SOLVANG, Calif. -- A run up the narrow and winding Alisal Road heading south out of Solvang in California's Santa Ynez Range shows off the easy-to-drive nature and uncommon agility of a full-size Ram 1500 (half-ton) pickup from Dodge in the new generational design for 2009.
This big rig -- in deluxe Laramie trim with a vast crew-size cab and brief truck box in back plus a powerful HEMI V8 engine under the stepped-hood prow applying big torque muscle to twirl the pair of 20-inch rear tires -- is capable not only of zipping quickly into high-speed mode but also of tacking through a tight set of turns with the dexterity of a curve-craving sports car.
A full-size truck can tackle a slalom course and keep the rubber rooted to the road?
This Ram definitely can, thanks to a suspension design that's revolutionary for a pickup.
Ram has an enhanced frame with high-strength steel reinforcements to support a new multi-link rear suspension system which produces the smooth ride quality and nimble handling traits of a well-mannered passenger car.
Dodge's new treatment of Ram shows a bold new exterior package with that get-out-of-my-way prow -- a fresh interpretation of the Ram design from 1994 with stepped-hood styling of a big-rig Peterbilt.
It's bold and assertive, a massive front end dominating the design with flat-faced grille and stair-step hood underlined by a fat-lip bumper and generous applications of bright chrome.
You can tell in an instant this is not some namby-pamby pickup where too-slick sheet metal imitates a car.
Rather, the new iterations of Ram appear to be built for business -- macho truck-type work like toting two-by-four lumber or towing a big trailer, hauling hay to the barn or running up the range and crawling over a rocky trail.
Despite the muscular exterior styling, Ram for 2009 also allows concessions for comfortable fittings in the cabin, which has been redesigned in the makeover with more room added to stretch the package and higher grades of materials and finishes selected to forge better levels of luxury -- even heated and cooled front seats with optional leather upholstery.
Ram 1500 pickups for 2009 come with a two-door Regular Cab, a four-door Quad Cab or the spacious four-door Crew Cab, plus three lengths for the truck box and either two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD) traction format.
Previous renditions, during the eight-year cycle of a second-generational Ram design stretched from 1994 through 2001, sparked a competitive race among truck builders to add doors to the cabins. It was Ram that produced a Club Cab edition in 1995 with six-passenger capacity due to a fold-up rear bench for three, then brought the first deployment of four front-hinged doors to a truck with the Quad Cab edition of 1998.
The 2009 issues mark Ram's first crew-sized cab with lots of interior room plus clever arrangements for utility stow space as well as luxurious appointments.
Ram Crew 1500 packs a pair of covered stow bins below deck in the second row with removable liners -- each bin is large enough to house ten 12-ounce beverage cans plus ice.
Ram Crew 1500 also offers the RamBox cargo management system which consists of a pair of lockable storage containers with lids and drains and 8.6 cubic feet of space used perhaps as tool boxes, containers for mechanical equipment or camping gear -- or packed with ice and working as built-in food coolers.
Each box will holds up to five cases (120 cans) of 12-ounce beverages.
Ram's rear truck bed measures to 76.3 inches for the regular-length box with a two-door Regular Cab or the four-door Quad Cab.
An optional long-box bed extending to 98.3 inches is also available with a two-door Regular Cab.
For Ram Crew 1500 the box length cuts short at 67.4 inches to prevent over-extending the length of the vehicle and make it difficult to manage when turning.
Passive safety equipment on the 2009 Ram reaches beyond two frontal air bags to three-point safety belts for all seats, plus sets of tether anchors in the rear of four-door models for installing a child's safety seat, as there are side curtain-style air bags installed for every cabin size.
Active safety equipment includes the standard four-wheel ABS (anti-lock brake system) and ESP (electronic stability program) with HSA (hill start assist) and TSC (trailer sway control) mechanisms, the ParkSense rear park assist system and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Ram in the light-duty 1500 series for 2009 offers three engine options -- a fuel-thrifty 3.7-liter V6, the flex-fuel (E85-compatible) 4.7-liter V8, and a powerful new 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with MDS (multi-displacement system) which switches to fuel-saving four-cylinder mode when cruising to conserve on fuel.
A four-speed automatic shifter (42RLE) applies to the V6, while both V8 plants mate with an electronically controlled automatic five-speed transmission, the 545RFE.
Ram's single-cam V6 produces 210 hp at 5200 rpm and 235 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
The 4.7-liter V8 climbs to 310 hp at 5650 rpm plus torque pegging high to 330 lb-ft at 3950 rpm.
And that 5.7-liter HEMI V8 bumps way up to 390 hp at 5600 rpm with 407 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
These engines make Ram stronger with higher ratings for weight, payload and trailer towing.
Payloads for a Ram 1500 Regular Cab rise to 1850 pounds and the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) climbs as high as 6600 pounds. Quad Cab payloads max at 1790 pounds with GVWR up to 6700 pounds. Ram Crew Cab shows payloads to 1650 pounds and the GVWR at 6800 pounds.
Tow capacity for Ram 1500 Regular Cab reaches up to 9100 pounds, Quad Cab pulls as much as 8800 pounds and a Crew Cab Ram caps at 8700 pounds.
Ram 1500 for 2009 offers trim levels of ST, SLT, TRX, Sport and the line-capper Laramie.
Price points undercut previous editions but with more content aboard.
Tags begin at $21,240 for a Ram Regular Cab 2WD and $25,295 for the Ram Quad Cab 2WD. A Crew Cab Ram 2WD lists for $31,600.