Ride Review: Ram 1500 Tradesman

2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman. All photos by Randy Stern
2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman. All photos by Randy Stern

2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman. All photos by Randy Stern

Um, wait, why is there a pickup truck appearing in Lavender this week?

For starters, pickup trucks represent one of the biggest market segments in the automotive industry. Every month, an estimated average of 130,000 pickup trucks are sold in the U.S.A. This combined figure covers all sizes of pickups sold across five brands—all of them built in the NAFTA zone.

There is a problem, however. We often stereotype the typical truck owner. We think that pickup trucks are the domain of everyone else other than members of our community. This is absolutely not true. There are plenty of GLBT pickup truck owners using their vehicles for both personal and commercial purposes.

Again, we stereotype even our own people when they drive a truck. Without recognizing these stereotypes, it prevents us from understanding why one buys a pickup truck in the first place.

I could go on about demystifying the pickup truck for all of us, but I fear that I might miss a point or several. Instead, I will focus on one of the logical reasons one of us would buy a truck.

Among the diverse members of our community are business owners. We are contractors, subcontractors, landscapers, farmers, and so forth. If you own a truck for your business, you are often conflicted as to what to buy. Do you get the popular trucks with high load capacity, high cab interior content, and enough chrome to stand out in a crowd? Or, could you get away with a basic, no-frills truck that would yield a fair depreciation value over the length of ownership?

Considering that a pickup truck could be a business proposition in itself, there are plenty of options to choose from. One such option offers the power one needs for load carrying and trailer towing, while providing enough comfort to live and work in.

Enter this Ram 1500.

What is a Ram exactly? In 2009, Fiat was restructuring Chrysler towards a brand-driven management model. Trucks and commercial vehicles were primarily sold as Dodges until it was split to create a new brand—Ram. The cornerstone of the Ram truck business is the pickup,  accounting for a huge chunk of sales for the brand. All told, Ram trucks usually garner the most sales of all Chrysler vehicles (including Heavy Duty and Cab-and-Chassis models) averaging 22,500 units delivered per month.

This Ram is actually something special—due to its name. Decades ago, Chrysler sold a van that changed the way American vans were built—the Dodge Tradesman. The Tradesman was a repairman’s friend—from plumbers to television technicians. They were simply easy to drive and loaded full of volume for tools, parts, and the lunch box.

Ram decided to bring back the name as a trim level for their pickup trucks, which does not seem too odd these days. Instead of repairing televisions, today’s Tradesman drivers work on road projects, home building and renovations, farming, and other related occupations.

What makes this Ram worth considering as a truck for your business?

For starters, the Ram 1500 is the best looking full-sized pickup truck in this market  in my humble opinion. The Ram’s design language can be traced back to the 1990s when Chrysler introduced a Dodge Ram pickup that emulated a heavy-duty tractor-trailer style with a big grille and lower fenders capped with the headlamp units. The latest Ram is an outgrowth of that design—still announcing its arrival at work with the big grille up front. Modern Rams still do it for me,  unlike the competition.

The Tradesman may not have the acres of chrome seen in the average pickup of today. The plastic black grille, black finish on the bumpers and mirrors along with a lack of side trimming denotes a commercial application rather than a private one. Sporty rims are a dead giveaway to style for contractors wanting to use this in town.

You can get the Tradesman in only four configurations for the 1500: a Regular Cab with either a 6-foot-4-inch bed or an 8-foot bed, a Quad Cab with a 6-foot-4-inch bed, or a Crew Cab with a 5-foot-7-inch bed. This model is the Regular Cab/Short Bed model, which may seem small on the outside for a truck. This configuration actually works in some ways—especially when you run a business that does not require hauling a lot of equipment or materials around.

The Tradesman’s bed comes with two side compartments to balance out smaller parts of the load. The Ram Box was developed to replace a large toolbox normally installed at the nose of the bed. These two compartments are lockable to protect anyone looking at taking your power equipment or hand tools you might need for the job. Inside the bed are two rails with locking tie-down anchors to ensure more precise cargo management. For longer loads, you could put up the bed extender guard. Once you put down the lockable tailgate, you set up this heavy plastic guard to either manage heavier equipment or materials.

The Regular Cab seats three inside when the center compartment is folded up. Ideally, this is a two-seater, since the driver would most likely use the center armrest and storage bin for work-related materials. It fits a 14″ laptop with room for a cord or two. Seats are made of a durable cloth material with two-tone black/tan woven inserts. They offer a lot of room with some bolstering, but could wind up being uncomfortable after a while behind the wheel. Only two adjustments are available on the driver’s and passenger seat— rake and recline.

Rams are known for having the best interior in the pickup truck market. Even in this basic cabin, the quality of materials is high and durable. Switches are also of high quality and very familiar for Chrysler drivers and owners. Because this is a work truck, do not expect a slew of luxuries we come to know from our other vehicles. There are no power windows, remote mirror adjustments, central locking, push-button ignition, and power seat adjustments on here. You do not even get carpeting under your feet. Why do you need all of that when you are mainly working in dirt, mud, and snow?

There are a few “nice” things inside the Tradesman’s cabin; for example, the audio system is the familiar AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio with an auxiliary jack port. The rear view mirror is the self-dimming kind. You might also think that the instrumentation came out of one of the more luxurious models in the Ram lineup. In all, it is a great cabin for a work truck.

At this point, it is safe to explain that one must use a different lens to evaluate a truck as opposed to a car, SUV/crossover, or minivan. Trucks use different measuring sticks to gauge engine performance, ride quality, and vehicle handling.

When shopping for a Ram 1500, it would be a mistake to pass up the HEMI 5.7litre V8 and six-speed automatic transmission combination. No matter the cabin trim level, cab or bed configuration, the HEMI is the best engine to get. With 390 horsepower and 407-pound-feet of torque on tap, it has a strong enough power band to do anything you ask it to. Towing a trailer? No problem. Doing your weekly run to the home improvement center? Piece of cake! Moving sod to a landscaping job? Your accountant will love you!

It also helps to have a four-wheel-drive system that is easy to use. This is an absolute must in the Upper Midwest.

In this particular Ram 1500 Tradesman—the one with the regular cab and short bed—the HEMI shows off another side of its personality. Chrysler enthusiasts know the power of a HEMI—the robust power band and the massive response from the throttle. Put the HEMI into a truck with a lower GVWR and a shorter chassis, and it becomes a sport truck. A “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” if you would—except this wolf is a Ram. Would that make it a “wolf in Ram’s clothing?”

Though it may have a high performance drive line, the suspension set-up is not amenable for getting a bit loose on the tarmac. The Ram has one of the softest and most compliant suspensions in the full-sized truck world. There is plenty of feedback from the road, especially with the four-wheel drive system with an empty bed. You do bounce when road imperfections are thrown at you.

It is when you start loading up the bed is where ride quality comes into play. The rear suspension compensates for higher payloads, but this Tradesman is capped at 1,417 pounds. The more you fill towards the limit, the better the ride will be. If you are looking for a more compliant work truck with a better ride to balance out loads and better towing control, get a longer wheelbase model—either a regular cab with the eight-foot bed or at least the Quad Cab with the six-foot-four-inch bed. You can pull 8,900 pounds of trailer and load behind you with this Tradesman.

One thing that would surprise you on the Ram 1500 is the quick steering action. It is one of the sharpest turning reactions in the business. Even though it is a short pickup, sharp turns are easy to do. This helps tremendously when towing a trailer. If you are positioning a trailer, you can correct your approaches easily and exactly. Brakes are strong, but would require some earlier reaction to ensure a full stop. However, panic braking is very good as the system reacts quickly to the pedal. Panic stops were downward and direct, but they do take a longer distance to come to a full stop than regular automobiles. For a non-truck person, this may be discerning.

The only thing that would challenge your balance sheet is the fuel economy with the HEMI. Overall fuel consumption came to an average of 14.4MPG—expected from a powerful V8. If you do the math, you may want to play with your vehicle budget to compensate for low fuel efficiency from the HEMI in terms of your fuel costs.

Another shock would be the price you pay for a Ram 1500 Tradesman. You can get one at just over $30,000 for the regular cab/six-foot-four-inch bed as equipped in this review. You could go less if you choose to just have a two-wheel drive model with the standard 4.7litre V8. Truck buyers will tell you to stick with the HEMI over the older, smaller, and less powerful engine.

A work truck is an important business proposition for a sole proprietor or small business needing such a vehicle. The cost involved in ensuring proper operation of your work truck may seem high, but a good budget and depreciation schedule would balance out the initial shock of purchase. Chrysler does offer programs to help at least leverage the cost of ownership, such as BusinessLink and On The Job purchase incentives.

After you absorb all of the shocks about this work-ready, high performance “wolf in sheep’s clothing” pickup truck, you can now take your Ram 1500 Tradesman to maintain your client’s lawns and gardens, renovate some of the rooms at their homes, and tackle even larger jobs. After all, you want to be successful in your HEMI-powered, Ram Boxed truck.


Randy Stern is an automotive writer from Robbinsdale, Minnesota. He can be followed at Victory & Reseda – http://www.randystern.net.

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