Pickups are more than transportation. They are economic machines – powering America's future.

This country was built out of the bed of a pickup, and as the U.S. climbs out of the mud-pit that engulfed the economy a few years ago, pickup trucks are once again a critical part of the engine that is driving new home-building, renovations and ranching.

Chrysler Group LLC appears to be doing its patriotic part. What's good for Ram – the truck lost its Dodge moniker four years ago – is good for the country. Seriously, it is.

In past years, the Ram was Chrysler's best-selling vehicle, and its bread and butter. It's beefy profit paid the bills while Chrysler pumped out slow selling nameplates like Sebring and Crossfire with little success. Now, the Ram is poised to return to that position or profit leader while Chrysler Group is also offering far better cars and crossovers under new owner Fiat-- such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango and Chrysler 300.

Simply put, the 2013 Ram 1500 is redefining the pickup category, challenging perennial front-runners Ford and Chevrolet with a stellar interior, solid performance and the best highway gas mileage--25 mpg-- in the segment. (Cue the flag waving.) 

In fact the venerable publication Consumer Reports recently picked the Ram as the "best full-size truck," beating out the Chevy Silverado and F-150. Though, to be fair, both of those trucks have either recently been redesigned or will be in the near future. So, CR could swing back to either Chevy or Ford when the new trucks arrive to face off against Ram.

"The Ram 1500 is surprisingly luxurious and refined — but still fully capable of doing hard work when needed," said Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. "Continued interior and powertrain improvements make the Ram a particularly well-rounded choice."

The list of improvements and pickup firsts is nearly as long as the 100 different versions of Ram 1500s available. Read on to see more on this great new pickup.

Research the Ram 1500
Ram 1500 Photos & Information
Ram 1500 Specs
Ram 1500 Local Dealer Price Quote

A Finely Tuned Machine

A Finely Tuned Machine

The Ram's overhaul started with the previous generation Ram in 2009. That brought a smooth rear-coil-spring ride and the new front face of Ram, the handy RamBox storage bins in the side rails of the bed, and a vastly improved interior. But there were still some rough edges in performance and the interior cabin.

For this generation, we see the introduction of the Pentastar V6 engine, the power-plant that has nearly single-handedly powered Chrysler's recovery. The Pentastar comes mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which helps the fuel economy.

Every point, piece and part of the Ram feels improved, retuned or redone. This execution of those changes is what's making Ram a contender in the truck category, and giving headaches to engineers at Ford and Chevrolet, which have traditionally aimed their efforts at one another and not worried too much about Ram.

Research the Ram 1500
Ram 1500 Photos & Information
Ram 1500 Specs
Ram 1500 Local Dealer Price Quote
A Powerful Stance

A Powerful Stance

Like any vehicle, the Ram's exterior makes a statement about its owner. The new Ram--with a bigger grille, chiseled hood, massive bumper and elegant long lines--says, "Get out of my way!" more than any other pickup I have driven.

The Ford F-150 may offer a more sophisticated exterior. The Chevrolet Silverado may be more timeless. The Toyota Tundra may have the best build quality based on J.D. Power's ratings. But the new Ram seems to best all of them when the whole truck is considered.

There are four new grille designs, some more intimidating than others and a new bumper that stretches across the face of the Ram. Add to that the quad headlamps, which provide more light in more areas for night driving.

Some of the less noticeable details include the stainless steel running boards on some models that stretch from wheel to wheel. A thoughtful change was re-moving the Ram badge from the sides so buyers could easily tack on a magnetic door sign for a business. See, pickups are small business offices for contractors and builders.

The stance and profile of the Ram makes it instantly recognizable. It's big, brawny and showcases what look like rippled muscles from every angle.

Research the Ram 1500
Ram 1500 Photos & Information
Ram 1500 Specs
Ram 1500 Local Dealer Price Quote
Power And Efficiency

Power And Efficiency

The Ram has always had the power to back up those stoic, powerful looks thanks to the availability of the famous 5.7 liter Hemi engine.

The base 3.6-liter Pentastar, though, produces 305 horsepower, which is more than enough power to get this big rig rolling. I purposely selected a loaded crew cab model to find the heaviest truck with a V6 to see how the smaller, more fuel efficient engine performed.

I was surprised at how well the Ram drives on both country roads and the highway. The eight-speed automatic transmission behaved admirably, handling shifts up and down hills without leaving me in between gears or in the wrong gear. No annoying hunting for the right gear.

Of course, if you need more power, the Ram offers the Hemi, which will be the engine of choice for people who do a lot of towing. the Hemi rumbles with more authority than a Rhino, but is much easier to hook up to a boat trailer.

It creates 395 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque. The Ram tows up to 11,500 pounds and carries one-and-a-half tons in the bed.

Most impressive is all of the engineering work on the Ram to squeak out better fuel economy. From the active grille shutters that close to increase the aero dynamics, and the standard low rolling resistant tires to the engine's thermal management system and the start/stop system that turns off the engine when not in use, the Ram focuses on efficiency. All of that work allows the V6 Ram to hit 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. The 5.7-liter V8 numbers with the six-speed transmission hit 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. Ram promises class-leading mileage when the eight-speed mileage numbers are released later this year.

Research the Ram 1500
Ram 1500 Photos & Information
Ram 1500 Specs
Ram 1500 Local Dealer Price Quote
Sitting In Luxury

Sitting In Luxury

The Ram's interior was already nice. Now, it's better.

It remains plush throughout, with a selection of materials that feel top grade.

Ram uses a gear-shifter knob mounted on the dash instead of a traditional shifter on the floor or steering column. The move creates more room between the two front passengers.

The one quirk about the interior is more a matter of packaging than a complaint. There's a lot of space between the two front passengers. Ram includes a massive center console, which includes nicely placed USB and smart-card (SC) readers, to keep them hidden.

In fact, there are lots of storage nooks and crannies all around the Ram: under the floor storage, small dash and door cubbies to hold anything and everything.

The new instrument cluster comes with lots of information--perhaps too much--but still, it's nicely laid out and looks good.

The biggest improvement arrives with the new UConnect system. It's displayed on a 8.4-inch color touch screen that seems to be able to do more than most laptop computers. It plays your music, answers your phone and provides you with easy to follow turn-by-turn directions, all of which can be operated by voice. Got an app? It'll play that too.

Research the Ram 1500
Ram 1500 Photos & Information
Ram 1500 Specs
Ram 1500 Local Dealer Price Quote
Final Take

Final Take

Too often when the next generation of any vehicle arrives, it acts more like a politician than a vehicle. It over promises and under delivers and just can't manage the heavy lifting the job requires.

But the Ram is one party I can get behind. It manages to impress without boasting. It has become the pickup you'd like to drive on the roads, especially when you aren't pulling a load and just have to use it for transportation. All of the changes are for the better inside and out.

Ram is setting new benchmarks that its rivals will have trouble matching. There are perennial feuds between truck makers over towing and payload capacities. One company waits for the other to announce their new numbers, and then issues a press release beating the rival's towing numbers. Ram, though, is setting a standard for total integration and packaging--the best balanced truck on the market for on-road driving comfort and performance and work performance when you have to drive where there are no roads yet because the guys in the trucks are building them. That's leadership we should all admire.

Research the Ram 1500
Ram 1500 Photos & Information
Ram 1500 Specs
Ram 1500 Local Dealer Price Quote