The Ram 1500 is a Hemi-Powered Toolbox Missing Just One Thing

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There’s a common thread running through most pickup reviews—not just ours, I’ll note—and it’s that we tend to barely scratch the surface of what these trucks are capable of doing. For every Ram 3500 dually adventure that involves lugging an old van cross-country, there are five stories by someone like me, who uses a newer, shinier and even more capable version of that truck to cart home a relatively dinky amount of cargo.

When I wrangled this 2020 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 for a week, I had a different sort of mission in mind: Like seemingly every American with a tenth of an acre of weedy lawn to spare and a lot of extra time on their hands these days, I’ve decided to plant a garden. (This newfound national horticultural impulse is reminiscent of the so-called Victory Gardens of WWII; in the same way that we’re quick to compare the medical supply-manufacturing efforts of automakers to Detroit’s wartime Arsenal of Democracy effort, I think we’re all looking for some way to create purpose and meaning in the midst of a crisis in which we’re told to stay at home and do nothing. But I digress.)

We usually think of pickup capability in terms of towing, because that’s where the biggest numbers are found. But what about other facets of capability, like hauling? That’s what I aimed to test out this time around.

Ram

Anyway, I wasn’t going to be using this 3.92 rear axle ratio-equipped truck to tow anything like its 11,220-pound max trailer weight rating, but I did need to pick up a lot of oddly shaped supplies to make raised planter boxes. And because coronavirus is apparently having an unpredictable effect on big box hardware store supply chains and staffing, I had to chase down said supplies—corrugated sheetmetal, pressure-treated lumber, nuts and bolts, plus a range of large-ish material for a half-dozen other home improvement projects—across seemingly all of southeastern Michigan.

This is arguably how most of these trucks get used. You might only tow your 5-ton boat from storage to the marina and back once per season, but a lot of us suburbanites have a never-ending list of small- to medium-size home improvement projects to tackle, and that’s where the ability to toss stuff in an easily accessible, hose-outable bed is tough to beat. And yeah, I get that you can fit a lot of stuff in the back of a commercial van, but it’s not the same. Plus, the interior of a loaded Ram 1500 Laramie is a nicer place to be than anything else in the work-ready class, which is great when you’re driving around all day looking for supplies like some scavenger in the post-apocalyptic wastes (why is it so hard to find pressure-treated lumber near me these days?).

Here, Ram’s Crew Cab is hard to beat. Calling it “roomy” is selling it short; as I’ve marveled before, it offers more rear legroom than nearly anything else on the market, including chauffeur-ready luxury sedans. The downside is that the 8-foot pickup bed is nearly dead these days, and the short box is becoming ever more common. If this trend continues, these stubby vestigial boxes will soon disappear entirely, and we’ll all be driving around in curiously proportioned body-on-frame SUVs.

This truck was equipped with a 5-foot-7-inch bed, so carrying home 12-foot 2x4s required shoving them through the sliding rear cab window and into the cabin (everything else was neatly strapped down into the bed, mind you). If I were a tradesman I’d have a lumber rack for this sort of job, but the occasional DIY-er is going to look mighty stupid using a big, flashy new pickup truck in this way. Honestly, I might as well have been in a midsize truck at that point; everything I did, I could have done with a Gladiator.

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(Note: This is just a small portion of all the stuff I bought.)

Trading bed length for cabin space is an industry-wide phenomenon, so I don’t want to single Ram out in particular. But this is one area in which I arguably did max out the truck’s capability. It’s a damn shame that something this big is so ill-equipped at carrying big (or at least 10-plus-foot-long) things.

Where the 1500 started to win me back over was all of its gimmicks. Not all the tech stuff, like the giant (and soon to be emulated) central screen, which we’ve covered before. But rather the built-in storage (this had the in-floor Ram Bins and the $995 Ram Box bed-side cargo management system). Ram says there’s 151.1 liters of built-in storage on the interior alone.

As my Victory Garden raised vegetable bed-building enterprise coincided with Michigan’s monsoon season, and my garage is full of cars and my growing hoard of vintage outboard motors, I found myself using all the interior and exterior storage as a series of built-in toolboxes. When the rain really started to come down, I could shove equipment and hardware into the nooks and cubbies on the Ram and dash inside. I got a lot more use out of the fancy split Multifunction tailgate than I ever have with GMC’s complicated MultiPro setup; paired with the tonneau cover, it turned the bed into easily accessible dry storage for semi-assembled works in progress.

Provided I could keep things organized, all of this would be immensely useful to me if I owned this pickup, especially if I were doing work in the field and away from my shop. And so after a certain point, you start to realize that all of the things you’d deem “gimmicks” if you were being uncharitable might actually be better called “useful features.”

But I’d have to be very careful about how I spec’d my truck, because pricing gets out of hand fast. From a $48,435 base price, this tester was optioned out to a $69,410 sticker. I know vehicles in general are getting pricier, and test vehicles are often a no-holds-barred romp through the options catalog, but that’s a figure that’s tough for me to stomach. Jettisoning pricey add-ons like the Night Edition Package (22-inch forged aluminum wheels, blacked-out trim and badging, etc., $3,495) and the panoramic sunroof ($1,495) helps a lot, but it’s a balancing act between holding the sticker down without loosing all the thoughtful features/gimmicks.

The Ram Bin in-floor storage system.

Ram

All told, this stint in the Ram 1500 reinforced what I’ve felt since I drove the truck on its launch: It’s not immune to industry-wide annoyances, like spiraling prices and diminishing bed length, but it currently does the best job of thoughtfully delivering what the modern truck buyer and owner actually wants in a full-size pickup.


2020 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 Specifications

Base price: $48,435 As-tested price: $69,410

Powertrain: 5.7-liter V8 with eTorque hybrid system, eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive

Output: 395 hp @ 5,600 rpm; 410 lb-ft @3,950 rpm

Curb Weight: 5,232 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 17/22/19 mpg

Pros: Comfortable, capable and packed with useful features

Cons: You can’t possibly expect me to to spend 70 grand on one of these; also, where’s the bed?

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