and firmer).
The 4WD systems have a 48/52 nominal torque split (a slight rearward bias of power delivery), 2.72:1 low range for climbing or steep descents, and are electrically shifted from 2WD to 4WD without stopping; engaging low range is done most smoothly rolling at about one-two mph with the transmission in Neutral. The 4WD systems have a Neutral position for flat-towing a Ram behind an RV or heavier construction truck. Two 4WD systems are available, and one has an Auto mode that allows 4WD-on-pavement use for inclement weather. This system will only help you accelerate and turn under power, it does not help you stop or change directions to avoid something.
We found the brakes work well. Antilock and stability functions are standard so all you need to do in evasive maneuvers is push the pedal and steer. In daily driving they deliver good feel and are easy to modulate, and although they handle the truck well we'd advise trailer brakes on any trailer more than 1500 pounds (less if your state requires it, of course).
A Ram will never a racecar make but it benefits the same as a racecar when weight is removed from the suspension, axles, brakes and wheels. Using aluminum in some protected front suspension pieces takes 10 pounds off each corner, and the coil/link rear suspension takes 40 pounds off the back and allows more precise wheel control. In addition, friction in the rear suspension as it moves up and down has been cut by 60 percent, so the rear axle is allowed to travel more up and down yet requires less stiffness to keep it controlled.
The Ram rides very well and in comparing it to the competitors it comes across as the best blend of ride and control, whether you're on 17-inch wheels or the big 20s. It goes where you point it without drama, the rear end feels less inclined to step sideways over a mid-turn bump or invoke the stability control, and the Ram has a feeling of good directional stability with a trailer in tow. Steering is direct, but the effort is low during maneuvers and cruising, and it increases nicely as you push the truck harder. Body roll is kept in check by stabilizer bars at both ends, yet a small amount is apparent as you turn the wheel just to keep you aware; too much roll stiffness increases ride harshness. In sum, the whole truck exhibits less of the shuddering typical of body-on-frame designs used on all full-size pickups and some big SUVs.
Off the highway the suspension offers good articulation, and keeping the wheels on the ground longer always works best. We had no issues with suspension pieces dragging or being vulnerable to rock or stump impacts. And while we didn't have a sand box handy we could not invoke any axle hop even from full-throttle standing starts in a field. Our only complaints in off-road travel are that close-in visibility suffers from the big hood, making it harder to judge the corners through rocks or trees, and the wide A-pillar base may present its own visibility issues. Also, there's little compression braking in high-range. The only apparent drawback of the suspension design is that the optional larger fuel tank is perhaps smaller than it might be otherwise, offering just six gallons more than the standard tank.
The Ram felt smooth and quiet, even on the 20-inch wheels. To our ears the Ram has the competition covered, but every ear has its preferences and many pickup owners like noise.
Payload, or how much weight in cargo and passengers a truck can carry, varies by cab, bed, drive wheels, and engine. Ram payload ratings run from about 1050 pounds for a highline Crew Cab to around 2000 for a Tradesman and that's for trucks without options. The Tradesman HD can carry up to 3100 pounds.
Tow ratings top out around 10,500 pounds (for a regular cab, long bed, 5.7 V8 with the 3.92:1 axle ratio and 17-inch wheels), and range from about 3500 pounds upwards; the Tradesman HD can handle up to 11,500. Most Ram versions can be rated into the 8000-pound tow range, and V8 models will be comfortable with a 5000-pound boat and a full load on board. Remember that the more options you add the less weight you can tow. Also, choosing those stylish 20-inch wheels may knock a significant amount off the tow rating. We'd go for the 17-inch wheels because we use trucks as trucks.
We found the Ram suspension works well for towing. With a significant trailer it still drops down in the rear (as all half-ton pickups do, cured by inflatable Firestone doughnuts), but the extra lateral stiffness inherent in the coil/link design minimized the tail from moving side to side as the trailer pushed against it. Also, the electronic stability control system includes trailer sway control. Cooling systems appear up to the task, and towing mirrors are offered for pulling 102-inch-wide travel or large box trailers.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report after his test drive of various Ram models in California and Tennessee.
Model as tested
Ram Crew Cab 1500 Laramie 4WD ($43,365)
3 years/36,000 miles
Warren, Michigan; Saltillo, Mexico
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
RamBox ($1,295), limited-slip differential ($325)
Model Line Overview
Ram ST regular cab short bed 2WD ($21,820); Tradesman regular cab long bed 4WD ($26,660); R/T ($31,685); Outdoorsman Quad Cab 4WD ($36,230); Sport Crew Cab 2WD ($37,035); Laramie Crew Cab 2WD ($40,220); Laramie Limited Crew Cab 4WD ($46,270)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front multi-stage airbags, side-curtain airbags for front and rear seats, three-point belts in all seating positions with constant-force retractors, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks; electronic stability/traction control, four-wheel ABS
Safety equipment (optional)
Specifications as Tested
leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, heated front seats and steering wheel, driver memory system, power-adjustable pedals, rear park assist, security alarm, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Sentry Key engine immobilizer, overhead console, trip computer, cruise control, power windows and door locks, keyless entry, 20-inch chrome-clad alloy wheels
Engine & Transmission
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
390 @ 5600
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
live axle, trailing links, coil springs, Panhard rod, stabilizer bar
independent, double A-arms, coil-over-shock springs, stabilizer bar
P275/60R20 114T Goodyear Wrangler
live axle, trailing links, coil springs, Panhard rod, stabilizer bar
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear