Show us a vehicle that does it all and we’ll show you a vehicle that’s compromised in everything it does. That’s the story of most modern full-size pickup trucks, which play a role that’s part family SUV, part commercial vehicle, part luxury car, and part circus strongman. Sure, your truck tows an impressive 10,000 pounds, but chances are it rides like a tractor, especially with a bed full of nothing but air.
The Ram 1500 can’t entirely escape these trade-offs, but it balances and minimizes them better than any truck on the market. Thanks in large part to the coil springs (or optional air springs) at each corner, the Ram rolls over broken pavement with exceptional civility. It goes down the road feeling more like a Mercedes-Benz GLS-class than a Ford F-150. It’s the truck that can convincingly shrug off its agrarian roots to make the trip to Pottery Barn in comfort.
The awesome 702-hp Ram 1500 TRX carries its own predictable set of compromises: single-digit real-world fuel economy, a $71,790 starting price, and running boards so high they should come with a sign warning, “You must be this tall to enter.” Surprisingly, though, on-road manners are not on that list. For a truck that’s built for desert running, dune bashing, and hill jumping, the TRX is unexpectedly delightful on paved roads. It uses soft long-travel springs to absorb big off-road hits, but rather than squishing and pitching and rolling around in traffic, the TRX ratchets up the stiffness of its adaptive dampers in pavement-oriented driving modes, giving the truck a sense of control on the road that’s absent in its only competitor, the Ford F-150 Raptor.
In domesticating the American workhorse, Ram has built the best pickup for the way most of us use trucks today: as everyday transportation instead of as a special-purpose tool, moving people more often than payload and on suburban streets rather than in farm fields. On upper trim levels, Ram dresses the 1500’s cabin with an attention to detail that shames many luxury cars. At 70 mph, it’s as quiet as a church during the Super Bowl. For city slickers and cowboy commuters, the clever optional RamBoxes offer weather-tight, lockable storage that keeps cargo out of sight and out of the cab.
Our 10Best honor covers the full 1500 range, from the 305-hp base V-6 to the 702-hp TRX. Between those bookends, there’s a diesel V-6 that scores up to 32 mpg in EPA testing and a 395-hp V-8 available with or without the eTorque 48-volt motor-generator. (We recommend going without it based on our 40,000-mile long-term test.) With any engine, the Ram is up for hard labor, but living with this truck is a reminder that the numbers—horsepower, tow ratings, and payload capacities—tell only part of the story. The eight-speed automatic is always ready to drop the engine into the powerband. The uncanny ride quality translates to great body control in curves. Every element feels as if the engineers made it a point to polish the pickup truck’s rough edges.
We’re still car people at heart. We like the sure-footed handling of vehicles that are light and relatively low to the ground, and we typically respect the utility of a truck with an emotional detachment. But the Ram is so uniquely good to drive that it transcends the pickup-truck status quo. When we say that the Ram 1500 is the full-size truck that comes closest to driving like a car, we mean that as a high compliment. Why drive a big lumbering brute when you can drive a big nimble brute?