LIGHT COMMERCIAL TEST - Ram butts into NZ’s busy ute market

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Like your utes big and brash, and you’ll have a Dodge Ram somewhere on your wish list. But until recently you’d have had to wrestle with imports and LHD regulations or dodgy conversions. But no longer. There’s now an official factory importer, with a dealer network importing right-hand-drive Rams rolling off a conversion line in Australia.

We tested a Ram 1500 Laramie, which boasts a 5.7-litre Hemi V8 under the bonnet, throwing down 291kW (390hp) and 556Nm (413lb/ ft) via an 8-speed transmission to either the rear wheels, or all four. Easy-to-reach buttons select 2WD, 4WD auto, 4WD lock, or low range.

We’re told this motor was first developed for the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane and M47 Patton battle tank before being used in muscle and motorsport cars, and it sounds as purposeful as you’d expect. It uses tech like variable valve timing, and active grille shutters to control air entering the engine bay to keep temperatures consistent, cut drag and warm up quicker from cold, but despite all that it’s hardly frugal on fuel. We’re told a New Zealand example is averaging the 12.2l/100km claim, but if so, that driver isn’t traversing the hilly country roads of our test route. Our average, gained without taking a load, a tow, or flirting with the law, returned a 16.4l/100km average over 245km of very varied roads. Add that to the driver before us, and you get a 21l/100km average over 401km. Hmm.

Photo: Solid American lines, but nothing to indicate scale until you get up close.

Still, there’s one mighty advantage to this Ram’s size. Want to tow big, then this ute is for you. It’ll pull a 4500kg load, a ton ahead of other factory utes sold here, assisted by trailer sway control, ready alert braking, and on this Laramie, trailer brake control. Sway control detects trailer sway and uses the brakes to help pull it in line. Ready alert braking pre-pumps the brakes if you suddenly lift off the throttle, and shifts the pads closer to the disks when the rain-sensing wipers sense rain, to help sweep water from the surface for more effective stopping in foul conditions.

This vehicle also has slider controls to manage the electric brakes on your trailer or caravan, while the display screen in the instrument cluster will tell you what setting you’ve selected. The Ram delivers a choice of two cab sizes – roomy, and cavernous – and two choices of tub, plus a range of options, including a choice of axle ratios. Our test vehicle included the two RamBoxes, each 240 litres, both locked via the central locking, with one siting each side of the tray to deliver convenient storage for tools or gear you want to access fast – or to act as chilly bins for those summer outings, as they’re efficiently drained.

Photo: RamBox a useful option slotted over wheel arches. Photo: Divider is the lightest, easiest to move that we’ve found,
and very effective.

In theory you can take the Ram off road, where its size should tell against it. No doubt its towing and off-road aspirations are responsible for the separate chassis set-up, but that rugged construction, its larger-than-Texas dimensions and its American persona meant we’d half expected it’d feel like a Yank caricature – too big for New Zealand, too flabby for our tighter and bumpier roads; a vehicle designed for a different country and entirely different standards. It’s equally safe to say that by the time we returned it, we were largely converted. Yes, it’s undoubtedly big, but this Ram is impressively easy to drive, and park. You first must find a space into which it’ll fit, but given mirrors reminiscent of a truck’s, an efficient reversing camera and park warnings at the front, rear and corners, you’re left in no doubt where the edges of your vehicle sit. The engine that’s so grunty at speed is a lazily growling smoocher when it comes to slow manoeuvres. And its ability to swallow New Zealand’s rural road lumps and bumps was impressive. Most unladen utes (our standard load wouldn’t fit with this ribbed and lockable tonneau, though that is removable for those able to store it when not in use) bounce and jiggle – not the Ram. You feel the bigger lumps and bumps, but they are signalled, rather than slammed at you, and it even cruised over speed humps without slowing and without fuss, so compliant are the mighty suspenders.

As for room, there’s loads of it. The centre cubby separating front driver and passenger could just about seat five for dining, so it doesn’t matter that the two gloveboxes are out of reach of any driver of a normal height. As for the rear, even the gangliest teen – or work crew – could fit back there, relaxing with their heated seats, their own air vents, and with their phones plugged into the 12V socket to charge. Specification includes heated and cooled front seats, heated rears and even a heated steering wheel for those wet or snowy winter days. The seats are wrapped in leather, the carpet is deep and thick, and the features list is as long as the load tray. The Ram does field a few quirks – not least the fact that gearbox selection is accessed via a large dial, easy to access even while wearing gloves – and a few unexpected bonuses. For example, given its size that tailgate is easy to lower and lift. Perhaps the most impressive bit might be undervalued on the spec sheet, until you trial it. That load divider out back is the easiest to use we’ve ever met. Simply unfold the rear sections to pop it out of the tray liner grooves, shift – it’s light – and refold, then lock into place with a flick of the wrist, and you’re done. A 10-year-old stripling could do it as easily. Given an official importer, buyers now get a factory backed three-year/100,000km warranty, and parts and accessories delivered from a local warehouse, rather than taking months from overseas.

Photo: Everything well laid out, and can be used with gloves on. Photo: Yes, the cabin’s as wide as it feels, but controls are large, well within reach and easy to use.

Overall, the Ram both grew, and shrank on us. Shrank, because the more you drove it, the easier it was to forget how large it was, and grew because its larger-than-life persona, compliant ride, spacious cabin, the array of handy features and the knowledge we could have towed a decent boat or a trailerload of carthorses soon endeared it to us in a way vehicles of more sensible dimensions rarely do.