When we first laid eyes on the Dodge Ram, a few words came to mind: gargantuan, behemoth, colossal. The words that didn't immediately come to mind when the big ol' truck rolled into the CNET garage were "high" or "tech." However, after--literally--climbing into the Ram's cab and spending some time behind the wheel, we found a surprising amount of drivetrain tech and, more surprisingly, some very sophisticated cabin tech.
Test the tech: Backup sensor
With every subsequent revision, the Dodge Ram has gotten larger. New for 2009, this model is no exception. This increased size means a bigger cabin, a commanding seating position, and more towing and hauling capacity. However, as the Ram has grown, it has also become more unwieldy. When many vehicles' rooflines sit lower than the Ram's tailgate, the huge rear blind spot becomes an even bigger liability when parking. However, while Dodge's Web site states that a backup camera is an option, none of Dodge's other information materials even list a camera as a feature. This is all very confusing, but the fact remains that our test vehicle was not equipped with a backup camera. Instead, we got a beeping rear-proximity sensor. We decided to test how effective the sensor could be.
For our back-up test, we found an unobstructed wall in the CNET garage and backed the Ram up against it. The Ram's proximity sensor alerts the driver of rear obstructions in three stages. First, it sounds a single beep to let the driver knowthere's something back there. As the obstruction gets closer, the Ram begins a series of rapid beeps to let the driver know there's something close. As the distance closes to a critical level, the beeping becomes a solid tone to alert the driver to stop. We wanted to see how close we could get without tapping the wall.
With the truck in reverse, we began to approach the wall. At a distance of 10 feet, we got the first beep. Pressing on, we continued to reverse in silence. Suddenly, a series of loud beeps sounded. Stopping the truck, we hopped out and measured a distance of about 11.5 inches. We recorded our results and climbed back into the truck. Reversing slowly, the series of beeps became a solid piercing tone. Stopping, we recorded the distance as just less than 6 inches. Six inches was close, but we wanted closer. Now creeping slowly backwards and ignoring the screech of the proximity sensor, we rolled ever so slightly back. The combination of the loud beeping and our fear of denting a truck that didn't belong to us became too much and we stopped the truck. Jumping out to measure, we found that we'd been able to reduce the distance to a mere hair over 1 inch!
So, we were able to get very close to the wall with the help of the proximity sensor, but the whole experience was a bit nerve-racking with all of the beeping. Also, while we were able to trust the sensor in the controlled environment of the CNET garage, we were less trusting on public roads. Time and time again, when attempting to parallel park the Ram, we found that the beeps just made us more nervous about maneuvering the titanic truck around real vehicles.
If you can find Dodge's phantom rearview-camera option, we recommend that you get it. It'll make parking the Ram much easier.
In the cabin
As much as we hate to keep beating the proverbial dead horse that is the Ram's massiveness, one of the first things we noticed from the driver's seat of the full-size pickup was the commanding view of the road around us. We were able to see clear over most noncommercial vehicles. However, the Ram's tall hood sits at about chest level with most adults, creating a small blind spot extending about 4 to 5 feet in front of the vehicle, which makes placing the truck's corners difficult in the city's narrow, two-lane streets.
Once we'd had our fill of the view, we turned our attention to the cabin and were again impressed by the spacious interior and comfortable, power, leather seats. Readers in colder climates will appreciate the Ram's heated seats and steering wheel. The Crew Cab offers plenty of space in the back seat to stretch out. In total, there's space for six adults to sit comfortably in the passenger compartment, thanks to a hidden front seat under the flip-up center console.
The jewel of the dashboard is the touch-screen UConnect multimedia system. The system brings a 30GB hard drive and Bluetooth hands-free calling to the standard AM/FM/CD suite of audio sources. The system can rip music to the hard drive from audio CDs or from a USB port located right on the faceplate. The device can't play music from a CD while ripping and doesn't recognize iPods at all. Curiously, the unit doesn't seem to be able to play music directly from USB drives, which means potentially long wait times before your MP3s and WMAs can be played. Once the rip is complete, however, having an indexed library of music available at all times is tremendously convenient.
Our vehicle was also equipped with SIRIUS Satellite Radio, a rear-DVD entertainment system, and SIRIUS Backseat TV. That last option beams television programming into the cabin using Sirius satellite technology. Video can be viewed on the rear flip-down monitor, on the in-dash screen when the vehicle is parked, or both. The only channels offered currently are Disney, Nickelodeon, and the Cartoon Network, so this is definitely a feature aimed at parents or grandparents. Image quality is fairly bad, with high noise and low resolution, but it's better than nothing for entertaining kids in the back seat. For those not wanting to watch children's programming all day, there is a set of RCA A/V inputs at the base of the center console for connecting a portable DVD player or video game console.