Ram's half-ton pickup brings the best refinement and best tech to the full-size pickup class.
Earlier this summer, I decided that in order to live my best quarantine life I needed to buy a car. And because I've wanted a small convertible ever since I moved to Los Angeles in 2017, I went with the obvious choice: a Mazda Miata, though mine is a 1999 10th Anniversary Edition. It has less than 27,000 miles, it's in great condition and none of the previous owners made any stupid modifications. I love it.
What does that have to do with the 2020 Ram 1500 ? Well, I found the Miata on Craigslist in Phoenix, and since it wasn't registered or plated, I figured the easiest way to get it back to LA was on a trailer. Pretty much any full-size pickup truck would've done this long-distance tow trip without breaking a sweat, but none would have been as nice as the Ram.
The towing wasn't the hard part. Even the weakest 2020 Ram 1500 can pull 6,390 pounds and the truck's maximum towing capacity is 12,750 pounds. The combo of my Miata and a lightweight car trailer was just over 3,000 pounds -- something our long-term Honda Passport could've handled, had it carried a tow hitch -- so for the Ram, it was a piece of cake. The 2020 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 pictured here with the 5.7-liter eTorque V8 and optional 3.92 rear axle is rated to tow 11,190 pounds. In other words, if I wanted to pick up three more Miatas on the way back to LA, it wouldn't have been a problem (theoretically).
This relatively light load didn't even faze the Ram. The mild-hybrid Hemi V8 makes 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque, with a 48-volt starter-generator that supplies an additional 16 hp and 130 lb-ft of initial acceleration assist. Even on uphill starts, the Ram smoothly and confidently pulled away from stoplights, and on a quick detour up to Prescott Valley, Arizona -- about 5,000 feet above sea level -- the mild-hybrid's supplemental power helped compensate for the naturally aspirated V8's loss of high-altitude oomph.
I was initially sort of bummed my test truck didn't have Ram's 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6, only because I love towing with torquey turbodiesels. But the eTorque Hemi really grew on me. On the highway, there was never a shortage of power for making my way around slow-moving semi trucks, not that I ever did any sort of aggressive acceleration with the precious cargo in tow. I'm also happy to report that despite the elevation changes and my notoriously heavy right foot, my observed fuel economy wasn't absolutely horrific. The EPA rates the eTorque V8-equipped Ram at 17 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway, and I observed 17 mpg. That might not seem impressive, but consider that I had a 3,000-pound penalty attached to the tow hitch at all times, and the route included a bunch of uphill climbs.
I used the truck's tow/haul mode a few times in the mountains, mostly to keep the eight-speed automatic transmission from upshifting too early, but I largely left this off on flat roads, since the Miata and trailer only accounted for about a quarter of the Ram's total towing capacity. The most useful towing aid was actually the blind-spot monitoring, which automatically measured the length of the trailer and adapted the sensors accordingly, so I never ran the risk of cutting someone off when I needed to change lanes.
None of the truck's towing feats are exclusive to the Ram 1500. And in fact, some competitors offer more tech that makes hauling even easier. The Ford F-150 has the Pro Trailer Back-Up Assist where you can steer the truck with a dial, turning it exactly the way you want the trailer to go with the electronics sorting out the rest. GMC offers as many as 15 cameras that can even give you x-ray vision through a trailer, which is freaking amazing.
But that's not to say the Ram doesn't have a few tricks up its sleeve. I love the RamBox bed cubbies, which were perfect for storing the trailer tie-down straps when I unloaded the Miata for a brief stint in Prescott Valley, and they're lockable, so I could leave things in them outside overnight without worrying.
The other big ace in the Ram 1500's hand is an optional load-leveling air suspension that smooths out the ride when you've got a heavy trailer bogging the truck down. But that's about all I can say about this option, as my truck wasn't equipped with it.
Why I'm glad I took the Ram actually had nothing to do with its towing capabilities. Instead, it's how great this truck was as a long-distance cruiser -- a quiet, comfortable, spacious, tech-rich barge that ate up hundreds upon hundreds of miles with ease. Even without the aforementioned air suspension, the Ram was perfectly smooth along the 10 freeway between Los Angeles and Phoenix, though it would've been better on smaller wheels with thicker-sidewall tires, not the 22-inch monsters that came as part of this truck's Night Edition appearance package.
Half-ton pickup trucks rival full-size luxury sedans in the number of comfort, convenience and multimedia features they offer, and this is absolutely where the Ram 1500 sets itself apart in the class. My truck's heated, cooled, leather-trimmed seats were as plush and supportive as La-Z-Boy chairs. And while I never rode in the back myself, a passenger hopped back there to make use of the Ram's onboard Wi-Fi hotspot and took a conference call with plenty of room to sprawl out. There's an absolute ton of legroom, and the panoramic sunroof kept light flowing in the cabin. With myriad storage compartments, wireless phone charging and more than enough USB outlets, I could easily bring all my electronics and keep them all charged.
I'd be remiss not to mention the Ram's stellar onboard infotainment tech: Fiat-Chrysler's Uconnect 4C software, displayed on the 1500's 12-inch portrait-oriented screen. I loved the way I could keep the map on the top half and audio controls on the bottom, or run Apple CarPlay seamlessly without having it take over the entire display. Truth be told, I found the screen in my test truck to be uncharacteristically laggy when responding to inputs, sometimes requiring three or four presses before a command would actually take. But I'm going to chalk this up as an anomaly specific to this truck, since I've never, ever experienced that kind of bad behavior from other FCA products.
On top of the infotainment excellence, a number of driver assistance features made the trip easier. I mentioned the trailer-length blind-spot monitoring, but it was great to have adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, lane-keeping assist and a 360-degree camera, which made parking this thing a cinch.
A lot of modern trucks have these features, too, but taken as a whole, the Ram is my favorite half-ton. It has a better on-road ride than any of its competitors, the interior is more comfortable, the materials are nicer and the tech is top-notch. The 2021 Ford F-150 is going to give the Ram a real run for its money when it launches, but for now, at least, the Ram 1500 is king.
That crown will cost you, though. The 2020 Ram 1500 starts in the low $30,000 range, but the Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 comes in at $48,435 including $1,695 for destination. With all the driver assistance add-ons, the Night Edition appearance package, the 12-inch Uconnect display, the eTorque engine and more, the out-the-door price of this truck is a staggering $68,815. But it's not like any of the Ram's domestic competitors are any less expensive when they're all loaded up. And considering how much more luxurious, tech-rich and attractive the Ram 1500 is, it definitely feels worth every penny.