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car review

Dodge Ram

The Dodge Ram was named the Best New Pickup for 2009 by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. True, there were only two entrants in this category, but I voted for the Ram and thought it deserved the win.

Why? Not because of superior power or engineering; all full-size domestic trucks can be had with stump-pulling powerplants and drivetrains - from turbocharged diesels to tire-spinning, high-horsepower gas engines. Nor was it because of creature comforts; today's breed of pickup can be ordered with a dizzying array of convenience features and luxury goodies. Sometimes, the luxury quotient of these things is superior to that of a so-called prestige sedan, and again, no clear winner here.

No; what put me over the top with the Ram was its assembly quality and refinement level. Of the trucks I tested, it seemed to be the best built and quietest of the bunch, and felt tight and properly bolted together. In fact, I'd bet that the Ram is one of the quietest vehicles on the road.

All car manufacturers like to trot out numbers and stats about interior decibel level, torsional rigidity and so on, but it'd be interesting to actually get your hands on a sound meter of some kind, stick it inside a bunch of cars and trucks and take 'em out on the highway to do a survey. I'm willing to bet the Ram 1500 (non-diesel) would emerge with among the lowest sound levels in the business. This is a sound-booth on wheels. Happily, things haven't changed much on that score over the intervening years.

My tester this time around - a 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4X4 - was equipped with Chrysler's 5.7-litre Hemi engine that in this configuration, develops 390 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of torque. This latter number is probably more significant when it comes to actually carrying cargo, plowing off-road or extricating yourself out of a snow-bank.

It's one of three engine choices in the Laramie line and, despite its healthy power output, is almost completely silent. When you think of Hemi engines, you tend to picture rambunctious temperamental powerplants usually found propelling a funny car or pro sports racer of some kind. Not any more; the engine in this truck still has pushrods and just two valves per cylinder, but Chrysler has civilized things and it's now as refined and smooth as any multi-cam, multi-valve equivalent coming out of Europe or anywhere else.

Anyway, it was mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, with on-demand 4WD, an electronic stability control system and an anti-spin rear differential - among other things.

And before I go on, I really should mention some of those other things. On top of standard equipment such as four-wheel disc brakes, power-adjustable pedals, dual zone air conditioning, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, Sirius satellite radio and dual exhaust, my tester had leather interior ($1,150), remote start ($375), spray-in bed liner ($450) and a "protection group" that includes skid plates front and back and tow hooks, and a comprehensive list of extras, all of which boosted the price up to just less than $54,000. In the world of big trucks, this price tag is not that outrageous. You can easily spend more if you go whole hog.

Hoist yourself up inside the 1500 and you're in a realm of rough-hewn luxury. Everything is purposeful and workmanlike. A huge centre console separates front-seat passenger and driver, and you could play cards on it. There are cup-holders and various storage nooks and crannies all over the place, and elbow room is generous.

The centre console-located shifter is fist-sized, and you access the 4WD system via a dash-mounted rotary dial. It has auto and high and low range settings, and all is easy to get at to deal with.

My truck also had a navi system and back-up camera. The former I couldn't care less about, but the latter is really useful in a rig this size. Even the best driver can sometimes misjudge the distance behind the vehicle, and parallel parking is made easier with this camera. That said, it's located on the rear tailgate, and if you're carrying any cargo and it's folded down, whoops, there it isn't. Speaking of which, payload for the 5.7-litre V-8 Crew Cab is 680 kilograms.

Maybe you can use it to haul cargo and make a few bucks on the side because, with a capacity of 121 litres, it'll cost you at least $150 to fill this puppy up with gas. In my neck of the woods, regular is going for about $1.40 a litre right now, so do the math and you can see that owning one of these rigs is not for the faint-hearted. Fortunately, it takes regular, but sucking up the petrol at the rate of just less than 16 litres/100 km in town, you'll be spending a lot of time at the pump.

2011 Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4X4

Type: Full-size pickup truck

Base Price: $46,415; as tested: $53,885

Engine: 5.7-litre V-8

Horsepower/torque: 390 hp/407 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel with 4WD

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.8 city/10.8 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra