A real bare bones work truck with a Hemi
Pickups used to be for farmers, builders and such, tradesmen if you will. That was before we all decided we need pickups just to drive around town taller than the rest of the world and to haul sod, peat moss and soccer players on weekends.
Well Chrysler, under the guise of its truck brand, Ram, thought tradesmen needed a good solid low-cost truck. Voila! The 2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman 4X4 in basic white, the most popular color for vehicles in the U.S. market.
This is a bare bones workers truck with standard cab and comes with a 4.7-liter, 310-horse V8. Base price for a 2-wheel drive standard cab pickup, with RamBox cargo system is $22,125. An even more basic model without the RamBox system, which entails two giant toolbox bins built into each side of the cargo bed, is $21,125 and that’s with a 6-foot 4-inch bed that’ll hold a sheet of plywood.
The Ram will carry a payload of 1,385 pounds and pull 7,700 lbs. of trailer and cargo behind it. But naturally my white test truck with its black grille and bumpers added quite a bit to take it from its 4×4 base price of $25,836, all the way up to $32,545 … not so bare bones.
The biggest chunk of that was the $1,310 to add a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that cranks 383 horsepower and adds heavy-duty transmission oil and engine coolers. The test truck also added $1,295 for the RamBox system and then there were a load of other good items to help with towing and trailering, including an anti-spin rear axle to give the four-wheeling truck even better traction.
Here’s my main concern though. At $32 grand and change the truck has none of the basic power equipment that even $15,000 economy subcompacts offer. No power windows (not that I can’t crank windows), no power door locks and no power mirrors.
Really, it’s that final one that hurts in a big pickup where you’ll have to walk around to the passenger’s side just to adjust your mirror. Power mirrors are a safety feature, especially if you’re a tradesman backing your truck on a construction site.
I’d also expect a compass in the truck. Chrysler and Dodge (which is what Ram used to be known as) were among the earliest makes to include a compass in the mirror. But there is none here, which seems cheap, even on a low-cost truck.
That rant aside, the Ram is a strong and useful truck that drives well in all respects. The Hemi V8 is a blast, literally. It’ll crank the truck up to highway speeds in a flash. You feel like you’re in a very tall muscle car.
This 6-speed automatic transmission is smooth and shifts effortlessly too, like a fine sedan. Note that for 2013 a new Ram is due out and will come with a torque-laden 3.6-liter V6 standard, but with a new 8-speed automatic. A preliminary test drive of that recently showed it to be excellent for most truckers’ needs and felt downright luxurious.
Note too that the Tradesman is out of the lineup for 2013 as the new model rolls out. So if you’re in need a work truck, snag one of the 2012s while there are still a few on the lots.
Ram’s power rack and pinion steering is fairly precise for a big pickup, delivering decent road feel and relatively quick steering with only a bit of play in the wheel. There is stability control and four-wheel disc brakes too, very useful when pulling a trailer.
I found the ride mostly fine, but on uneven roads, or dirt roads, there is the usual rear-end truck bounce. Ram uses a coil spring rear suspension with no leaf springs, so a bit different from many pickups. That helps it on most streets, but not rougher surfaces. There also was a creaking noise in the rear of the test truck from time to time.
Gas mileage is nothing special, although the V6 next year is supposed to up the ante for pickup mileage. This one is rated 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. I got 16.4 mpg in about 70% highway driving.
The test truck features the usual macho big grille and slightly lowered fenders of previous Rams. The tradesman package also adds 17-inch steel styled painted wheels a spray-in bedliner and Class IV receiver hitch. There are tow hooks and a skid plate for when you take it into the field, plus a trailer brake control group that adds an instrument cluster with display screen, tire pressure monitor, trailer brake control and information center).
Oddly, even though there’s no power nuthin’, a $750 ST package adds a cloth 40/20/40 bench seat, cruise control and 1-year of Sirius XM satellite radio service. That bench seat features a large fold down armrest with massive storage inside, big enough to hold a laptop, making this a real work truck for contractors and such.
I like the big knobs and buttons inside too because they are easy to see and use, even in winter when many of us northerners, including macho outdoorsmen, are wearing gloves. Guys and gals who like their coffee and maybe a can or two of energy drink on a long haul also will appreciate the huge 3 cupholder tray that folds down from the dash too.
There are automatic lights here and a tilt steering wheel, plus a big shift knob that sticks out of the steering column. Look for that to disappear in the 2013 models, where a round knob on the dash will allow you to shift gears and free up a little space in front of the dash. Four-wheel drive will still work on a similar knob too.
The cloth seats are generally comfortable to sit in, with mild contouring. But shorter legged drivers will find the bottom seat cushion too deep. My advice, if you’re short, is wait a bit as the seats in the 2013 are more proportionally correct for us shorties.
From a working standpoint the Ram is a winner, plus I like the sprayed in bedliner, which gives the truck a finished look. Plus those RamBox tool and storage boxes along the bed’s sides are extremely useful. And get this, in the powered up units for 2013 those boxes will lock with a pushed button on the keyfob, just like the doors. How cool is that?The 2012 Ram Tradesman is a good basic workman’s truck, but the 2013 Ram is going to be a whole lot nicer … if nice is what you’re after in a big ol’ truck!
FAST Stats: 2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman 4X4
Hits: Super acceleration and pulling power, smooth 6-speed automatic transmission and good handling for big pickup. Has 4WD, macho looks and inside includes big knobs, 3 cupholders and giant fold-down armrest that can hold a laptop.
Misses: No power mirrors, windows or door locks and no compass at $32 grand, even tradesmen would like those. Still has bouncy truck ride on rough surface and this one is so tall it needs running boards. Also, bottom seat cushion is deep, so not great for short-legged drivers.
Made in: Saltillo, Mexico
Engine: 4.7-liter V8, 310 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Tow: 7,700 lbs
Payload: 1,385 lbs.
Base Price: $25,835
Dealer’s Price: N.A.
5.7-liter HEMI V8 (HD transmission oil cooler and engine cooling), $1,310
RamBox cargo system, $1,295
Tradesman package (17-inch steel styled painted wheels, spray-in bedliner, Class IV receiver hitch), $785
Protection group (tow hooks, transfer case skid plate), $150
Trailer brake control group (instrument cluster w/display screen, tire pressure monitor, trailer brake control, vehicle information center), $300
ST equipment group (cloth 40/20/40 bench seat, speed control, 1-year Sirius XM satellite radio), $750
3.92 rear axle ratio, $50
Anti-spin differential rear axle, $325
Rear sliding window, $140
Uconnect voice command w/Bluetooth, auto-dimming rearview mirror, $360
OWL on/off-road tires, $250
Test vehicle: $32,545
Sources: Ram, www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: By Mark Savage