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2013 Ram 1500 SLT and Laramie First Drive

What It Is
The 2013 Ram 1500 is a full-size pick-up truck that seeks to dethrone the Ford F-150 as king of the segment.
Best Thing The V-6 Pentastar engine turns in class-leading fuel economy, and interior quality is second to none.
Worst Thing
The six-speed automatic transmission; the eight-speed Torqueflite automatic due later this year can't come soon enough.
Snap Judgment
With the addition of the all-new (to Ram) Pentastar V-6 engine, the 2013 Ram 1500 lineup caters to every type of truck owner.


Truck owners are a versatile bunch. Some people rely on their truck for their livelihood while others occasionally haul the boat or trailer to the lake and back. Others use their truck as a massive blinking beacon for their macho-ness, and haul the occasional bags of sand or mulch to justify it. But by and large, most truck owners do a little of everything and lucky for them, the 2013 Ram 1500 lineup has something for everybody.

The 2013 Ram lineup ranges from $22,585 for a base Tradesman model all the way up to $48,415 for a 4x4 Laramie Longhorn crew cab. In between lurks the Tradesman, Express, SLT (the biggest mover volume-wise), Big Horn, Outdoorsman, Sport, Laramie, Longhorn, and finally, of course, the Limited trim. Each model offers a different level of versatility, with some preferring the work site more than others. As for the ultra-luxe trim levels destined to favor hauling people more than cargo, the 2013 Ram 1500 redefines what the luxury pick-up truck is too.

To really see what the latest Ram had to offer, we traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to test out an array of models, and even tow a thing or two as well. During our time down south, we had the opportunity to traverse some back-road hill country, highways, and even some small country roads that slinked through towns inhabited with more cows than humans. But while we were confident the Ram would do all the truck-stuff right, we wondered: With the focus on efficiency these days, can the 2013 Ram 1500's new Pentastar V-6 compete against the Ford EcoBoost's fuel economy? Here's what we found.

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Walkaround

When Chrysler's truck brand was tasked with refreshing the 2013 Ram 1500, one of the most common requests from customers was to leave the current design as is. Ram heeded those requests, but changed a lot of what you don't see, making the 2013 Ram 1500 more than just a simple refresh. Much more.

The 2013 Ram 1500 has grown just over an inch while keeping the same width as the outgoing model. A new grille sits at the end of the truck's hood, and the front-end, fog lamps, and front bumper have all been redesigned, and each Ram model gets a different grille. The redesigned front-end and its features give the 1500 a sculpted and distinctive exterior design making it tough to mistake for the competition. The new front bumper bends more than the more rigid one on earlier models. The new quad headlamps direct 30 percent more light to the surface, and ominous-looking black bezels are standard on Sport and Laramie Longhorn, and optional on the Laramie. The crosshair grille returns for the 2013 model year, but this time around the bars are more defined. This styling tweak gives the Ram logo a more chiseled look and the grille itself now sits more flush at both the top and bottom of the grille surround.

A bigger Hemi badge has been added to the side of trucks outfitted with a V-8 Hemi engine. The "Ram 1500" lettering has been switched from all-on-one-line to an over-under format, making it easier for people to advertise their personal business without debadging the truck. On models equipped with four-wheel drive, bigger openings for tow hooks have been incorporated to make them easier to reach. Longer stainless-steel running-boards have been integrated into the latest Ram 1500 and now stretch from the front to the rear tires; prior models had running boards that stopped at the end of the cab.

Sitting Down

Ram has built a reputation for having an interior superior to its competitors, and the 2013 model is no exception. The driver's seat is firm but gives enough for you to comfortably sink in. When dressed in the top-of-the-line Laramie trim, the added accents make it feel like you're really driving a luxury pick-up truck. Ram paid extra detail to trim pieces, like the wood accents with a swirl-like affect found in the Longhorn. This swirling is a result of the open-pore wood that was a fence post in a previous life, sraped by barbed wire, adding even more of a rugged touch to the truck's interior.

While other truck makers use steering wheels found in all sorts of vehicles, the 1500's steering wheel is only found in Ram products, and it's obvious it's a wheel made for a truck. The urethane wheel on the Tradesman and SLT feels solid in your hands; the SLT can be outfitted with a leather steering wheel, and the leather wheel is standard on the Sport. The Laramie sports a leather wheel with anodized paint in your choice of black or brown, while the Laramie Longhorn differs with a silver bezel instead and brown or black stitching. As an added bonus, every leather steering wheel is heated, too.

The cloth seats in the 2013 Ram 1500 are softer than before, and the leather in higher-end models like the Laramie is also higher quality. Both the bucket and 40/20/40 bench front seats are reconfigured to yield more storage space in different places. Bucket seats can be swapped out for a bench, and three cup holders with a washable rubber liner come with it. The Ram uses sapphire blue LED lighting on switches and the rear-view mirror for 2013, and the Sport, Laramie, and Laramie Sport utilize white LED lighting for the dome, map, and foot wells. Also new for 2013 is passive entry and Keyless Enter n' Go, which locks the Rambox storage compartments in back, along with the tailgate and doors.

Making its debut on the 2013 Ram 1500 is a next-generation Uconnect infotainment system. Through Uconnect, occupants can access their cell phone, play music, use the navigation, and interact with climate control. But the new version goes beyond that. The 8.4-inch screen combines with a 7-inch thin-film-transistor screen positioned in the center of the instrument cluster, giving the driver the option of panning through more than 350 different screens. Uconnect was also designed to be forward-thinking, meaning it can be easily updated as necessary. When you want to update the system, you can download the latest features directly to the system without having to worry about wiping out the factory settings. Customers also requested that Uconnect offer expanded functions, and that overall features were to be improved as well. You can even use it to create a Wi-Fi hotspot courtesy of the Sprint network, and the default screen is colored the same as the Ram's paint job.

The next-generation Uconnect system sits in all Ram trim levels but the 8.4-inch screen with navigation is only available on the SLT, Big Horn, Lone Star, Outdoorsman, Sport, and the Laramie. It's a standard feature on the Laramie Longhorn.

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Driving

We began our drive in a 2013 Ram 1500 SLT equipped with the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine. The roads on the outskirts of Nashville quickly gave way to miles of uncongested highway. Merging onto the highway provided the perfect opportunity to see how much pull the 1500's V-6 Pentastar engine and all 305 horses had. It didn't disappoint. Even when mated to the cumbersome, soon-to-be-discontinued six-speed automatic transmission, the V-6 mill had little trouble catching up to other vehicles on the highway. We immediately noticed how little road noise seeped into the cabin, allowing us to hear the full-blast air conditioner fan as it combated the mid-90's temperatures and 100 percent humidity for the entire ride.

This particular SLT crew cab was outfitted with air suspension and Uconnect, two features that can make a long road trip pass by quickly. While cruising the down the highway, the air suspension gave the truck a balanced ride that didn't bounce occupants around when some grooved pavement came along. The smooth ride also made interacting with Uconnect's touchscreen easier at highway speeds. The 2013 Ram 1500's chassis has been stiffened, which helps with stability and handling, augmenting the truck's air suspension. Up front, the redesigned independent suspension works boosts its steering and handling. Put it all together and it solidifies the Ram's easy-handling reputation; while the latest model still feels like a truck, all of these added features make it easy to drive.

Leiper's Fork, a quaint and historic town filled with 19th century architecture, played host to our first off-road and towing test runs in the 2013 Ram 1500. For our first test, we swapped out the SLT for an Outdoorsman and began navigating a simulated work site. The "site" was more like an off-road course, with its uneven and raised sections of earth, a deep pit that doubled as a small mountain, and a dirt-covered hump with a telephone pole as its core. None of the aforementioned obstacles proved to be much trouble, as the full-size truck passed through everything with little resistance. Next up was the "official" off-road course, which wasn't much more than a path cleared by a lawn mower; it was obvious that the Ram would have little trouble getting from the house or campsite down to the lake in a hasty manner.

Truck owners usually aren't strangers to towing, and the 2013 Ram 1500 doesn't mind the extra weight. It even welcomes it. Our final test consisted of towing a 2,220-pound boat, then a camping trailer that tipped the scales at 4,400 pounds. We switched back into an SLT crew cab with two-wheel drive and when tethered to the boat, the V-6 Pentastar engine barely noticed the added weight. This was also our first opportunity with the all-new Torqueflite eight-speed automatic transmission. We traveled over more than 10 miles of inclined and curvy back country roads and, while it wasn't all necessary, the Pentastar's 305 horsepower, 269 pound-feet of torque, and new transmission's two extra gears pulled the boat along without an issue.

After that, we hooked up to a 4,400-pound trailer, and lapped the same 10-mile route again. This time we could feel the added weight behind the truck; that's to be expected, but the extra weight didn't keep the V-6 Pentastar engine down. We got up to highway speeds in time to merge seamlessly with surrounding vehicles. With the trailer in tow, the ride was smooth, free of trailer-chop, and the Torqueflite transmission shifted around appropriately making it even easier to keep the trailer in check. Upon parking the trailer, it was evident that the V-6 Pentastar engine would be the perfect fit for a truck driver who tows occasionally and also uses it as a daily driver.

For the ride back into Nashville, we opted for the upper-echelon Laramie crew cab with four-wheel drive. Underneath the hood is a 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi engine, rated at 395 hp and 407 lb.-ft. of torque, and was hooked to the six-speed automatic transmission; the Torqueflite eight-speed gearbox will be available with the V-8 later this year. Most of our route back to the city was on long, straight highways but, like the trucks dressed in different trims before it, the Laramie was quiet and relaxed on the road. The driver's seat was comfortable and supportive. The V-8 Hemi engine had no trouble getting up to highway speeds and sings to you even as the six-speed automatic transmission rows through the gears. We're already anxious to drive the 2013 Ram 1500 V-8 engine mated to the eight-speed gearbox after how well the V-6 with the new transmission performed.

Summary

The Ram 1500 has led the way in sales for the Chrysler Group this year, and the 2013 model is on track to keep the pace going. The long-rumored Ram 1500 diesel is also expected sometime relatively soon, and we expect its addition will only boost sales even further. All the Ram models we drove performed admirably, and as soon as the six-speed transmission is taken out of service, and the eight-speed transmission is mated to the Pentastar engine, it will put this drivetrain portfolio at the top of the class. Ford hit a homerun when it introduced the turbocharged V-6 EcoBoost engine but with the new EPA ratings for both the V-6 and V-8 engines, that title belongs to Ram now.

The 2013 Ram 1500 lineup has something to offer for every truck owner no matter what their needs may be. After driving the SLT crew cab, it's obvious that you could take it to the work site during the day and then meet the family for dinner later that night. The Laramie is more for the supervisor and/or boss of the work site; it's more than capable of getting the work done, but why would you want to mess up your $44,000 truck? While we only spent a few brief moments with the Outdoorsman, it performed just as intended, and it's not afraid to get dirty.

After spending some time behind the wheel of both the SLT and Laramie trims, we came away very impressed with Ram's latest renditions of its light-duty hauler. The combination of new fuel economy ratings for both engines, more attention paid to interior details, and all of the added features made it hard to stop driving. As usual with vehicles we like, we're anxious to get the full-sized Ram out into the wilds of Los Angeles to see how it handles cement roads, congested traffic, and street parking. However, after navigating the backwoods of Tennessee, we'd recommend giving the 2013 Ram 1500 a good, hard look when you're in the market for a truck, as we expect it to be at the top of its class.

Basic Specs

3.6-liter V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive, 305-hp, 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy 5.7-liter V-8 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive, 395-hp, not rated by EPA yet

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