2009 Dodge Ram – Click above for high-res image gallery

Many consider the Dodge Aries K and Dodge Caravan the most important Chryslers of the past 30 years. We agree those two vehicles were a huge part of keeping the Pentastar in business, but we'd add the 1994 Dodge Ram to the list, as well. Dodge wasn't even competitive in the lucrative full-size truck market until the bold-faced '94 model hit dealerships, and Chrysler's light-duty pickup has held on to 3rd place in truck sales ever since. The Ram constantly finished in the money until the all-new Toyota Tundra hit the scene. Toyota's first serious try at a full-size pickup, coupled with the hot-selling Tacoma, outsold the Ram and Dakota combined for the first time in 2008.

Luckily for Team Pentastar, Dodge had an answer to the Tundra waiting in the wings. The 2009 Dodge Ram brings more power, more refinement and plenty of gadgets to the pickup truck party. The Ram looks like a real man's truck, with a forward-leaning front grille that's as big as a Toyota Yaris, and a unique coil spring suspension that enables this 5,000 pound truck to drive more like a sedan on regular roads than a rough-and-tumble work truck. There is no question that the 2009 Dodge Ram is far better than the model it replaces, but does it have what it takes to compete with the Tundra, Chevy Silverado and Ford F-150? We took a loaded Laramie Quad Cab into the Autoblog Garage to find out.

All photos Copyright © 2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Our 2009 Dodge Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4x2 in Deep Water Blue Pearl Coat came loaded with a $44,140 price tag. It came equipped with four full doors, leather seats, navigation, moon roof, and the innovative RamBox among its many options. The most expensive option was the crew cab configuration itself, which allows seating for five very full-sized adults.

Before we go any further, we want you to know that we didn't tow anything with our Ram, and the closest we got to testing payload was a set of golf clubs, six folding chairs and a wood table. We did, however, test the Ram as an everyday driver, keeping a keen eye on comfort, performance and style.

The '94 Dodge Ram carved its niche in the pickup truck market with big rig styling. For 2009, the exterior design gets aggressive and more sophisticated at the same time. Looking at the Ram head-on is like staring down the class bully after tossing your chocolate milk at him. Our Laramie tester came with a standard chrome bumper to match the massive chrome cross-hair grille. Lording over the grille is the largest Ram's head to ever take the lead on a Dodge pickup. The Ram's new hood is more shapely than the model it replaces, too, with a large power dome framing up that forward leaning grille and a second scoop that adds more space for the HEMI V8 below. The Ram's headlamps are stamped into sheetmetal that flows into the bulging front wheel wells, adding to an already athletic appearance.

The 2009 Ram also adds an industry first optional storage space on each side of the bed. Dodge calls this clever storage space RamBox, and it's lockable, weather-proof and large enough to fit a set of golf clubs. RamBox is a nifty feature, but we're guessing it won't be as popular as we originally thought. First off, it costs $1,895, which is a steep price to pay for covered storage. The RamBox also takes up the usable bed space underneath the rails. That may not be a big deal for the Ram owner that doesn't use his or her truck for work, but many use every square inch of their truck bed.

Dodge engineers did a great job of making their bread and butter pickup truck look as good or better than any full-size truck on the market. It's on the inside, though, where the new Ram really shines. The Ram bucks Chrysler's trend of 'cheaper is better' interior design with high quality materials, well thought-out ergonomics and seats fit for a king. A big and tall king. Stepping into the Ram for the first time, we were shocked at how well put together this pickup truck really is. Could this interior possibly come from the same company that also gave us the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Caliber? The dash materials are soft and supple, even besting the look and feel of competitors like the Ford F-150.

As good as the Ram interior is, it's not without its drawbacks. For one, Ford out-packaged the new Ram by adding a completely flat floor in front of the F-150's second row of seats. The Ram makes due with lumpier, more traditional flooring that inhibits the ability to haul large objects away from the elements. Getting into our Laramie tester was a challenge, too. Without a sidestep, we had to leverage the Ram's steering wheel for entry. The sidestep is available as an option, so we suggest checking that box if you're in the market for a new Ram. The Ram also falls behind with a smallish navigation screen that's dwarfed by some of the new screens nestled in the center stacks of the competition. The nav system is intuitive to use, however, so function counts for something.

Chrysler marketing is known for its clever naming schemes like RamBox and Sto 'N Go. For the new Ram, we'd like to suggest Sho N' Go because it looks damn good and, thanks to a greatly improved HEMI V8, it goes pretty well, too. The 5.7L HEMI engine gains 45 horsepower for 2009, bumping the power quotient to 390 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. The power was increased through the use of stronger cylinder heads and variable valve timing. We were thrilled with the Ram's straight-line acceleration, and the roar of the legendary HEMI caused us to test its limits often. The Ram's five-speed automatic falls one cog short of the competition, but we really didn't want for an extra gear. The automatic provided smooth, predictable shifts, and when pushed hard cut through gears plenty fast enough for any sporty pickup. The 5.7L V8 also has Chrysler's MDS system, which shuts off four cylinders at highway speeds. The system is pretty aggressive and the fuel-saving tech kicked in at speeds of up to 75 miles-per-hour.

Dodge takes pride in the fact that its Ram is faster than the domestic competition. Dodge even claims better fuel economy when towing 5,000 pounds while still reaching 60 mph in less time. The Ram doesn't keep up with Ford and Chevy in one category, though: towing. The Ram can haul 9,100 lbs in its strongest configuration, which is over 1,000 pounds less than the competition. The Ram also falls far short of the F-150 in payload with an 1,850 lb capacity that falls far short of Ford's 3,030 lb capacity.

The culprit for the deficiency in capability is, in part, the Ram's unique multi-link coil spring suspension. The single stage suspension setup was chosen by Dodge to give the new Ram superior ride and handling on the road. On that front, we say "Mission accomplished." The Ram drives like a well-heeled wagon, soaking up bumps in the road and delivering a glassy-smooth ride reminiscent of a Lincoln Town Car. Driving the Ram is almost like playing a racing game with the rumble function turned off; it's gaming room smooth. That's great for the casual truck driver that just wants something big, bedded and cozy. But we're guessing the hard-core truck buyer who makes money with his pickup would prefer a stronger suspension to a smoother ride.

The 2009 Dodge Ram is still a very strong entry from the guys and gals in Auburn Hills. It looks great, performs like a track car on growth hormones and drives like a well mannered SUV. While it appears the new Ram was developed more for the boat-towing, camper-hauling types, we don't think this Dodge would be out of place on a construction site. It doesn't have the job-site credentials of the Silverado or F-150, but you should probably be looking at heavy duty pickups if you're regularly towing more than 9,100 lbs, and Dodge has a new heavy duty 2500 on the way. Now, if we can just get the team responsible for the Ram's interior to give a makeover to the rest of Chrysler's lineup, Team Pentastar may be on to something.

All photos Copyright © 2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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