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Ram 1500 2021 review: Exclusive

The Ram 1500 is back for 2020 with an extra serve of power.
EXPERT RATING
8.5
The new 2020 Ram 1500 is expected to arrive in Australia towards the end of the year, bringing more power, more tech and a new drive experience. But who can wait that long? So we travelled all the way to Los Angeles just to put the new model to the test.

It's like one day there was no such thing as a jumbo-truck segment in Australia. And then the very next day the market was booming. And that's almost entirely down to the arrival of the locally converted Ram range in 2018.

We’re talking significant numbers, too. Ram sold almost 2700 of its 1500 truck in 2019 alone. And yes, I know that’s nowhere near Toyota HiLux figures, but for a truck that starts at around $80,000, and that is absolutely massive, those are some seriously big numbers. 

So big, in fact, that other brands have taken notice. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 has now launched in Australia, giving the Ram a true like-for-like competitor in our market. Toyota is eyeing the US-born Tundra for Australia, too. And likewise Ford with the next F-150.

All of which means Ram can’t afford to rest on its laurels. Which brings us to why we find ourselves in Los Angeles (before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, of course). See, the new 2021 Ram 1500 is expected to arrive in Australia by the end of the year, but we couldn't wait that long to tell you what it's like.

And given the vehicle had already launched in the USA, we knew exactly what we had to do…

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

It's a little tricky, the whole pricing thing. See, what you’re looking at here is the 2020 Ram 1500, now codenamed the DT in the USA, where it sits above the existing DS, now called the Classic. 

In Australia, the new truck is yet to touch down, but it should arrive later in 2020 - coronavirus willing - and when it does, it is expected to sit above the existing DS model in the lineup, which currently spans $79,950 to $109,950, with the biggest number reserved for the existing diesel engine.

With pricing and specification for the 2021 1500 EcoDiesel - which is the engine choice we’ve tested here - yet to be confirmed for Australia, that leaves us with little more than guess work, but a starting price north of $100k seems a given. 

It'll come with a huge 12-inch, portrait-oriented touchscreen that's both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped. It'll come with a huge 12-inch, portrait-oriented touchscreen that's both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped.

Still, when it does touchdown you can expect plenty of equipment, with the existing top-spec model's auto-dimming rear view mirror, parking sensors, automatic wipers, leather upholstery, satellite navigation, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, remote keyless entry, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents and remote-start functionality expected to stick around.

And in better news, it will be joined by new kit for 2020, headlined by a huge 12-inch, portrait-oriented touchscreen that's both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped, and that lends the cabin a seriously tech-savvy feel.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   9/10

For mine, the 2020 Ram 1500 is the best-looking jumbo truck on the market, somehow managing to look premium, but not soft, tough, but not try-hard. And that's especially true in the Rebel style we tested in the USA, which swaps much of the chrome for body-coloured or blacked-out design elements.

 The 2020 Ram 1500 might be the best-looking jumbo truck on the market. The 2020 Ram 1500 might be the best-looking jumbo truck on the market.

But let’s not dwell here. You know what the Ram looks like - and if you don’t, you’ve got a video and pictures to shine some light on it for you - and besides, the best design elements on the Ram are functional, and we’ll touch on those under the Practicality heading.

But I will say this; the cabin of the 1500 does not feel like it belongs to a truck. From the feel of the materials to the general fit and finish, the Ram’s interior feels top shelf.

 The Ram’s interior feels top shelf. The Ram’s interior feels top shelf.

How practical is the space inside?   9/10

Very practical. Mostly because there’s a whole lot of vehicle here. We’re driving the Crew Cab 1500, which stretches 5916mm in length, 2084mm in width and 1971mm in height. It also delivers 222mm in ground clearance, and approach, departure and breakover angles of 19, 24.9, and 19.5 (without a skid plate fitted). 

We’re driving the Crew Cab 1500, which stretches 5916mm in length, 2084mm in width and 1971mm in height. We’re driving the Crew Cab 1500, which stretches 5916mm in length, 2084mm in width and 1971mm in height.

The massive bed at the rear takes up 1711mm of real estate alone, and stretches 1687mm in width, and Ram says its new diesel engine (in Crew Cab 4x4 guise) can carry around 816kg and tow 4.4 tonnes braked, according to the US specs.

It's swimming with clever touches, too, like rear seats that fold up toward the tray so you can slide big boxes (like a flatscreen TV, for example) in behind the front seats, or the insanely clever cargo stoppers for the tray that can be moved forwards or backwards to secure items in the truck's bed. How much of that will arrive as standard versus optional remains to be seen. 

Possibly my favourite feature, though, is the RamBox cargo storage outside the cabin, with one deep and lockable bin located on either side of the bed. Sure, you can put tools and the like in there, but a better option is to take advantage of the removable rubber plugs, which allow for drainage, and fill them with ice and cold drinks next time you're camping or fishing.

You're seriously spoiled for room and storage spots in a car this big. You're seriously spoiled for room and storage spots in a car this big.

Inside, it's storage bins on storage bins, from the two-tier bucket that separates the front seats to the phone-sized cubbies in the centre stack. You're seriously spoiled for room and storage spots in a car this big.

You're spoiled for space, too. Front seat passengers would be better of sending each other letters if they want to communicate, and there's oodles of room in the backseat as well.

One quirk, though. While there are three top-tether points for child seats, the Ram 1500 is devoid of ISOFIX attachment points.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

Ok, so let’s talk engine. This is the third-generation of Ram’s 3.0-litre diesel V6, and it’s now pumping out some 194kW and 650Nm, which is fed through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The engine we currently get in Australia - the outgoing diesel - is good for 179kW and 569Nm.

This is the third-generation of Ram’s 3.0-litre diesel V6, and it’s now pumping out some 194kW and 650Nm. This is the third-generation of Ram’s 3.0-litre diesel V6, and it’s now pumping out some 194kW and 650Nm.

That’s a sizeable jump. If you’re math whiz, you’ll know that’s an increase of eight per cent and 14 per cent respectively, with the gains owing to a new turbocharger, redesigned cylinder heads and an updated exhaust gas recirculation system.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Ram says the 1500 EcoDiesel will drink a claimed 9.8 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle in 4WD models. That's an improvement over the current car's 11.9L/100km, thought we've taken the new number as a straight conversion from the US fuel figure claim, so we'll have to wait and see what Ram Trucks Australia promises when the vehicle touches down. 

What's it like to drive?   9/10

Now I know RAM in Australia has recently launched a diesel version of the 1500, but critically, they haven’t launched this version. This is the third generation of the EcoDiesel V6, with more power, more torque - more everything, really. 

If you're like me, then when you think about the really big trucks in Australia, you're probably thinking about a big V8 petrol engine. Yes, our dual-cab market is dominated by diesel, but in the States it's the opposite.

It's a cracking engine/gearbox combo for the car like this. It's a cracking engine/gearbox combo for the car like this.

But I can tell you that this diesel has more than enough grunt to move the Ram 1500 around. Sure it's not lightning quick, and it lacks some of the aural fanfare you’d get from a booming petrol V8, but it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, moving the big truck around on this generous wave of torque, and never feeling under-powered. 

It's a cracking engine/gearbox combo for the car like this, and it's made even more so when you consider the claimed fuel use versus that in a petrol V8.

The other critical point is that it doesn’t feel at all like a truck from behind the wheel. There’s nothing agricultural about the drive experience, the cabin technology is on point, the materials are lovely, the gearbox is smooth and the steering light and manageable. It doesn’t feel like you’re driving a workhorse. In fact it feels, dare I say it, almost premium.

Ram has done a stellar job at hiding just how big this thing is. It really doesn’t feel any different to driving a bigger HiLux.

It is also undeniably big, but it doesn't feel it from the behind the wheel. It is also undeniably big, but it doesn't feel it from the behind the wheel.

So lets talk downsides then. The engine can be noisy under acceleration, there’s really no hiding that, and there's not a lot of excitement when you do plant your foot. 

It is also undeniably big. Sure, it doesn't feel it from the behind the wheel, but nor does it feel like you're flying across oceans when you're strapped into your seat on an A380. That doesn't change the facts of the situation.

You can’t really see the edges of the 1500, nor properly judge them, and that makes for nervous moments when navigating tighter parking spots. 

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / 100,000 km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

The Ram 1500 hasn't been tested by ANCAP in Australia, but it was issued five stars by the USA's safety body, NHTSA.

 The 2020 Ram 1500 EcodDiesel is offered with available adaptive LED headlights with high-beam assist. The 2020 Ram 1500 EcodDiesel is offered with available adaptive LED headlights with high-beam assist.

While we’re basing this on the USA spec sheet, the 2020 Ram 1500 EcodDiesel is offered with available adaptive LED headlights with high-beam assist, Forward Collision Mitigation with AEB, a reversing camera, Blind-spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Path and Trailer detection, Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop, Go and Hold, rain-sensitive wipers and parking sensors, as well as front, side and overhead airbags.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

All Australian-sold Rams are covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty, with servicing required every 12 month or 12,000km.

And that's... not great.

Verdict

Better tech, more power, a better ride quality and more capability. Seriously, what's not to like here? The big question remains price, but for that we'll have to wait and see.
 

EXPERT RATING
8.5
Price and features8
Design9
Practicality9
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption8
Driving9
Safety9
Ownership7
Andrew Chesterton
Contributing journalist

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