I loved owning a tiny little pickup truck.
Mine was a Toyota. It didn't have a fancy name. And when I drove the stick shift, I listened to the gritty sound of gears changing. The vehicle was well-worn. I bought it used and felt like it could take me anywhere forever.
I drove down dusty farm roads through the California heartland and I helped friends haul stuff when they moved. That was decades ago.
Now, many of my friends have a full-size pickup truck. Those in the city. Those in the country. Those in the suburbs. Executives. Construction workers. Doctors. Welders. Mommies running errands.
But never have I seen a full-sized pickup move grown men to tears.
Tears of envy.
This is what happens with a Ram 1500. Have a box of Kleenex handy.
One of the most memorable moments for me during my week driving a new Ram: When a building contractor slid into the passenger side and just had to have a quiet moment. He caressed the supple leather seats and leather-wrapped grab handles. He touched the enormous video screen.
"Omigosh," he said, shaking his head side to side.
He had a truck. He owned more than one, actually.
But he didn't have the 2019 Ram 1500.
"This is too beautiful. I don't know that I could use it the way it's built to be used," the contractor whispered.
The shifter is a spun aluminum knob that felt cool to the touch.
Gone are the days of uncomfortable, unheated vinyl or cloth spring seats. Climbing into the Ram 1500, a pickup truck loyalist takes a deep breath and savors the aroma. It's like a baseball glove with beautiful stitching.
Not many pickup trucks win awards for best interior design. The Ram 1500 does.
There's a reason Motor Trend just named the vehicle its truck of the year. Most betting people have their money on Ram 1500 to win North American Truck of the Year, too.
It has a fancy stereo system, flawless adaptive cruise control that speeds up and slows down with traffic, automated backup trailer assist with multiple cameras, blind spot monitoring, an outlet to plug-in tablets. A wireless phone charger keeps mobile devices juiced. Kids I shuttled around in the backseat said they didn't care about the absence of TV screens because they preferred holding devices in their laps anyway.
The elegant design of this vehicle might leave your average consumer with the idea that it's meant to haul $100,000 horses to equestrian competitions along with rich and famous riders like Jessica Springsteen (daughter of Bruce), Georgina Bloomberg (daughter of Michael) or Eve Jobs (daughter of Steve).
Well, yes and no.
While the Ram 1500 would blend nicely at hunt clubs in, say, Westport, Conn., and San Juan Capistrano, Calif.—its use isn't limited to the valet set.
I took the thing over the rocks and through the woods in the snow of Northern Michigan. Yes, I even drove along two tracks in a remote area filled with deer hoping to survive hunting season.
The Ram 1500 drove like a Benz. It was smooth, baby.
Like a vintage Macallan single malt scotch whisky.
The Ram 1500 cruised respectfully past the Amish buggies rolling along the roads of Lake County, Mich., just south of Cadillac.
It carries a family of five—yes, FIVE—comfortably. Tall 11-year-old twins—a competitive figure skater and a competitive swimmer—praised the leg room in the backseat. They had no desire to move up front and, if not for a new English Setter puppy in another pickup truck, may never have gotten out.
On the highway, the truck actually lowers itself automatically. Like when you're going down a hill on a bicycle and you duck to improve your aerodynamics. Also, when you want to load groceries and not stand on your tiptoes, the bed can be lowered with the press of a button. A mom who rode with me said she loved that feature.
Trucks often need a heavy load to get a decent ride. Not the Ram 1500. The coil spring or optional air suspension feels more like an SUV. The truck stays planted.
This is the vehicle for someone who lives off a dirt road in Kentucky or Texas. It's perfect for the opera, a Kenny Chesney concert, deer hunting or fishing.
A recently retired law enforcement officer said he remains loyal to Ram because the ability to lower the truck made it easy to get his 80-year-old father into the vehicle during hunting season. When not in the woods, the former federal agent takes his pickup from his home near Clarkston to a second-career job in downtown Detroit.
He's the typical Ram owner, using the truck for work and play.
When I parked the Ram 1500, a hunter who owns a Ford F-150 walked over to check things out. He voiced envy for the Ram Box, locked storage that works like saddlebags, which seem perfect for holding tools, guns, fishing poles or baseball equipment.
Still, while the Ram 1500 seems to wow even the most seasoned pickup owner, Ford F-Series has dominated the segment for decades. Andrew Frick, Ford director of marketing, said, "The real war in pickups is not for No. 1 but for the No. 2 position" now held by Chevrolet Silverado.
Thing is, pickup truck owners are loyal. And opinionated. Many say they want a rugged no-frills man-ride.
"Drove great, but the (Ram 1500) exterior didn't exude toughness/worker and had a city slicker boy image to me. Also, the interior was a little too Wayne Newton/Vegas for me," wrote a critic on autospies.com.
But then that same critic also said, "And FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HOW" could the truck "not have massaging seats as an option?"
So there you go.
An all-new Ram 1500 runs from $33,390 to $70,000-ish.
It has a solid crash rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
As for towing, you feel like you could tow a three-bedroom house.
Potholes feel like thimbles. Coffee doesn't even splash in the cup holders.
Console space is the stuff of female fantasies. Big purse? Bring it. I actually dropped something down there and worried it might get lost.
Oh, by the way, don't call the vehicle a Dodge Ram. It's Ram Truck. Fiat Chrysler split Ram from Dodge years ago. A tiny but important detail. Such a common mistake, though, that most consumers and even police agencies use the old moniker. (If you search "Dodge Ram" online, it'll show that more than 258 million other searches.)
As someone who feels perfectly comfortable in a Mini Cooper or a Fiat 500, the handling of this full-size pickup is truly effortless.
The Ram 1500 proves you don't need to choose between strength and beauty.