What It Is
Tough-talkin', hard-workin' 'Muricans...who don't want wet groceries.
Easy to drive, and of course the RamBox
A little badge crazy inside; terrible fuel economy
Whether you're a hard-core trucker, or just want to look like one, the 2014 Ram 1500 is the ticket.
I'm not what you'd call a "truck guy." For me, trucks are a tool to be used when there's a need to haul something big and heavy, or tow something even bigger and heavier. Trucks are made to get dirty, take you off road, onto a construction site, or out to the back 40 to help a cow give birth as rain drenches your slicker and cowboy hat, while a slow country ballad about how awesome America plays in the background. Using a pickup truck as daily transportation just isn't my thing, and probably never will be.
However, if I ever move to Texas--where I understand that driving a truck day-to-day is legally mandated--I'd immediately head to a Ram dealership and pick up a 2014 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman like the one we recently drove. This is as close to an ideal pickup truck as I've ever piloted. It looks good, with body-color accents in place of the usual acres of chrome making even the humungous grille look toned down. It's comfortable and luxury-car quiet inside, and with surprisingly soft seats. There's room in back for the kids, the bed is plenty big, and the RamBox lockable storage is surely giving truck designers at Ford and GM fits. But beyond that, what really sells this truck is its surprisingly comfortable around-town ride. It's that feature that makes this Ram the go-to pickup for non-truck-guys like me, and I'm willing to bet, would even sway hard-core nothing-but-a-truck guys, too.
What We DroveLike any American truck, you can buy a Ram in a variety of shapes, sizes, and budgets depending on the combination of cab, bed, and chrome you desire. Our test truck was a 2013 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4x4; translated, that means it was a mid-level half-ton with a full-size rear seat, short bed, four-wheel drive, and a minimum of chrome. Base price for that is $37,300. However, we had the Customer Preferred Package 25T, which added Uconnect, a leather steering wheel, auto-dimming mirrors, painted front and rear bumpers, a power driver's seat, rear 60/40 folding spit seat, rubber floor mats, and a few other things. The comfort Group added headed front seats and a heated steering wheel. The 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine added $850 (totally worth it), and the Alpine surround sound audio system was an extra $300. A few other piecemeal options rounded things out: air suspension ($1,595); parking sensors and a backup camera ($250 and $200, respectively); spray in bedliner ($475), and of course the RamBox, which added $1,295. Add it all up, and take away the $2,200 package discount, and you have $46,080 of truck. If we were to add anything to this total, it'd be the $500 eight-speed automatic transmission. With fuel economy estimates of 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, and 19 mpg combined, it surely would have improved our dismal fuel economy of 11.6 mpg.
On the safety front, you have a four-star overall crash rating from the federal government, thanks in part to the front and side curtain airbags. Stability control is also standard, as are anti-lock brakes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't tested this--or any--Ram truck.
The CommuteTruck guys won't admit it, but commuting in a pickup usually sucks. The stiff suspension in the rear is made to keep the truck under control when it's fully loaded, but when there's nothing there, the rear end bounces around uncomfortably on its stiff springs, providing a jarring ride known as "bed shake." Even if the truck in question has a great interior, excellent audio, and comfortable seats, it's hard to get past that bed shake.
However, this generation of Ram pickup uses a different rear suspension setup. Instead of the leaf springs most trucks use--you've likely seen those curved, flat arcs above the rear axle on pickups before--the Ram uses coil springs, which are more like a car. This dramatically increases the ride comfort, and helps prevent bed shake, because the coil springs don't bind and stick like leaf springs do. Granted, there's a penalty when it comes to doing truck stuff, and the Ram suffers when it comes to towing and hauling capacity compared to similar trucks from Ford and GM. Yet those limits are still high enough that if they won't do, you should probably be looking at a heavy-duty class of truck instead.
With the comfortable ride, you're able to appreciate more about the Ram. The Alpine audio system was solid, although it wasn't particularly loud. There's a huge bin between the front seats, large enough to hold not just a laptop, but a whole Apple Store, it seems. The top level includes a USB port, power plug, AUX input, and enough storage for an iPad and a couple smartphones with room left over. Our test Ram's cloth upholstery struck a good compromise between softness and durability, and overall the interior of the truck had the same premium-but-durable feel to it. Rear seat passengers would have little to complain about, as there's ample head and legroom for adults, and everyone's computer bags and briefcases could easily fit in the RamBox storage area out back.
It's not all roses though. For example, there are ram's-head logos and RAM badges all over the interior, even embossed onto the center console bin's lid, for crying out loud. Some of the chrome trim inside reflected painfully at midday, and the center stack controls are a stretch, simply because this is a big truck, and they're far away. And although the Ram's suspension offers superior ride comfort compared to other trucks, we don't want to oversell it: this is still a work vehicle at its core. The suspension is on the stiff side, and there's noticeable bed shake from time to time, just far less than other competitive vehicles.
The Grocery RunAt first glance pickups seem like they'd have a clear advantage when it comes to the weekly grocery run. After all, a truck has virtually unlimited room for your bags of groceries, so go nuts, right? Well, if you routinely buy dozens of bags of groceries and it never rains, then sure, you can pack in the bed just fine. But if your bags run into the teens, or if water occasionally falls from the sky, or if you just don't like the idea of your eggs sliding around in back dodging gallon jugs of milk, then trucks leave something to be desired. If you load up the interior with bags, you're eliminating passenger space, which isn't much of a solution.
That's why the RamBox is so handy. Capable of holding between four and six grocery bags per side--depending on how cleverly you pack them--it leaves the bed free for larger, softer items like toilet paper. Plus, the Box sides lock, so you don't have to worry about someone just reaching in and grabbing your stuff. A movable gate in the truck's bed allows you to bisect the bed and restrain objects too large for the Box from sliding around back there. The upshot is that you can take a truck full of people to the grocery store and return with a "trunk" full of groceries, all without even cracking an egg.
Drawbacks? Sure. This is a full-size truck, and it's on the ponderous side, so maneuvering it into tight parking spaces requires practice, even with a backup camera and sensors. The air suspension system offers adjustable height, but even at its lowest setting it's still a climb for kids to get into the cabin; we'd recommend running boards. The center cushion in back is also shorter than the rest of the bench, making it a little uncomfortable for the center rider.
The Weekend FunDepending on your definition of "fun," the 2014 Ram Outdoorsman is either a willing companion or an impediment. For example, if you want to load up the bed with bikes or surfboards or whatever, and hit the beach or campsite, then go to it. The four-wheel drive will let you access places well off the beaten path, and the RamBoxes even convert into coolers--complete with drains--to keep your beverages and lunchmeat cold.
Need to help someone move? Same deal, sort of. The Ram is still a truck, and the air suspension will nestle down, allowing easier access to the bed as you load your buddy's wares. The short bed on our model limits how much stuff you can carry of course, but a little creative packaging and you're probably good to go, with the exception of that king-size mattress. If home improvement is your game, then you're good to go here, too, for all the same reasons.
However, note one important thing: Although the RamBox option increases the utility of the Ram on a day-to-day basis, it also eats into cargo room. The Box covers the wheel well portion of the bed, and similar to how a "step side" type bed limits cargo space, the RamBox does the same. It's not a major limitation, and there are few instances when you'll really need that extra space. But if you're loading your truck with an array of boxes, the simple fact is that you won't be able to fit as many in here as you could in a truck without bed-wall-mounted cargo space.
That said, what goes for commuting goes for long drives to the campground. The audio system is a good companion, the suspension is a willing partner, the steering is light and direct, and your only trucky complaint might be the wind noise rustling around the big elephant-ear mirrors on the outside. That and the fuel economy, which in our mostly city driving fell to 11.6 mpg; with the eight-speed automatic, it likely would've been in the mid-teens.
SummaryThe first question that needs asking is whether the 2014 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman is a good truck. Can it deliver on the truck stuff like towing and hauling, and all that? Yes, without doubt. It's just as capable as you'll need it to be in a real-world sense, with enough hauling, towing, and carrying capacity that you probably won't wish for more.
However, if you're someone who just likes the image of driving a truck, but doesn't actually need all that extra capacity, the 2013 Ram 1500 excels. It's more comfortable to drive than you'd expect, and even if you are a "real" trucker--and you don't need the extra towing or hauling capacity of a competitor--you can still appreciate it. Sounds like a win-win to us.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $46,080
EPA City: 13 mpg
EPA Highway: 19 mpg
EPA Combined: 15 mpg
Cargo Space: 8 grocery bags (four in each RamBox) Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Estimated Combined Range: 390 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Poor