Entering the third month of public restrictions due to COVID-19, and the warmer months of early summer when everyone longs to be out and about, my travels reveal a multitude of vehicles wearing registration tags other than the state of Maine’s.
This is actually normal — we are, after all, touting that we are Vacationland on these plates, embracing visitors as the lifeblood of our economy. Driving a new auto manufacturer’s vehicle each week, all wearing a plate based on the state of business origin, it has been common through the many years to often earn a second glance from drivers who otherwise associate “out-of-staters” with license plates “from away.”
As many Mainers know, this is frequently not reality. The “stink-eye” glances, and sometimes the less than cordial hand gestures, just come with the territory of operating a work vehicle that bares other than Maine plates. Thus far, I have witnessed at least two drivers of these business trucks who have gone to the point of having signage made for their tailgates stating, “I’m a Mainer, driving a work truck from, fill-in-the-blank.”
An unfortunate statement of our times, which should not be necessary.
Fortunately, the logo on the tailgate of this week’s vehicle, the latest Ram 1500 in premium Laramie trim, signals a happier message to drivers. After decades of playing third string to Ford and Chevy, the FCA-built Ram has clawed its way to the top of the segment in refinement, ride compliance, cabin presentation and overall “feel.”
Powered by the venerable 5.7-liter 395-hp Hemi V-8 engine, now with variable valve-timing, stop-start and E-torque assist, the Ram uses an eight-speed automatic to seamlessly get up and down the road. Throttle tip-in and mid-range response — the subtleties that you only notice when they don’t work as expected — are all engineered to perfection here, while auto-mode 4WD in the electronic transfer case adds another dimension to the Ram’s capabilities.
Coil springs out back provide a level of ride compliance that rivals just can’t match, giving the Ram the best performing chassis in the segment. It is easy to see why so many consumers have shifted to the latest pickups for everyday use — pickup truck sales are the best-selling category this year, as they just work so much better than ever before.
This is ever more apparent inside, where the Laramie’s premium décor is as nice as any Mercedes or Audi. Fine leather accents abound, touch-points are soft surfaces, controls are fluidly accessed, plus a giant touch-screen populates the dash to handle entertainment, information and climate functions, all with redundant and convenient duplicate knobs and buttons for the most-used requests. There is a certain irony that truck-makers, the former workhorse vehicles of the industry, are building better cabins than too many carmakers.
Painted Granite Crystal Metallic, and swathed in black everywhere else — wheels, trim, badges, plus sport hood with the Night Edition package — the Ram uses power-running boards to streamline egress and ingress, as well as a plethora of electronic driving aids to increase the luxury level persona. Laramie trim Level No. 2, $4,895, also brings a 19-speaker Harmon-Kardon stereo system, heated second row leather seating, 4G LTE service, front and rear ParkSense systems (with automatic braking), plus a remote tailgate release.
The Laramie also joins the tailgate wars with a dual-mode multifunction setup that buyers first witnessed from Honda’s Ridgeline several years ago. Click the top lever in the handle pocket and the whole tailgate lowers, spring assisted of course, like a conventional metal gate. Depress the lower lever in the pocket and the gate splits and opens like two barn doors, letting you walk right up to the bumper and access your cargo. Add the fender-mounted RamBox cargo system, brilliant, and the Ram presents two clever pickup features that rivals are lacking.
Laramie 4X4 trim starts at $46,470. Added gear like the tri-fold hard tonneau cover, 33-gallon fuel tank, dual-pane sunroof, U-Connect Navigation, 3.92 rear axle ratio, plus other noted option packages, zoomed the retail price to $68,815. EPA estimates are 17/22/19 mpg, with a realized 18.5 mpg.
Like recent Ford and Chevy pickups that visited, the Ram runs easily on the highway; if you don’t use cruise control, you’ll very much be speeding. Hushed, smooth and with ample power in reserve, it is too easy to add scofflaw to your resume. The only real beef with the Ram was the same dynamic cruise sensors that save your license could be quicker to resume your selected pace after easing around the obstacles that lower your speed.
Graceful, comfortable, almost plush, the Ram Laramie Crew Cab is an admirable edition of the vehicle that Mainers value most. Just don’t make any assumptions about the driver because of the license plates.