In Light Commercial Test9 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineDecember 9, 2020

Ram has introduced a right-hand drive 1500 with a full cab that undercuts the range-topping Laramie.

In today‘s increasingly eco-friendly environment, vehicles are becoming lighter and more fuel frugal, but there‘s clearly still a place for an OTT pickup truck if Ram 1500 sales are any guide. Ram Trucks Australasia began reworking these utes to right-hand drive in 2015, with sales starting in early 2016. Australasian sales hit 2868 in 2019, almost three times that of the previous year, and the brand is celebrating with this new introduction – the 1500 Express Crew V8 Hemi. Designed to sit above the entry-level Express Quad, it uses the same, larger cabin as the Laramie range-topper we tested back in late 2018, but by giving up some equipment cuts $14,910 off the full purchase price.

Photo: Without other vehicles for scale it‘s hard to appreciate just how big the Ram 1500 is.

You‘ll lose the on-demand AWD system, getting instead a switchable part-time system with low range, which we found easy to use with a rapid switch between modes, provided you stop to select neutral before flicking the switch. We weren‘t able to truly test it in the rough without a second vehicle just in case, but some steeply sloping Waitakere gravel driveways it balked at in 2WD were tackled as if on flat tarmac in 4WD. Opting for this over the Laramie also means cloth seats instead of leather, manual seat adjustment instead of electric, and black details where the blinged-out Laramie gets chrome for a cool look likely to suit Kiwis better. There‘s no change to the stonking great 5.7-litre V8 Hemi engine powering this behemoth, which now boasts the only V8 petrol powerplant fitted to a new ute selling in New Zealand. That gets you 291kW of power and, most noticeably, 556Nm of torque. Prod the throttle at lower speeds and this 2.6-tonne truck picks up and boogies impressively; the subtle yet throaty gurgle of low-speed running deepening just enough to hint at the grunt on tap without getting too raucous about it, as you pick up speed with the relentless inevitability of a charging rhino.

Cabin large, controls all equally chunky, easy to see and use on the run. Back seats plain, but plenty of leg room. Choose the pricier Laramie for leather;

Naturally this isn‘t the most frugal ute you can buy, with city driving likely to see 20 litres gurgle through for every 100km travelled. On the open road that‘ll drop to 12 or 13 litres, while our mainly hilly, rural route with some commuter and highway running averaged 14.5l/100km for the duration of our test. Not surprisingly, you couldn‘t call this colossus nimble, but it‘s confident, with decent road-holding and ride for its bracket, and it imparts the sort of high-riding confidence any occupant will enjoy while cruising. It is, however, designed for wider roads and broader landscapes than we typically traverse. It‘s more than two metres wide – including mirrors – for starters, and on the narrow Waitakere roads of our test we were often aware of it, especially on narrow stretches too narrow to boast road markings, with chances to pull over to let someone by somewhat limited by this beast‘s 5.833m length. It could be worse – we didn‘t tow a trailer, though this Ram will pull 4500kg. Clamber into the largest ute cabin available and you‘ll spot a few changes. There‘s better connectivity as the 8.4” touchscreen now also accesses Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and you keep cool via dual-zone air con. Mind you, that centre console is still wide enough to hold a party atop it, with a shockingly shallow storage space beneath. This example included the optional RamBox cargo management system – a pair of lockable storage units built into the sides of the wellside tub that carry 210 litres between them. They‘re lit, and include drainage, so they‘re not just good for smaller items you want to keep safe, but can also carry fishing or diving gear after a trip to keep water out of the cabin, or even ice and drinks to cool the team off during work breaks. That cargo system includes a folding tonneau cover and a plastic load-extender that circles the tailgate for longer loads – but comes with a $5000 price tag, boosting the total from $104,990 to $109,990.

Roomy, lockable RamBox on each side is lit, drained, and useful; ‘Hemi 5.7 liter‘ badges hint at 291kW and 556Nm.

This edition also sports what the distributor calls a sports hood, plus black accents and some limited edition colours, this one called Granite Crystal. The conversion to righthand drive is very well done – really the only giveaway is that there‘s still a vanity mirror on the driver side only, where vehicles with just the one usually give it to the passenger, and it still lacks a cover, which can be distracting with the sun visor down. How expensive would it have been to fit one? And while we‘re being picky, don‘t suggest rear passengers look down when the front seat‘s cranked forward for short drivers; the finish on such less-frequently viewed areas isn‘t what you‘d expect from a 6-figure vehicle. Anyone regularly tackling urban centres will find the Ram‘s footprint unwieldy, though for some that‘s an acceptable compromise for the generous tow rating and large cabin. If you want to tow more you‘ll get the 2500, which will pull 6989kg with the special ‘pintle‘ hitch fitted, and has a tray 210mm longer. Given we‘re in New Zealand, not Texas, that‘d put this truck at more than six metres long, and anyone not needing the full cabin space would opt for the quad-cab‘s smaller cabin, and longer tray. Those needing a larger payload or spending most time in urban environs might be better off with a one-tonner ute, but if you regularly pull big trailers and don‘t want a separate commercial to do it, this Ram could be ideal.

Photo: Ram embraces its rustic side.