Let's get this straight, I'm not a Ford guy.
Nor am I a Chevy guy nor a Ram guy; indeed, I'm a no-particular-brand guy, which in our little corner of the world puts me pretty close to being an atheist. Around here, trying to talk someone into switching truck brands is about as easy as getting them to change religions.
I would go further and say it's about as getting them to swap political parties, but I'm so old I remember when every elected official for five counties in any direction was a registered Democrat. Oh, they were all more conservative than Billy Graham's daddy, but that's what it took to win an election back in the day, so they called themselves Democrats.
When it comes to ranking truck brands, I'm similarly pragmatic. In general, I tend to think that whoever did the most recent, and boldest, redesign probably has the best truck. Right now, that's Ford and you can add my voice to the chorus singing the praises of the F-150 and Ford's fleet of advanced heavy-duty trucks.
Nine years ago, on the other hand, Dodge (which changed its name to RAM two years later) decided what the world needed was a better ride and nicer interiors. Both notions slapped conventional wisdom flat square on the face.
Leaf springs are older than the Conestoga wagon and, from an engineering standpoint, about as sophisticated as a hammer and nail. Yet, they dominant the rear suspensions of pickups to this day because they create the greatest payload capacity. That and towing ability are held as the most important criteria of a pick-'em-up truck.
Dodge, er, RAM did consumer research and learned that most people rarely carry or tow anything close to their vehicles' capacity. So Ram gave up a little muscle for a whole lot of comfort: the multilink rear suspension geometry, which eliminates truck bounciness.
At the same time, Dodge/Ram figured out that most pickups did not live their lives hauling wood to work sites and hay to cattle; that daily commutes and shopping trips were the norm and so rubber mats and Spartan interiors were not what people really wanted.
Over the past decade, Ram's market share has increased dramatically, though not enough to climb past Ford and GM. The Ford F-150 is still the best selling pickup on the planet while—combined—the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra sell more quarter-ton trucks, but Ford gets to say it's the top seller because that's how the system works.
One reason RAM is still No. 3 in sales is because the competition figured out what it did and now truck lots are filled with nice-riding, richly appointed, $60,000 vehicles that produce gob-smacking profit margins.
RAM is busy readying a replacement line of pickups while the current one continues to more than hold its own. The company sold roughly 300,000 pickups in the year before the crash of 2008, and will sell more than 600,000 this year; so nice looks and good manners apparently do matter. So, too, does a starting price around $26,000, a full $2,000 lower than the competitors.
Ram's powertrains are more than competitive. A 305-hp V6 is a solid performer, and a pair of Hemi V-8s are in the lineup. A Cummins turbodiesel actually delivers close the promised 29 mpg. We've tested it.
We recently drove a pair of RAMs, a half-ton RAM 2500 and RAM's tip of the hat to the off-road world. the 1500 Rebel. They reminded us the strengths and some of the weaknesses of the brand.
The half-ton let us know that a work truck can still have a family-friendly ride. Instead of the standard 5.7-liter HEMI V-8, our tester came with a 6.4-liter HEMI 16-valve V-8 engine that puts our 410 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and a peak torque rating of 429 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm.
It's an intriguing choice, producing solid towing capacity while costing about $5,000 less than Dodge's turbodiesel. Both get around 10 or 11 mpg, which is significantly less the 14 mpg we recently coaxed out of a Ford HD.
The big RAM rode and handled well for its size, sort of an elephant en tutu, but I was surprised at its relative lack of sophistication. Ford's nine-camera system, plus back-up assist, make parking and trailering these big rigs so much easier. And much safer.
Speaking of safety, pickups, so far, are not offering the active cruise control and frontal crash protection found in most new cars. I suspect that is because manufacturers think they do not have to because people derive a false sense of security from riding higher in vehicle of greater mass.
Yes, size matters, but mass is one of the least important variables in an accident. It is actually harmful in relation to personal injury in a rollover. The ability of the new technologies to avoid accidents, on the other hand, are shown to reduce personal injuries by a third.
The Rebel is RAM's answer to the Ford Raptor and if you're considering buying a Raptor, you might want to test drive the Rebel, just to confirm your choice of the Raptor which is way cooler.
Or, you might decide to save some long green on a boy-toy with serious off-road capability. Equipped with Bilstein shocks and adjustable Active-Level 4-corner air-spring suspension, the Ram Rebel sits one inch higher than stock for improved approach, breakover, and departure angles, and boasts 10.3 in. of ground clearance. A set of 33-in. all-terrain tires and a softer rear stabilizer bar are also included, and a rear locking differential is available.
Whether you take the stock V-6 or 5.7-L HEMI, you'll get an 8-speed transmission. Both come with 4WD. A two-wheel drive version is available, but why?
Available are a Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-in. color touch-screen display, USB connectivity, premium sound system, and a navigation system. Ram's Uconnect Access technology provides smartphone integration and access to a number of features and services. Buyers can also upgrade to in-cab Wi-Fi Internet connectivity.
A long list of off-road features includes factory lift, skid plates, and tow. The lift comes with an in-cabin switch to move between entry, road driving and off-road settings. At its lowest level, the truck is accessible more to Sweet Young Thing than Granny. Ain't no way she's getting into this thing without a hefty pull on the assist handle and a polite and timely butt shove.
Better to just video your mud bogging and let Granny enjoy them from the comfort of her La-Z-Boy.
We found the Rebel to be pleasant company for everyday chores, and a great boy toy when recess came around.