In 1900, the Dodge brothers, Horace and John, started making automotive parts for various fledgling operations around their native Michigan. By 1914, the industrious brothers — now shown in various high-performance Dodge car ads — had created a car of their own and soon became the second most popular brand in America. Unfortunately, their run was short-lived, as both brothers passed away in 1920 and the company bearing their name weathered several economic peaks and valleys before eventually becoming the largest part of Chrysler, which is now FCA.
After the third time that the government stepped in to bail out Chrysler in 2009, Dodge separated its entire truck lineup into what we now know as the Ram brand. Previously a model or trim level on various trucks, Ram pickups have become America’s third best-selling vehicle, trailing only the pickups from Ford and Chevrolet. Dodge President Fred Diaz said at that time, “Ram trucks will always and forever be Dodges.”
On the streets of America today, many drivers — even owners — still refer to Ram trucks as Dodges. In three early encounters with current Ram owners during our Ram Limited’s extended holiday visit, each asked how I liked the new Dodge pickup. It’s pretty hard to dispel all of the history and marketing of those Dodge boys.
At a time when automakers are seriously reviewing their naming decisions, particularly those luxury brands that opted for alpha-numeric titles and even their customers can’t identify what they are driving — we’re talking about you Lincoln, Acura and Cadillac — Dodge’s Ram decision will always be somewhat controversial, especially since you go to the same dealer to buy both the Ram and a Dodge.
Naming peculiarities aside, the Ram series has made huge strides against its larger competitors. Adding models and trim levels onto existing platforms continues to accelerate in 2018, just as a new Ram design is supposed to debut this year. Aside from our premium level Limited model, which in Tungsten trim is the most lavish pickup that Dodge/Ram has ever built, the brand also has added the Hydro-Blue Special Edition on 22-inch chrome wheels, the Sublime Green Sport (another hot and famous Dodge paint scheme from the past) and the Night trim model with particular sporting items, including a tuned exhaust.
Also in the lineup are a Harvest trim work truck, a unique Southfork truck (remember the “Dallas” TV show?) with two-tone paint, two-tone leather and more unique interior features, as well as the pending Rebel TRX off-road pickup, which will share the Hellcat V-8 that has been popular in Dodge’s performance cars.
Key to the Ram’s success in the showroom has been how FCA has engineered user-friendly interiors into what used to be considered a work-first vehicle. “Touch-points” that users interface with — all of the controls, switches, buttons and screens — all have a feel and fluidity that help the Ram brand stand out against its rivals. From the clear graphics and eye-friendly displays to the subtle buttons where your fingers work best on the steering wheel, seat or dash, the Ram Limited provides reassurance that this is more than just a tow, haul and cargo-carrying machine.
While still lacking the ease of an access bumper like a GM pickup, the Ram’s rear Rambox feature — locking, lighted cargo boxes atop the rear fenders — one-ups the competition. During several weeks of frigid Maine winter, the Ram’s heated steering wheel and impressive distance remote starting capabilities proved to be a boon to surviving the unrelenting cold.
Limited trim brings upgraded U-connect system with 4C Android and Apple capability, a power sunroof and a power rear window, brushed metal accents inside plus crisply detailed stitching on the leather door panels and seats, saddlebag-like rear-seat pockets (including metal buckles), a suede headliner, plus special exterior trim treatments including front grille and running boards. Electronics include front and rear parking assist, automatic braking assist, blind-spot detection, yet a normal cruise control system was in place instead of an expected dynamic cruise setup. Options include four-corner air suspension, anti-spin rear differential and trailer mirrors.
Base pricing for a Ram regular cab pickup begins at $27,000. The Limited Crew Cab with four-wheel drive (including auto-mode 4WD) is essentially more than double that number, starting at $56,795, with 395 horses of Hemi-engine power. The Crew Cab can tow up to 8,170 pounds, and EPA mileage estimates are 15/22 mpg.
With sales rising and pickups more popular than ever, Ram is capitalizing on its subtle virtues and attractive stance to make FCA relevant in a market where Dodge isn’t the player that it used to be. Like the various parts the Dodge boys used to make, the current crop of their descendent trucks covers a lot of the pickup segment.