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RAM 1500 2020 review: Express Crew Cab GVM test

The RAM 1500 Express looks sharp.

Daily driver score

4/5

Tradies score

4.3/5

The RAM 1500 stands apart from Australia’s mainstream pack of turbo-diesel dual cab utes, with its muscular Hemi V8 performance, superior 4.5-tonne tow rating and imposing presence. In fact, RAM Trucks Australia proudly claims that its big, brash American pick-up “eats utes for breakfast.”

After a week behind the wheel, it’s easy to understand why the RAM 1500 is generating such a strong local sales appetite. It’s an excellent package that’s well suited to tradies and recreational buyers alike, who clearly want something different for breakfast.

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

Our test vehicle is the RAM 1500 Express Crew Cab, with 5.7 litre Hemi V8 petrol engine, eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission and optional RAMBOX Cargo Management System, for a list price of $94,450 plus on-roads. Our Bright White example is one of four colour choices.

Desirable and useful features include big 20-inch alloy wheels with Hankook 275/60R20 tyres and a full-size spare, cab-length side-steps, heavy-duty 4.5-tonne tow bar with 12-pin plug and trailer brake controller, a big cargo tub with spray-on liner and tri-fold tonneau cover, plus central-locking tailgate and RAMBOXs to name a few.

Our Bright White example is one of four colour choices. Our Bright White example is one of four colour choices.

The spacious cabin offers remote keyless entry, height-adjustable steering column, rear privacy glass, dual-zone climate control, multiple USB and 12-volt outlets plus a six-speaker infotainment system with 8.4-inch touchscreen, sat-nav and multiple connectivity including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and lots more.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

With the 5'7" load tub it's shorter than its gargantuan 2500/3500 siblings, but with a hefty 2620kg kerb weight and 5833mm overall length (about half a metre longer than a Ford Ranger) this is still a big truck.

It's built on a ladder-frame steel chassis with double-wishbone front suspension, a multi-link coil-spring live rear axle and four-wheel disc brakes. However, it has a relatively compact 12.1 metre turning circle and its sub-2.0 metre height will comfortably clear shopping centre and underground car parks.

These ‘Australianised’ RAM trucks are built to a unique LHD export specification by parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in the US before being shipped to Australia, where the Walkinshaw Automotive Group (WAG) ‘re-manufactures’ them in RHD.

With a hefty kerb weight and overall length, this is a big truck. With a hefty kerb weight and overall length, this is a big truck.

This extensive body-off-frame process is performed on an ISO-quality production line at WAG’s vast Clayton facility in Melbourne. This is done under contract to American Special Vehicles (ASV) owned by Ateco Automotive, which distributes these vehicles throughout Australia and New Zealand.

It's the only RAM Trucks importer in Australia officially sanctioned by FCA, resulting in a unique factory-approved vehicle that meets its strict OEM standards and is backed by a full factory warranty and national dealer network. Put simply, it’s as close as you can get to driving a brand new RHD version off the US production line.

The RAM 1500 Express looks sharp with contrasting black wheels, headlight bezels, door handles, side-steps, badges, non-functional bonnet scoops, tonneau cover, tub-liner and RAMBOXs. There are big grab handles on the A and B pillars to ease entry and acres of interior space. The dashboard and instrument layouts are logical and easy to use and front occupant comfort is good, even though the seats lack adjustment for lumbar support and base cushion rake.

The RAM 1500 Express looks sharp with contrasting black wheels. The RAM 1500 Express looks sharp with contrasting black wheels.

Rear seat access is excellent and leg room, even for tall adults, is palatial with a wide and mostly flat floor with minimal transmission hump intrusion. There’s also ample head and shoulder room and three full lap-sash seatbelts and adjustable headrests.

However, the centre seat’s base cushion is considerably shorter than the two outer positions, to provide a cut-out to access the floor-mounted bottle holders. So there’s virtually no under-thigh support, with all upper-body weight concentrated on your bum. And the back of your head often bumps the interior light protruding from the roof lining.

So centre rear seating is surprisingly poor, given that equal comfort for five should be a given in such a large and expensive vehicle.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The jewel in the RAM 1500’s crown is its powerful 5.7 litre Hemi V8 petrol engine. With variable cam timing, this Euro 5-compliant muscle motor produces 291kW at 5600rpm and a 556Nm mountain of torque at 3950rpm.

There are also fuel-saving features like cylinder deactivation, which automatically shuts down four of the eight cylinders when less power is needed. And active grille shutters linked to engine sensors, which block front-end air openings to reduce aero drag while maintaining correct engine temperatures.

The jewel in the RAM 1500’s crown is its powerful 5.7 litre Hemi V8 petrol engine. The jewel in the RAM 1500’s crown is its powerful 5.7 litre Hemi V8 petrol engine.

The refined Torqueflite eight-speed torque converter automatic delivers crisp yet seamless shifting, with overdrive on the top three ratios to optimise fuel efficiency at highways speeds and sequential manual gear selection if required. Its part-time, dual-range 4x4 transmission uses a Borg Warner transfer case with 2.64:1 low-range reduction. There’s also a rear limited-slip differential.

How much fuel does it consume?

RAM Trucks Australia’s official combined 12.2L/100km figure wasn’t too far from the 14.3L/100km displayed on the dash readout after 400km of testing, which included more than 100km under maximum payload.

However, our own ‘real world’ figure calculated from fuel bowser and tripmeter readings came in at 15.7L/100km. So, based on our figure, you could still expect a driving range of around 770km from its enormous 121-litre fuel tank.

How practical is the space inside?

With its 2620kg kerb weight and 3450kg GVM, our test vehicle has a relatively small 830kg payload rating. However, its massive 7237kg GCM (or how much it can legally carry and tow at the same time) is where the RAM 1500 does eat utes for breakfast, as it can legally tow up to 4.5 tonnes of braked trailer with a 70mm tow ball, which is one tonne more than its competitors.

However, keep in mind that up to 10 per cent of that trailer weight (450kg) is tow-ball download that must be included in the RAM’s payload, which would leave just 380kg. And that could easily be used up by four adults alone without any luggage, so be sure to do your sums if towing this heavy.

Rear seat access is excellent and leg room, even for tall adults, is palatial. Rear seat access is excellent and leg room, even for tall adults, is palatial.

With the tailgate closed, the load tub’s internal dimensions (with RAMBOXs) are 1712mm of floor length, 1270mm width and 509mm depth, providing adequate space for either an 1165mm-square Aussie pallet or two 1200 x 800mm Euro pallets.

There’s four sturdy load-anchorage points at floor height and adjustable load-securing rails along each side. The tri-fold soft tonneau cover provides excellent weatherproofing yet can be folded flat and removed in seconds. Equally well designed is a folding frame, which can serve as either a load divider in the cargo tub or used to extend the load space onto the lowered tailgate.

  • With the tailgate closed, the load tub’s internal dimensions are 1712 x 1270 x 509mm. With the tailgate closed, the load tub’s internal dimensions are 1712 x 1270 x 509mm.
  • The folding frame can serve as a load divider or can be used to extend the load space. The folding frame can serve as a load divider or can be used to extend the load space.

The RAMBOX storage compartments on either side offer a combined capacity of 420 litres (210 litres each) with internal drain plugs and lockable hinged lids. We put these to good use during our test, as each can hold several shopping bags full of groceries or serve as ice-chests for keeping drinks and perishables cold in the great outdoors.

Cabin storage options include a large storage bin and bottle holder in each front door, plus a wide  sliding drawer in the centre of the dash and another open storage bin above the single glovebox. The enormous centre console has an open-tray organiser at the front plus three bottle holders and a large padded lid that reveals more internal storage.

  • The RAMBOX storage compartments on either side offer a combined capacity of 420 litres. The RAMBOX storage compartments on either side offer a combined capacity of 420 litres.
  • Each can hold several shopping bags full of groceries. Each can hold several shopping bags full of groceries.

There are also large storage bins in the rear doors and a twin bottle holder on the floor, but no flexible storage pockets on the front seat backrests. The base cushion, which swings up through 90 degrees to reveal two shallow storage nooks beneath, can be stowed in a vertical position if more internal cargo space is required.

What’s it like as a daily driver?

The deep burble of the Hemi V8 becomes a guttural roar when you floor the throttle, quickly launching the RAM towards triple-digit speeds with impressive force. However, with so much lazy torque on tap you can also drive it gently, with the big V8 barely ticking over at city and suburban speeds to optimise fuel economy.

In these conditions the Torqueflite auto keeps the engine in the 1500-3000rpm range, which is indicative of how broad the Hemi’s torque band is given that peak output is tapped another 1000rpm higher. At 100km/h it’s only doing 1600rpm and barely 2000rpm at 110km/h, so highway running is as economical as you could ask for.

The 1500 does tend to shrink around the driver after a while. The 1500 does tend to shrink around the driver after a while.

The ride quality when empty or with light loads is supple without being too ponderous through corners, aided by the four-coil suspension and excellent steering weight and feel, which seems to have benefitted from some HSV expertise in the transition to RHD.

Most parking spaces can be entered without having to pre-plan your exit strategy to avoid getting snookered like a 2500/3500 can. As a result, the 1500 does tend to shrink around the driver after a while, aided by the large heated door mirrors, reversing camera and rear parking sensors.

Our only gripe is the warning light for the foot-operated parking brake, which stayed on each time the parking brake was released. We discovered that two or three pulls of the release handle in quick succession made it switch off, but that became annoying after a while.

What’s it like for tradie use?

We forklifted 710kg into the load tub which with our driver equalled a total payload of 810kg, only 20kg under its 830kg limit. The rear coil springs compressed a full 90mm resulting in a noticeable squat in the tail, yet with some useful travel remaining.

Over a notoriously rough section of back road, the RAM floated across the bumps without any of the shuddering through the chassis experienced in coil-sprung Navara and X Class utes, which on the same strip of road regularly bottomed-out under similar payloads.

We forklifted 710kg into the load tub for this test. We forklifted 710kg into the load tub for this test.

Also included on the RAM’s breakfast menu was our 13 per cent gradient, 2.0km-long set climb at 60km/h, which it easily ate in fourth gear at 2500rpm. Engine braking on the way down, in a manually-selected second gear, was just as effortless, with the big V8 holding firm at 4000rpm on overrun (redline 5800rpm) and 55km/h without once touching the brake pedal. That was mighty engine braking under such a heavy load, which would be particularly useful when towing.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

No ANCAP rating and there’s no AEB, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert or adaptive cruise control. All of these features are now commonly found on utes costing less.

However, it does come with driver and front passenger front, seat-side and side curtain airbags, along with curtain airbags in the rear. There's also stability control, traction control, electronic brakeforce distribution, hill-start assist, conventional cruise control and, importantly, trailer sway control. There’s also a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, heated door mirrors and tyre pressure monitoring. The rear seat has three top tether child seat anchorage points, but no ISOFIX.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

The RAM 1500 Express is a unique offering in the Australian marketplace. If you can afford the near six-figure price tag, V8 thirst and you’re not fussed about best-in-class safety, this big American pick-up offers a truckload of performance and sheer pose value that can’t be matched.

$89,950

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4/5

Tradies score

4.3/5
Price Guide

$89,950

Based on new car retail price