The Ford F-150 is the top-selling vehicle in America, and has been for four decades. For folks who don’t want a Ford, there’s the Chevy Silverado, which for years has been the country’s No. 2 pickup.
But there’s also that other truck, the one that doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as the two top contenders. It’s the Ram 1500 — the flagship truck of the Fiat-Chrysler-owned Ram division — and it has just knocked the Silverado out of second place.
That represents more a rise for Ram than a drop for Chevy. Ram truck sales for 2019 were up 18% over 2018, while Silverados fell 1.7% and Ford’s F-150s fell 1.4%. By year’s end, according to automaker reports, after vaulting ahead in the fourth quarter, Ram had sold a reported 633,694 units to Silverado’s 565,700, with F-150 sales at 896,526.
Somehow, despite their popularity in parts of the country, I seldom see them around town and had never driven one myself. I corrected that over the winter holiday and came away deeply impressed with the Ram 1500’s capabilities. Over the course of a 10-day road trip, the Ram got tested by the narrow streets of Silver Lake, Calif., the high-speed traffic of Interstate 10 and the dirt, sand, mud, slush and even snow of Joshua Tree.
The Limited is Ram’s flagship pickup, representing the top of a line of multiple 1500 variations, starting with the $34,890 entry-level model and rising to the Limited. At a base price of $58,605, the Limited is about $8,000 above the average price paid for a full-size truck in the U.S. in 2019, according to Kelly Blue Book.
The Crew Cab 4×4 I drove was fitted with a 5.7-liter V-8 engine (a $2,645 option over the standard 3.6-liter V-6) capable of producing 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. This gives the Ram 11,340 pounds of maximum towing capacity. (I think that means I could have pulled my house, if it had wheels.)
We weren’t dragging anything quite that heavy, but with the 5-foot-7 bed — a longer one is available as an option — and the optional tonneau cover, the truck easily stored the luggage, food supplies, hiking equipment and cold weather duds required for a winter road trip.
The inside was luxury-level comfortable. Standard equipment included front and rear-seat heating, as well as a heated steering wheel and remote start that allowed the truck to become less polar before we got into it. This was especially handy as the temperature dropped to 18 degrees before we set out one morning.
The front cabin was comfortable and capacious, offering good support and plenty of leg- and headroom while keeping everything within easy reach 00 including the 12-inch touch-screen display with an array of standard options, among them Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.
Though they are features that never matter until one needs them, I was also pleased to have the locking glove compartment and full-size spare tire.
The rear passengers reported Business Class comfort. In addition to the cup holders, climate control dials, multiple device plug-ins and ample storage, they also really liked the massive sunroof feature when we were passing through Joshua Tree National Park’s Arch Rock, Jumbo Rocks and the Hall of Horrors rock-climbing area.
That big motor, the switchable four-wheel-drive system and the massive 22-inch wheels made short work of snow, rocks, sand and ruts as we wandered to parts of Joshua Tree that otherwise would have been off-limits for us.
The big surprise, though, was the 1500’s highway performance. I don’t know that I’ve ever driven anything so big and so quiet. There was little enough tire and wind noise that the saxophone stylings of Paul Desmond emerging from the Alpine stereo system, courtesy of Spotify and the Bluetooth connection, were sweet and clear.
The 2020 model of the Ram Limited has just been named a Consumer Reports Best Buy, and the 2019 nabbed the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s “Top Safety Pick+” rating, the gold standard for collision protection.
Standard on the model we drove were supplemental front- and side-impact airbags, plus a $1,695 optional suite of safety upgrade systems such as lane-keep assist, surround camera and adaptive cruise control capable of bringing the truck to a full stop, in traffic, and starting up again.
Less welcome was the ParkSense front and rear “assist” feature, which had a tendency to bring the truck to a sudden and brake-slamming stop when a trash barrel or bit of shrubbery, say, was within six feet of the back of the vehicle. I wasn’t able to figure out how to disable this feature, but it scared the pants off me once or twice and irritated me more often than that.
Ram has a long way to go before it unseats Ford. The F-150, according to a recent report by Edmunds, is the top-selling vehicle in 31 of 50 American states. (In California? The Honda Civic.)
But Ram is second, and is the No.1 vehicle in Alaska, Wyoming, Nevada and a few other places where they know something about tough trucks.
Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab
The Times’ take: The “other” pickup is worth a look
Highs: Comfortable and capable on-road and off
Lows: Low-speed collision warning system could use a tuneup
Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger pickup truck
Base price: $58,685
Price as tested: $69,585
Powertrain: 5.7-liter, V-8 HEMI gasoline engine
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with four-wheel drive
Torque: 410 pound-feet
Estimated fuel economy rating: 17 miles per gallon city/22 highway/19 combined