The Detroit Three automakers – General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – are locked in a battle to make the most capable, hard-working, and over-the-top pickup trucks the industry has ever seen.
On the surface, the so-called Truck Wars make it look like truck makers are trying to steal buyers from one another. In reality, truck owners are incredibly loyal and unlikely to switch teams, so this fight is about giving each brand’s loyalists the most to boast about.
So here’s a feather for Ram 1500 fans to tuck in their hats: FCA’s full-size pickup has been voted as the Best Overall Truck in the 2021 autoTRADER.ca Awards for the second year running.
That’s the result of deliberations among the more than 20 auto industry experts from all over the country who make up our jury. They considered every truck available in showrooms today against a dozen criteria to hand the Ram 1500 the title for not only Best Full-Sized Truck, but it also got the highest score in all the combined truck categories, meaning it was also voted at Best Overall Truck.
Recent Truck Wars innovations include aluminum bodywork and hybrid powertrains (Ford F-150); and a carbon-fibre cargo bed and fancy multi-function tailgate (GMC Sierra). However, Ram favours a different strategy that nonetheless helps the 1500 stand out.
Ram was the first brand to put a diesel engine in a modern light-duty pickup. More recently, it added a mild-hybrid system to the 1500’s spec sheet. Plus, there’s a newly available 12.0-inch vertical infotainment touchscreen that’s one of the largest in the auto industry. There’s also a new multi-function tailgate that can open traditionally or 60/40 like a barn door.
The Ram 1500 is also the only full-size truck with a coil-spring rear suspension, and you can option in an air suspension that helped this truck place second in a pickup comparison. According to contributor Stephen Elmer, “that suspension has a way of absorbing bumps while keeping the handling and steering tight, helping it float down the road.” The truck’s ride is further smoothed out with dampers that adapt their responses to the quality of the road surface.
Ram’s big pickup ticks all the boxes that make domestic-branded trucks so popular: It’s got bold styling. It can be optioned with upscale features that were once rare in prestige cars. And its powertrains range from mild to wild.
Speaking of wild, the latest addition to the Ram 1500’s stable is a 702-hp supercharged V8 derived from Dodge’s high-profile Hellcat engine and bolted into the new-for-2021 TRX variant. Ram calls it the “quickest, fastest and most powerful mass-produced truck in the world,” which it promoted by inviting the media to launch it off high-speed jumps.
Reviewer Jeff Wilson said the TRX rockets “forward with truly awesome ferocity and enough aural fury to send lesser trucks cowering in the corner.”
But according to reviewer Stephanie Wallcraft, the performance of the 395-hp 5.7L Hemi V8 she tested is more than adequate: “I never felt as though the Hemi was leaving anything on the table.”
Ram says its 3.0L EcoDiesel engine boasts a segment-best 480 lb-ft of torque (and 260 hp) and best-in-class towing capacity. But when Jeff Wilson tested the EcoDiesel in a Ram 1500 Rebel in the dead of a Canadian winter, it was the engine’s fuel economy that made a big impression, averaging just over 10.0 L/100 km: “Most four-cylinder SUVs struggle to achieve that sort of efficiency,” Wilson said.
And if you choose the 5.7L V8 or the entry-level 305-hp 3.6L V6, you can add the eTorque mild-hybrid system for an extra 130 lb-ft or 90 lb-ft, respectively.
Back to that 12.0-inch touchscreen, of which Wallcraft says, “it’s as much of a dream to operate as it looks like.” She called out the way its size allows split-screen functionality within FCA’s Uconnect infotainment system, widely regarded as one of the industry’s best.
But Wilson said if you’re not willing to pay the premium for the 12.0-inch screen – it’s part of a $3,600 option pack, or comes standard in the pricey and posh Limited trim – stick with the more affordable 8.4-inch display, which remains a fine way to access Uconnect’s features.
Speaking of the Limited trim package, its cabin boasts huge interior space, active noise cancellation, and heated and ventilated front seats – and opens up the option of the same comforts for rear-seat riders. More generally, truck expert Stephen Elmer appreciated the Ram 1500 cabin’s “combination of thoughtful, quality material choices, elegant design, and clever use of space.”
autoTRADER.ca Associate Editor Dustin Woods said the Ram 1500’s optional active driver safety assists helped him feel more confident when towing a 2,500-kg camping trailer. However, Wallcraft (who drove her Limited test truck on a two-week camping adventure) noted that the Ram 1500 doesn’t offer the kind of advanced towing aids that Ford and GM do in its trucks.
There’s no way around the fact that modern pickups are expensive, but Ram is doing a good job of making the 1500 feel like it’s worth the money – and deserving of autoTRADER.ca’s Best Overall Truck award.