The newest Ram pickup meets the retro-modern Little Guy Max travel trailer for a trek among the tall pines in Oregon
The experts say that we are witnessing the end of the great American sedan. They make a pretty good case.
It was recently announced that Ford would cease production of the Fusion, as well as the Taurus, and that GM was laying off as many as 1,500 workers at its Ohio plant due to slow sales of its Cruze family sedan. Moreover, the entire industry is experiencing slumping sedan sales compared to just a few years ago. What happened to the dream of owning a big family car with four doors, a cushy ride and V-8 power? Could it really be that the sedan is dying a slow death right before our eyes?
We submit to you that it is not. It has merely morphed into a Crew Cab pickup.
Think about it. Today’s trucks are everything yesterday’s cars were. They’re roomy, smooth, comfortable and still offer V-8 power. And they have the added benefit of versatility. Your father’s Oldsmobile may have been great on road trips, but it couldn’t haul a ton of gravel or tow a 12,000-plus-pound trailer. The numbers don’t lie; Ford’s F-150 has been America’s number-one selling truck for 40 consecutive years, and in 2017 it was the best-selling vehicle in the world.
These facts are not lost on Ford’s competi-tors, who have been trying to unseat the F-150
for decades. The latest salvo comes in the form of the 2019 Ram 1500, which has been completely redesigned. We’re cautious to use the words “all-new” because the engine choices and eight-speed transmission aren’t. But just about everything else is, and the result is the lightest, strongest, best-riding, roomiest and, when thusly equipped, most luxurious Ram yet.
With all of these improvements in mind, we were anxious to get our hands on a 2019 model for a full test. Fiat Chrysler America (FCA) came through with a Delmonico Red Ram 1500 Crew Cab Big Horn 4×4, which we paired with a 2019 Little Guy Max travel trailer from Liberty Outdoors. Admittedly, this lightweight teardrop wouldn’t pose much of a challenge for the Ram from a towing standpoint, but considering we couldn’t be sure what truck FCA would provide for our testing (new trucks are always in short supply for media use), we thought it wise to stay conservative from a weight standpoint. Besides that, the latest truck paired with a retro-style trailer just seems like a good fit, doesn’t it?
Ever since Ford introduced its all-aluminum F-150, weight reduction and overall efficiency have become the hot buttons for truck manufacturers. And though FCA has yet to buy into all-alloy construction — from either monetary or philosophical standpoints — it did focus on lightening the 2019 Ram 1500 in every way possible.
FCA claims a reduction of nearly 250 pounds compared to the previous model, a full 100 pounds of which is credited to a new frame made from 98 percent high-strength steel. The claimed added strength and rigidity of the frame, combined with strategic use of aluminum and composite materials throughout, enabled an increase in maximum payload to 2,300 pounds and a maximum tow rating of 12,750 pounds, depending on options. The test truck was rated to tow 8,220 pounds.
You don’t have to be an engineer to notice the 2019’s sleek new appearance, and although a revamp was indeed due, much of the design was influenced by aerodynamic goals. As a result, the new truck is the most aerodynamic in its segment, according to FCA, with a drag coefficient of .357, a 9 percent improvement over the outgoing model. The front fascia is more rounded than before and employs an active grille shutter system, which automatically closes off the grille to airflow when cooling isn’t needed. In addition, a standard active front air dam automatically extends downward 2.5 inches at 35 mph to smooth airflow. Trucks with the optional air suspension, like the test truck, cheat the wind by lowering the overall ride height by 0.6 inches.
Moreover, the truck’s entire silhouette has changed. A higher hood directs air away from the wiper area, and a venturi roof design routes air back to the new rear spoiler and taller bed rails to ease turbulence behind the cab. Driving the truck solo on the highway, wind noise was almost nonexistent.
The test truck was well equipped for our intended use with the Trailer Tow Group Package (Class IV receiver, side-view tow mirrors with manual extension, and supplemental signals/courtesy lamps, $545), the Premium LED Lighting Group (LED fog lamps, tail lamps and automatic reflector headlamps) and the Level 2 equipment group, which includes, among other things, remote start, which is incorporated into the key fob, and front and rear ParkSense parking sensors, which make negotiating tight spaces infinitely easier.
A Sport Appearance Package added body-colored door handles, bumpers and grille for $995. If we could order this truck for ourselves, however, we would skip this latter package and instead go for the Blind-Spot with Cross Path and Trailer Detection system, which is especially helpful on crowded highways and city streets. At $595, it’s a bargain.
As we entered the cab, the first impression was that the cabin is larger, and it is. Cab length was stretched 4 inches, which was most noticeable behind the test Crew Cab’s front seats. Six-plus-footers could easily stretch out without their knees touching the seat backs, and the rear floor is now completely flat, which allows larger items (like our hard camera cases) to be stored inside. Also welcome are the integrated D-rings to secure your load, and one Ram Bin in-floor storage compartment on either side.
Up front, the redesigned center console offers 12 storage combinations. In fact, FCA claims that the new Ram has 151 liters of interior storage volume, nearly 100 percent more than its nearest competitor. The instrument panel is new, as is the center stack, which comes standard with a 5-inch touch-screen display, available 8.4-inch display or the first application of Uconnect 4C Navigation on a 12-inch, fully configurable touchscreen.
Increased comfort and an overall reduction in Noise Vibration and Harshness (NVH) were achieved in many levels. Standard Frequency Response Damping (FRD) shock absorbers incorporate an internal valve that continually adjusts damping according to road inputs. During hard cornering, for example, the valve closes for greater stability; on rough roads, it opens for softer damping and enhanced ride comfort. Ride was exemplary, both solo and while towing.
Keeping interior noise at a minimum required new thinking as well. New electronically controlled Active Tuned Mass Modules (active vibration dampers mounted to the frame) work in concert with an interior Active Noise Cancellation System on 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 models to maintain interior noise levels as low as 67.1 decibels, making this the quietest Ram ever. If the goal was to attract customers that are used to the interior isolation of a high-end sedan, then FCA’s engineers hit the mark. The Hemi’s V-8 thrum could be heard in the background while cruising but was never intrusive. Thankfully, the dual-exhaust system (which shed 9 pounds for 2019) still allows the engine’s muscular roar to come through under full throttle.
With 395 horsepower on tap, the Hemi had no trouble pulling the Little Guy Max, and reaching 60 mph at the end of a freeway on-ramp posed no challenge. In fact, driving the new Ram was pretty much what we expected, though the brake system came as a pleasant surprise. First of all, it is very powerful; FCA fitted front rotors that measure 14.9 inches front, 14.8 inches rear. The larger brakes make modulation so much easier during braking — when you need more stopping power, just press the pedal harder, and the brakes oblige. There are no dead spots anywhere in the pedal travel, and we never detected a trace of fade.
The other surprise was the emergency-brake pedal, or rather, the absence of one. The 2019 Ram is equipped with an electric emergency brake activated by a pull-on/push-off handle located in the general proximity of where the brake release would be.
To begin the tow test, we picked up our Little Guy Max trailer from B.Young RV in Portland, Oregon. Liberty Outdoors spec’d out a model loaded with just about every option, including a 100-watt Zamp solar panel ($653), electric Smart Jack upgrade ($290), gorgeous solid walnut cabinetry ($1,015) and the Rough Rider package ($573), featuring 15-inch aluminum wheels with Kenda off-road tires and 3.5-inch suspension lift. The professionals at B.Young then set up the test truck and trailer with the correct weight-distributing equipment, and we were off to enjoy the abundance of beauty that lies just outside Portland.
Arriving at our campsite, we were eager to start enjoying the Max. One of the nice things about a smaller trailer is the quick setup. After we lowered the A-frame jack, it was simply a matter of deploying the wide BAL stabilizing jacks on all four corners and unpacking. The Max offers a surprising amount of exterior storage, courtesy of a pass-through compartment at the rear that measures 35 cubic feet. It isn’t very tall, but it is deep, wide and well finished — we can’t imagine a small family being able to fill it up on most trips.
Our meager supplies for the weekend looked like a suitcase inside a shipping container.
Liberty Outdoors has done a commendable job removing sacrifice from the small-trailer equation. The Max’s patio area offers exterior speakers, and even a TV mount with nearby HDMI, coax and 120-volt AC/USB outlets, so you can enjoy the outdoors while watching your favorite show or playing video games. The 6-foot, 3-inch-wide Thule Crown awning deploys manually and offers integrated LED-strip lighting, just like the big boys. It’s quick and easy to crank out, but removing the crank handle from the socket proved fussy at times.
What we’d like to see
A different bathroom-door option — perhaps a wooden one to match the cabinetry? A semitransparent shower door seems out of place in the dining and kitchen area.
Perhaps our favorite part about setting up the Max is opening all the windows. It seems that a lot of manufacturers have forgotten that the point of being in the outdoors is to experience it, and the Max’s windows — every single one — open wide to let the sweet breeze drift through. As an added benefit, each window features an integrated screen and night shade. We loved sitting at the front dinette with all the windows open, reading a book and listening to the rush of the tall pines outside.
If TV is more your thing, a 24-inch Furrion HD flat-screen rises out of the front console on an electric lift at the touch of a button. The Max also comes with a Furrion head unit inside the doorway that features DVD, CD, USB and Bluetooth compatibility, as well as an auxiliary port and remote control. The dinette area offers storage nooks and a shelf above, as well as a large drawer underneath the curbside bench for larger items like pillows or blankets. The table quickly folds down to make a 32-by-76-inch bed.
Right next to the dinette on the street side is a wet bath that is large enough for its intended purpose and nicely equipped with a waterproof TP dispenser, showerhead with an on/off valve and a textile shower caddy for shampoo, soap and other items. The area works well and is a great alternative when there are no bathrooms nearby, but limited holding-tank capacity means you’ll have to keep visits short unless you have sewer hookups at your site. Also, we’d like an alternative to the residential-style frosted entry door; it seems out of place and doesn’t offer adequate privacy.
The street-side kitchen is well conceived and thoughtfully designed. The large stainless-steel sink features a cutting-board cover, and a stainless-steel two-burner stove with electric ignition is located on the right. Tons of storage is afforded by overhead cabinets, a floor-to-ceiling pantry with adjustable shelves, and three large drawers beneath the cooktop, one underneath the stainless-steel-clad Dometic refrigerator. There is more than enough storage for extended stays, something you don’t usually find in a small trailer.
Directly across from the pantry is a tall closet with room for hanging clothes as well as storing shoes and other items, and all the way to the back is the cozy sleeping area. Here again, the Max surprises with a 60-by-80-inch queen bed, and an entertainment center at the foot of the bed with another 24-inch Furrion TV and more storage cubbies. At the other end is a window, above which are more open storage and reading lights. Another huge window arcs across the bed; on one warm evening, we opened it to enjoy the breeze and look up at the Douglas firs and stars above. It was a delightful way to close out a day of adventure.
The days of big V-8 sedans may be over, but then again, so is the anxiety involved with pulling a large trailer with one. This author can recall family trips involving a Dodge Polara and an Aristocrat Land Liner that, in retrospect, was probably too heavy for the Dodge to pull (in fairness to my dad, there were no towing guides back then). Now, more than 40 years later, the Ram 1500 Crew Cab takes the place of the family sedan, offering an effortless, trouble-free towing experience, and the Little Guy Max reminds of the good ol’ days yet comforts with modern amenities. Progress is good.