– Scottsdale, Arizona

If you have any reason to doubt the importance of the 2019 Ram 1500 to that brand’s bottom line, or even the overall financial health of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, go back and peruse the massive list of features and new technologies outline in our reporting on the truck’s debut. New powertrains, new infotainment systems and eye-popping displays, light-weighting, sophisticated chassis and suspension engineering, interior refinement with packaging origami: There are enough segment firsts and boisterous bullet points in that press release to cover several new vehicle launches, to say nothing of just one truck.

To say trucks have “come a long way” is to diminish their massive importance in the American car market, and especially to U.S. automakers. Trucks like this new Ram are tremendous profit centers; when a new one is due up, the whole team knows they’ve got to, not just benchmark the competition, but aim to obliterate it.

I raise the importance and comprehensiveness of ’19 Ram firsts, in part, to let you know that I didn’t experience a lot of them. In this early first drive, with pre-production trucks, quite a bit from that debut post wasn’t on hand for me to test. None of the two upcoming eTorque, electric-motor-enhanced engines, was on offer, nor was the diesel-engined truck that will go on sale sometime next year. Further, though there were a couple around, I didn’t get wheel time in any of the highest-spec vehicles, with that gigantic, 12-inch, reconfigurable, two-panel touchscreen display. Don’t sweat it; Ram’s going to have more drive events for variants of the vehicle, and we’ll no doubt get loads of these rigs through our office in Detroit.

2019 Ram 1500: First Drive

What did I drive? Well, in what’s somewhat of a rarity for a first-drive event, I drove a couple of versions of the Ram that many people will actually, you know, buy and drive. Seat time included a highway drive in the bottom-middle Bighorn trim, a quick off-road course in the badass Rebel, and most of the day in a nicely spec’d, high-middle Laramie-trimmed truck.

All of the test vehicles available were motivated by the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, connected to the now well-known eight-speed Torqueflite automatic gearbox. In many ways, this familiar powertrain remains Ram’s signature setup, with the melodious V8 making 395 horsepower, 410 pound-feet of torque, and all of the right noises on a full-throttle start. I won’t spend much time here, since the Hemi – which asks a $1,195 upcharge versus the late-availability base eTorque V6 – is a known quantity. It’s great, makes the truck feel quick, and offers smooth shifts (despite the gimmicky rotary knob shift unit that I’ll probably never love).

The first surprising driving impression, however, was made during my initial miles on the open roads and highways around Scottsdale and its surroundings: the Ram 1500 ride quality has gone from “great for a truck” to simply “great for a motor vehicle.”

Of course, Ram ride and handling has been pretty first-rate since the truck moved to the five-link, coil-sprung rear suspension and solid-axle rear in the previous generation. This ’19 truck takes the game further, with a few very fancy tricks up its sleeve.

2019 Ram 1500: First Drive
2019 Ram 1500: First Drive
2019 Ram 1500: First Drive
2019 Ram 1500: First Drive

The Ram 1500 ride quality has gone from "great for a truck" to simply "great for a motor vehicle."

To start, the rear of the truck now boasts progressive rate springs, and two-mode shocks, meaning that even with an unloaded bed there’s no noticeable jounce from the back section. On roads that ranged from silk-smooth highways to gravel tracks, the bed of the truck didn’t cause much in the way of disturbance for me while behind the wheel. The ride is buttery smooth. Ram is also offering an air suspension for an even more placid ride, though i didn’t get the chance to drive one so-equipped.

My Ram was also so quiet – apart from during those wide-open-throttle Hemi events – that it almost freaked me out at first. Trucks are supposed to be a little noisy, even when comfortable, and this 1500 seemed a lot more like a Buick LaCrosse than those expectations for the vehicle type. Excellent noise, vibration, and harshness mitigation became evident right away, and for good reason.

Two impressive bits of NVH tuning are a pair of segment-exclusive – maybe even world exclusive – vibration damping units on the frame rails. These “active tuned-mass modules” are affixed to V8 models, and work with the active noise cancellation system to quell vibration into the cabin by way of the frame itself. The company says ambient sounds in-cabin are down to 66.6 decibels, though, honestly, it seemed quieter than that still.

And even without the giant new screen, the modern and stylish cabin is a tremendous place to spend time. As a man of outsized proportions – I’m six-feet, five-inches tall and 250 pounds on a good day –  it was easy for me to appreciate the space in the Crew Cab. The luxury of elbow room behind the wheel wasn’t lost, with wide, well-contoured seats and about an acre of armrest on which to rest my big dumb arm.

2019 Ram 1500: First Drive
2019 Ram 1500: First Drive
2019 Ram 1500: First Drive
2019 Ram 1500: First Drive

Better yet, the backseats are nearly as spacious as the front. I was told in the product presentation that a “big six-five dude would be comfortable there,” a line that turned out to be not at all hyperbolic. I even got a ride in the back of the smaller Quad Cab Ram between portions of the event, and it’s honestly pretty good there, as well – there’s enough leg room for a more average-sized person to endure a medium-length trip.

I feel compelled to remind everyone that the eight-inch version of the UConnect system is still damn good. The touchscreen is easy enough to use; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both available; and there are enough redundant physical buttons for things like heated/cooled seats, and general climate controls that I didn’t spend much time hunting around. And, for those looking for a purely functional vehicle, or a pure work truck, the base five-inch screen should get the job done.

Speaking of which, the packaging of this cabin has clearly been created with any number of needs in mind, to say nothing of lots of little wants. The center console has a never-ending array of configurations (there is a finite number, but it was more than I was willing to count). The cupholders plus storage tray can move forwards and back to lock in a few different positions, and there’s enough room in the central bin to securely store your 15-inch laptop skinny side down. There are two more rubberized cupholders behind the armrest, and in them Ram has moulded a slot the size of a tablet, so you can securely configure a kind of ad hoc rear entertainment system with an iPad or other tablet (powered with USB and USB-C ports at the bottom of the center stack). There are also skinny storage slots on either side of the center armrest, a big change/key bin at the top of the infotainment screen (that also has a 12-volt port), two glove boxes, big door pockets, and probably twenty other stash spaces I didn’t even notice.

Prominently, the back offers under-seat storage for long items, and a deep “Ram Bin” in-floor storage box that looks like a perfect mini beer cooler. Don’t use it when you’re driving, please.

Well, that’s a thousand words in, and we haven’t even talked about the real truck stuff yet… But don’t worry, you’ve made it. And as you’d expect, the truck stuff hasn’t been forgotten by the most overtly butch of truck brands.

2019 Ram 1500: First Drive

In addition to the two cab sizes, there are a long (six-feet, four-inches) and a short (five-feet, seven-inches) bed to choose from. That bed is a little deeper than before, and it comes with a higher maximum payload of 2,320 pounds (long-bed, crew cab, V6). The all important trailer tow-rating has also gone up, to a max of 12,750 pounds (long-bed, quad cab, eTorque V8).

Ram set up a small trailering demo, and I can report that, even as someone with just a little towing experience, the 1500 performed admirably. Pulling a horse trailer weighted down for a total of about 4,700 pounds, and with the built-in trailer brake and sway controls, towing at highway speeds, making tight turns, and stopping (the truck has monumental 14.9-inch front/14.8-inch rear brakes) was dead simple. Oh, and with around view cameras – including one in back, of course – and the optional air suspension to raise and lower, reversing into position and getting one’s hitch into a receiver can all be done without a buddy, and without leaving the cab. Crazy.

I’ll make a quick mention here that, though no official fuel economy figures have been released as yet, Ram was boasting that they will be impressive. The truck has had some 225 pounds taken out of it (on average, trim to trim), and has impressively updated aero (an active air dam on non-air suspension or off-road oriented models) to back that up. Stay tuned for more.

2019 Ram 1500: First Drive
2019 Ram 1500: First Drive

With this first drive opportunity proving to be just the start of the 2019 Ram 1500 story, consider me very interested in the chapters to follow.

The biggest downside to all this impressive performance and content is that, especially if you haven’t shopped for a truck in a minute, the sticker prices might shock you. Starting with the most basic Tradesman trim, Ram MSRP goes $31,695 plus a whopper of a destination fee at $1,645. That’s a lot higher than MSRPs of $28,300 for Chevy Silverado and $27,705 for Ford F-150. The range topper (for now) would be the Ram 1500 Limited 4x4 LWB, at $57,690, or just a whisper under sixty grand with destination.

“Regular folk trucks” like the leather-upholstered Laramie 4x4 (about $47,000) and the cloth-clad Big Horn (about $42,000) that I drove extensively, still are far from cheap. Though there’s value, absolutely, in terms of capability and livability, if either was to be a daily driver.

There’s no escaping that trucks, like all vehicles, are bigger investments than ever before. The good news is that they’re also better built, easier to live with, and frankly, more fun to drive, than at any time in the past, too. With this first drive opportunity proving to be just the start of the 2019 Ram 1500 story, consider me very interested in the chapters to follow. Bring on more off-roading, electrified powertrains, and god knows what else (Hellcat, Hellcat, Hellcat…); I’ll be along for the drive.

Photos: Ram

Gallery: 2019 Ram 1500: First Drive

2019 Ram 1500

Engine 5.7-Liter V8
Output 395 Horsepower / 410 Pound-Feet
Transmission 8-Speed Automatic
Drive Type Four-Wheel Drive
Weight 5,302 Pounds
Efficiency TBD
Seating Capacity 6
Towing 12,500 Pounds (max)
Payload 2,320 Pounds (max)
Base Price $31,695
As-Tested Price $48,535 (est.)
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