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2019 Ram 1500 creates a new half-ton standard [First Drive]


In the past seven years of reviewing hundreds of half-ton pickups, the new 2019 Ram 1500 did something none of those other pickups could do in a short amount of time. It quite literally changed my view of the Ram brand and what the benchmark is for a good half-ton pickup. There is no simpler way to say this – the 2019 Ram 1500 IS the best pickup I’ve ever driven.

Why all the acclaim? Simple. The entire pickup just checks all the marks for what customers currently want and goes a step further in trying to “future-proof” the pickup. Also, Ram hits on everything customers care about: ride quality, fuel economy, looks, technology and reliability. The last item has been the achilles heel of Ram pickups and I truly believe they have turned a corner on reliability in the past few years and will continue to do so.

For our first drive of the new pickup, I was flown to Phoenix, Arizona, a nice respite from the winter weather, to experience the new pickup.

After a lengthy presentation on all the new features, technology, styling and engineering – with so many new things about the truck it HAD to be lengthy – I pick out one of several 2019 Ram 1500 pickups. In our case it was a crew cab limited model – find pricing for the new Ram pickups here.

First Drive: 2019 Ram 1500 Creates a New Half-Ton Standard

Climbing into the cabin was like coming home to your familiar chair with the steering wheel fitting like a glove, the controls within easy reach and a seat you could spend hours in without complaint. A quick adjustment of the mirrors and the 5.7L Hemi V8 roars to life with a real, throaty exhaust note bringing a smile to the face.

Now driving towards the highway, the 2019 Ram 1500 maneuvers through traffic with ease and has more than enough power off the line. The much anticipated eTorque powered V6 and V8 engines, find all the specs and details here, reportedly provide more power, yet Ram doesn’t have them available to test drive at this point. Once they build some capacity of them, I will get a chance to drive them.

Hitting cruise at 70 with the new adaptive cruise control, a great feature for long-distance traveling with the pickup adjusting to slowing traffic for you, it is immediately clear how the 100 lbs of weight savings, the new frequency response damping (softening the ride on off-road and highway speeds) along with a retuned 5-link coil suspension have all made a substantial difference on the new pickup. Without question, it rides better than the prior generation which already rode well. This literally feels like a luxury car. It is that good.

At the lunch spot, we swap out into a new Rebel pickup. This is Ram’s version of an off-road model of the 1500 and while it isn’t a direct competitor to the Ford Raptor, it is still quite capable and meets a vast majority of what most consumers need from an off-road equipped pickup. Like the Ram 1500, it has a new exterior design with the carryover front grille and new interior. However, the biggest improvement has to be the selectable electronic-locking rear differential (e-locker).

Heading down into a sandy wash, I engage the e-locker effectively locking the rear tires into one single unit. This provides a stable rear end allowing me to hammer on the throttle without the pickup sliding sideways. Basically, you can go much faster and push the pickup much harder than before without concerns about doing donuts. It is fantastic and a feature consumers will really enjoy.

After a lap in the dirt, my drive partner, Eileen Falkenberg-Hall, writer for the Biz Journals, and I climb into the rear seats. While most truck markers spend all their attention on the front seats, Ram has done a considerable amount of work in the rear as well.

The rear seats can now slide and recline up to 8 degrees AND they can be folded up for storage underneath. This is the best of both worlds. Also, Ram has extended the cab the most here with 3” of additional leg room (1” for the front seats). Plus, the seats are available with heating and cooling.

Propping a tablet up on the rear cup holders (a real design feature) and reclining the seats with the additional legroom, it is hard to see anyone of any size not being comfortable. While some truck guys will bemoan these creature comforts for the rear passengers, the truth is this is way more than a pickup and could easily be substituted instead of a family van. On long distance trips, this rear cabin will show its worth and any moaning will go away.

Turning back into the resort, my drive partner and I get lost for a little bit among the various villas. This actually gives us a great opportunity to test out the turning radius, the back-up cameras and the navigation system. Also, it is great watching her maneuver the pickup. I’ve long maintained on this site, a female’s perspective is important since they are involved in 80+ percent of all vehicle purchase decisions. Falkenberg-Hall is no stranger to pickups, yet she doesn’t daily drive one. With that said, she doesn’t struggle one bit in maneuvering the pickup and we are heading back to where we are supposed to be.

First Drive: 2019 Ram 1500 Creates a New Half-Ton Standard

One more note about Falkenberg-Hall and a female’s perspective. While I thought the pickup drove great and really enjoyed the ride quality and power, she brings up various items I never considered like the interior materials and storage in the cabin. The truth is I travel pretty light with a small camera bag and my cell phone. She travels light as well, but she also carries a purse which she considers where to store and keep safe. Those are things I just don’t consider.  Watching our stuff more closely, I see the Ram’s large center console and cell phone holder above the drink holders are big hits.

Also, the three USB ports in the front (two in the rear) mean we aren’t fighting for charging our phones. And we aren’t fighting for control of the radio, with available Wi-Fi and next-generation critically-acclaimed Uconnect system, able to handle up to three phones allowing switching with ease.

Leaving the pickup with the Ram team and heading to my room, I can’t stop thinking about how much this pickup changes the game. Where other truck makers seem to be saying, “we are building a pickup TO our customer’s needs,” Ram is saying, “we are building a pickup BEYOND our customer’s needs and expectations.” It is a different way to think about pickups and Ram has hit a home run on this new pickup.

Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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