You'll be forgiven for thinking the 2013 Ram 1500 looks vaguely familiar. In fact, the sheetmetal is all the same and surface changes are minor. However, most of what lies beneath and bookends that sheetmetal is new or revised for 2013.
The Ram 1500, considered a half-ton, can carry loads of stuff and can tow trailers similar to what the competition will. Maximum load and tow ratings among the major manufacturers change faster than mobile device operating systems and the only certainty is you want to consider a bigger pickup if you will frequently operate near those maximums.
The 2013 Ram 1500 offers three cabs, three bed lengths (two with RamBox), three engines, two transmissions, two suspension arrangements, and interiors from hose-out ethic to limo substitute.
The biggest news for 2013 is the smallest engine, a 3.6-liter four-cam V6 delivering 305 horsepower, which is 90 more than the 3.7-liter used on 2012 models, with 13 percent more torque and 20 percent better fuel economy. At introduction, the 2013 Ram gets bragging rights for best fuel economy. The engine is new only to Ram, already used in Chrysler Group's Jeeps, vans and cars. Ram HFE is aimed at high fuel economy: Ram HFE gets an EPA-rated 18/25 mpg City/Highway with V6 and 8-speed automatic.
Also significant news for 2013, and a first in pickups, is an 8-speed automatic transmission from German manufacturer ZF. It is standard with the V6 and will be available on the 5.7-liter V8 by calendar year 2013. Both the 310-hp 4.7-liter and 395-hp 5.7-liter V8s come with what's called a 6-speed automatic, though we maintain it compares to a 5-speed (see Driving Impressions).
The last major change is the addition of full air suspension, which offers automatic leveling, eases entry/exit, and offers variable ride height for off-highway travel. The air suspension is available on any model except the new Ram HFE fuel economy special, which includes automatic start/stop engine operation and a bed cover.
Other changes for 2013 include electric-assist steering, more sophisticated electrical systems, active grille shutters, projector and LED lights on higher-line versions, revised cabin materials and dashboards, a lighter frame and box supports, more aluminum suspension components, central locking system that includes tailgate and RamBox compartments, low rolling resistance tires (for fuel economy), keyless entry/start, power sliding defrostable rear window, power folding mirrors and rain-sensing wipers.
On the outside, Ram continues with imposing stature. Like many Dodge cars, the Ram's front end has a forward tilt, but it remains very aerodynamic. Detailing for 2013 lowered the coefficient of drag (one aspect of total aero resistance) from 0.386 to 0.360.
The Ram is a conventional full-size pickup truck, but it differs in rear suspension and powertrains from all its competitors: primarily Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins, and to a lesser extent the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. Because the Honda Ridgeline does not have a separate frame, cab and bed, nor a choice of two or four-wheel drive, we do not consider it a conventional half-ton pickup, although those buying a crew cab pickup primarily as a second car would be wise to consider it.
Underneath, where for decades pickup trucks have had a live axle in back with leaf springs, the Ram's rear axle is suspended by coil springs and it is located by four trailing links and a lateral Panhard bar. An optional four-corner air suspension is unique to the Ram, as is the RamBox bed arrangement. Basic front suspension design and brake systems parallel other half-ton pickups; only the F-150 also uses electric-assist power steering.
Inside, the Ram offers seating for three to six people, in-floor storage on Crew Cabs and environments that span working-grade vinyl and rubber to French stitched leather with ventilated and heated seats. Though it varies by region there are 10 Ram 1500 nameplates.
Brand loyalty in pickup trucks makes some sports rivalries look like civilized debate, and many will recommend only one despite the fact that there are no bad pickups. Shopping is made more difficult by so-called competitive comparisons we've seen online that imply drum brakes are better than disc brakes (we disagree) or 300 horsepower is superior to 400 pound-feet of torque (ditto). Add to that payload and tow ratings that change frequently. To choose the best truck for you, we recommend avoiding any buying decision made purely on brand or maximum cargo or tow rating.
With so many versions there is no shortage of Rams to choose from. Compared to the competition, the Ram's suspensions are unique and the styling is less conservative. GM and Ford half-tons offer more engine choices but none has an 8-speed automatic. The Nissan Titan is the only half-ton that offers a full eight-foot long bed on their Crew Cab model.
(Note Ram is now a standalone brand at Chrysler, though the government mandated vehicle ID number still names Dodge as the manufacturer.)