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2011 Ram 1500 Pros and Cons at TrueDelta: A beast of burden yet a comfortable family hauler, the Ram 1500 Crew Cab 4x4 is ready to work. by ggariepy

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Introduction

I have now driven my 2011 Ram 1500 for more than two years now, and since the current model year is still very similar in powertrain and body design, I wanted to share my impressions.

The reviewed vehicle is a 2011 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman edition, equipped with the part-time 4x4 drivetrain and the 5.7L Hemi. Wearing 17" wheels, it's capable of trailering 10,000 pound loads. Attractively styled, the Outdoorsman package features two-tone paint, skid plates for the engine and transfer case, and aggressive all-terrain tires. Mine has the factory-applied sprayed-on bed liner. Rounding out the exterior accoutrements are dealer-installed Mopar running boards, which I consider a necessary accessory for a vehicle of this height.

Along with all standard accessories, my truck is further equipped with the front bucket seat/console option, the premium "EVIC" gauge package, 115V inverter and a CD/AM/FM/Sirius receiver that is also capable of being upgraded with a Bluetooth transceiver. The Outdoorsman package provides heavy duty floor mats capable of holding considerable amounts of mud or melted snow, and a cloth interior.

My vehicle is used as a truck is intended: frequent hauling of bulky items, fairly regular trailering, and around-town trips. I've accumulated some dents and scratches along the way that are just part of a working truck's life. So read on if you want to know what the real world experiences are with a truck that gets used like a truck.

Reviewed: 2011 Ram 1500

4dr Crew Cab 5.5ft bed 390-horsepower 5.7L V8 5-speed shiftable automatic 4WD, part-time w/low range

Compared: 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee

4dr SUV 235-horsepower 4.7L V8 5-speed shiftable automatic AWD w/low range

Why the 2011 Ram 1500?

  Compared to the Grand Cherokee
Exterior styling  

Without question, Chrysler hit a home run with the 2009 redesign of the popular Ram series. It combines an aggressive front end with smooth, flowing lines which together form a package that is very pleasing to the eye. The Crew Cab/short box combination reviewed has a more balanced look than the two door version of the truck, and the overall impression is one of solidity. The Outdoorsman package, which replaces 2009 and 2010's TRX package, is marketed towards people who will use their truck to hunt, fish, camp, and do some mild offroading. For 2011, the package included a large graphic decal on the truck's rear quarter panels, a design decision that was toned down to a simple chrome badge for the very next model year.

Interior styling  

The upgraded front bucket seat with center console interior is a sporty improvement over the standard six-passenger front bench seat configuration. Gauges are easily read and attractively designed. The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good in the hands, and it has just enough secondary controls mounted on it to be useful without becoming confusing. The large shifter communicates a sense of mastery over the powerful drivetrain. If I have one gripe, it is that the rotary selector knob for the 4 wheel drive is too close to and too similar in size to the manual HVAC system's blower control. You have to pay attention when reaching for either one or there is a chance you will not grab the one you intended. The center stack is attractive even with the base audio system. Plastics abound, and this is the subject of many reviewers' complaints. However, the vehicle is attractive inside, and the hard plastics are reserved for areas one does not normally touch while driving. I think they represent an acceptable compromise between cost, appearance, and tactile feel.

Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Much better Better Worse

Simply put, the 5.7L Hemi shines brightly in this package. Offering 20 more horsepower than 5.7L engines in the passenger cars, the truck ismuch lighter on its feet than the 300HP 4.7L version offered the same year. Acceleration is crisp when the truck is lightly loaded. It's not sports car fast, but it will run with virtually any average sedan without embarrassing itself. With a load in the bed or hitched to the back, the Hemi's grunt reallyshines. I have hauled trailers in excess of 8,000 pounds with my vehicle, which is properly equipped to handle up to 10,000 pounds. I frequently use the truck for scrap metal runs, as well as trailering medium sized enclosed trailers, and there is never a problem getting the job done, even if the job calls for hauling over unpaved surfaces or through 12" of snow. The truck barely knows that my 2500 pound boat and trailer package is attached until it is time to haul it back up a steep launch ramp at the end of the day, and even then it does well.

Fuel economy  

I am fortunate in that I work from home, and do not need my vehicle to commute to work. However, for a six month period I made a 40-mile round trip five days a week, and averaged 15MPG in mixed urban surface/Interstate driving. This is considerably better than the 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4wd/4.7L V8 the truck replaced (13MPG), and I attribute the better performance to the MDS cylinder deactivation. I have observed 22MPG over a 400 mile trip of combined Interstate and rural 2-lane highway travel with speeds ranging from 60-75 MPH. The truck was unloaded at the time and acceleration runs were gentle to maximize fuel economy. The return trip resulted in19MPG performance over the same route.

Handling  

My truck, with me, my normal complement of gear, and a full tank of fuel weighs 5800lbs and change as weighed on a local certified scale. The handling reflects that: this is no sports car. You will want to drive deliberately and not attempt to set any cornering records. My 4,000 pound Chrysler minivan handles like a go-kart by comparison. That said, this vehicle handles about as well as the standard large sedan of 30 years ago, which it outweighs by nearly double and carries a center of gravity that is much higher. It is a tribute to the performance of modern tires that something of this size and weight handles as well as it does. My truck is not equipped with the air bag rear suspension that current models have available. The coil spring rear is still a vast improvement over leaf-sprung pickups in terms of ride comfort, although it will tend to squat down significantly if the trailer approaches the maximum 500 pound tongue weight. The truck is not unsettled by bumpy roads, and the rack-and-pinion steering is nicely weighted and very car-like.

Why Not the 2011 Ram 1500?

  Compared to the Grand Cherokee
Interior storage compartments  

This is a large vehicle with a large cabin. One would think there would be more storage space than there actually is inside, but as it stands my vehicle tends to be cluttered. I have all of the under-rear-seat storage space, as well as the in-floor rear cubbies filled. There is no room in any of these compartments for a standard backpack which carries my CERT equipment, so it must ride on the drivetrain hump in the back. Although the center console provides significant room, it is difficult to keep organized, and it quickly turns into a grab-bag of stuff, rather than the neatly arranged storage I would prefer. More expensive versions of the truck address this with the RamBox cargo containers built into the sides of the bed.

Cargo capacity  

The 5'7" box that comes on the 140" wheelbase version of this Crew Cab truck fills quickly, and the rear tailgate must be left down to handle standard 8' sheet goods. My truck works hard for its living and it needs to be able to haul stuff. I work around the smaller box and it does fine, but even another 12" would be a big help.

Price or payments  

At $40K as equipped, this truck was not cheap. You get what you pay for: a powerful, capable vehicle with a few things that would have been considered luxuries not 15 years ago, but the price of the vehicle dictated that I buy used. With two years and 30,000 miles on the odometer, I drove it away for $25,000.

Audio & nav systems  

Although the standard AM/FM/CD/Sirius audio system sounds great when playing regular radio stations or a compact disc, the audio is warbly when receiving Sirius satellite broadcasts. The truck came with a free two-month trial of the satellite radio, and the additional variety and commercial-free nature of the Sirius offering was spoiled by the so-so audio quality. Other (non-Ram) vehicles I have sampled equipped with Sirius radio sounded much better. Since this could just be something wrong with my truck, make sure you try it before you decide to subscribe or not. In my case, the sound quality and expense dictated that the trial subscription be allowed to lapse, and I have not missed it.

Other Features of the 2011 Ram 1500

  Compared to the Grand Cherokee
Warranty, maintenance cost  

This is something to consider: a vehicle of this size and with this level of capability can be somewhat difficult and expensive to maintain. Like many truck owners, I am a do-it-yourselfer. I change my own oil, replace my own brake pads, and swapmy own spark plugs. If something really complicated (read: electronic) goes wrong, it goes to a professional mechanic, but for the most part I maintain my own vehicles and do most break/fix troubleshooting. If you've never owned a full sized, four wheel drive pickup truck before, DIY maintenance poses some challenges. Instead of paying the dealership over $300 for a 30,000 mile spark plug change, I did it myself for about $60 in plugs. However, one must literally climb up into the engine compartment of the vehicle to do this kind of work. The job took over two hours of laying on a blanket across the radiator core support. Access can be difficult to drivetrain components from underneath as well: they're up high, heavy, and you find yourself reaching up a lot even just changing the oil filter. I am 5'11" tall, and I need a step stool to change my wiper blades, and frankly, removing snow from the back window can be a chore. In nearly 50,000 miles, the truck is still on its original set of brakes, and it doesn't need a great deal of scheduled maintenance, but being a truck, parts are big, heavy, unwieldy and somewhat expensive. Bear this in mind if you intend to maintain your own vehicle. Another consideration: tires. The factory tires wore out around 46,000 miles, so I replaced them with a set of BFG all-terrain tires. Truck tires, even 17" tires, are far more expensive than car tires. I paid over $800 for a set of four, installed. Some folks with the available 20" wheels pay nearly $1,000. You will need to budget for this. With a 32-gallon fuel tank, optional on this truck, letting the gauge run down to Empty can mean your fill-up costs more than the typical gas station will authorize on a pay-at-the-pump transaction using a credit card. When fuel was $4.00 a gallon, this was a frequent problem. I have gotten into the habit of refueling when I reach a half tank.

Feature availability  

My truck is equipped with an electric pass-through rear window. Unfortunately, for the 2011 model year, that precluded the ability to order an electric rear defroster, and aftermarket defrosters are not really available. This is a problem in the wintertime if you have any amount of snow in the bed: the air currents swirl the snow up onto the rear window and it is not possible to clear it like it would be on an ordinary vehicle. You can open the rear slider and brush some of the snow off, but you will almost invariably get some in the cab if you do so. Later model years mayhave this problem licked, however, so shop carefully.

Off-road capability  

My truck doesn't go off road much, but when it does I'm usually towing something behind it. This thing is magnificent at dragging a loaded trailer across slightly soft ground, pulling a boat and trailer rig up a wet ramp, or just driving through a heavy snowstorm. BUT: you must keep the tires in good shape. I knew it was time to replace the factory tires when, at 46K miles it became possible to break the rear end loose by stepping on the gas hard at 40MPH in the rain. Technically there was still 4 to 5/32nds of tread left, but the tires were finished. With new tires, the vehicle is nearly unstoppable in some very inclement weather and unforgiving terrain. As far as recreational off-roading is concerned, this is a big, heavy, expensive pickup truck. It's going to get high-centered fairly easily, and you're going to scratch up its nice paint job trying to stuff it into spots better suited for a Jeep's width. It's off-roading capability is much more utilitarian in nature than it is for recreational rock hopping. In a pinch, it mightdo the job, but there are better machines to run the Rubicon with.

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