The 2016 Ram 1500 will win over full-size truck buyers looking for a diesel offering and an opulent interior, but safety scores need improvement.
It's hard to go wrong when choosing a full-size pickup. The Ram 1500 competes with an all-new, lightened Ford F-150, a recently redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, a 2-year-old Toyota Tundra, and an all-new Nissan Titan. There is not a dog among them, yet the Ram stands out with comfortable cabins, a smooth ride, and excellent fuel economy from diesel and V-6 engines with 8-speed transmissions.
The Ram is easily distinguished from the others with its Freightliner looks. Its interior looks fantastic and features a big screen and controls that make it among the most intuitive to operate. We like the Laramie Longhorn, with its Southwestern leather and burl walnut.
There are few changes for the 2016 model year. The 2016 Ram 1500 lineup gets two new models: a Ram Rebel off-road model, and a Ram Laramie Limited luxury liner.
The 3.6-liter V-6 is the base engine in the Ram 1500. Rated at 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, it has enough power for hauling and is EPA-rated 17 mpg city, 25 highway, 19 combined or 18 mpg city on HFE models, making it the most efficient pickup in its class. The 8-speed automatic works well with this engine. To enhance fuel efficiency, the Ram has a lightweight frame that uses high-strength steel, aerodynamic grille shutters, low-rolling-resistance tires, pulse-width modulation for the alternator and power accessories, and a thermal management system. Its tow ratings are a few hundred pounds less than that of the V-6 versions of the Ford F-150, GMC Sierra, and Chevy Silverado, but if you are doing a lot of towing you are likely looking at the 5.7-liter V-8.
The 5.7-liter V-8 generates 395 hp and 407 lb-ft. Known as the "Hemi" for its hemispherical combustion chambers, the V-8 is the best choice for towing and it offers the quickest acceleration performance.
The 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 produces 420 lb-ft of torque and is coupled to the 8-speed automatic. Offered in a range of models, it's priced nearly $3,000 higher than a similarly equipped Ram with a Hemi V-8, but fuel economy of an EPA-rated 21/29/24 mpg is much higher.
Four-wheel drive is available on every model, either part-time or full-time. Tow ratings are shy of the Ford and GM trucks: maximum capacity stands at 10,650 pounds, while GM trucks can hit 11,700 pounds and the F-150 touts 12,200 pounds. Tow ratings change constantly, however, and are as much about lawyers and corporate culture as they are about real capability. If your trailer is anywhere near those upper limits, consider a Ram Heavy Duty or its competitors.
Ride quality may be the smoothest in the class. The electric power steering does not offer much feedback. The Ram's optional air suspension is nice around town, but the feature that lowers the truck at speed in the name of fuel savings can make the ride stiff on the highway. Still, we appreciate its automatic load-leveling, especially when towing, and the key-fob button that lets you lower the truck's rear for easier loading and unloading. The truck can also be raised for more ground clearance or lowered fully when stopped to make it easier for passengers to get in and out.
Safety features remain strong, with airbags, stability control with a trailer-sway system, and hill-start assist. A rearview camera is available on all versions; rear parking sensors can be ordered on all but the regular-cab trucks, and front parking sensors are an option. The Ram 1500 is rated at four stars overall by the NHTSA, but the IIHS still calls its roof strength and small-overlap crash protection "Marginal."
A big 8.4-inch touchscreen is an option that incorporates Uconnect Access, which tethers the truck to Sprint 3G data service, adding on a host of features including voice recognition, apps, and wi-fi hotspot capability.
The navigation system offers voice-activated features, 3-D terrain imagery, lane guidance, fuel prices, weather reports, sports scores, movie information through Sirius Travel Link. There's also a 7.0-inch configurable gauge cluster available that replaces a conventional gauge cluster and can quickly communicate information with loads of customization and up to three readouts at a time. For example, the driver might configure the transmission temperature gauge to be in the foreground when towing. An auxiliary port is provided, along with ports for USB and SD cards and iPod control via USB. Rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, and a power-sliding rear window with defrost are available.
The RamBox bed is a big decision. It can be locked or unlocked with the rest of the vehicle. A factory spray-in bedliner is available. An integrated gooseneck hitch is also available.
In it's most popular configuration—5.7-liter V-8, four-wheel drive, and an 8-speed automatic—the Ram 1500 manages 15/21/17 mpg.