The standard Ram 1500 is proving the mainstay based on its size, power, looks, cost, availability and towing prowess – with a maximum braked towing capacity of 4500kg.
Advertisements for the Ram boast that it ‘eats utes for breakfast’ and let’s be honest, there are only a handful of vehicles on the market that can tow 3500kg safely, with many of the popular dual-cab utes being over-confident with their figures and capabilities.
When it comes to size, power and towing, the Ram is a solid contender. But we aren’t here to get a grip on how well it pulls your horse float or how many lengths of timber fit in the rear, we’re interested in its off-road ability. Even then we’re going to cheat by taking out an accessorised one as opposed to a stock truck.
In line with keeping it real, this is probably a far better test anyway. Typically, unmodified vehicles don’t see a lot of dirt – anyone who’s actually interested in taking a Ram off-road will add some accessories to get the most out of it.
For today’s adventure we’ve got our hands on the Big Red Ram, a modified 1500 Express V8 Hemi Crew Cab converted by Ram Trucks Australia (this is a privately owned vehicle). Apart from being converted locally to right-hand drive, the vehicle has had a number of carefully selected additions aimed at improving its on- and off-road performance, as well as safety.
Up front an UpFitter winch and airbag-compatible, ADR-compliant bull bar offer protection from front impacts and animal strikes, as well as being the perfect mounting location for two pairs of Big Red LED driving lights (more Big Reds adorn the bar over the tub for that true American look).
Underneath, specifically-tuned RidePro 4×4 Suspension provides two extra inches of clearance along with greatly enhanced performance, covering improvements in braking, steering, comfort, articulation and general drivability.
It’s a full shock absorber and coil spring replacement kit developed in Australia for our on- and off-road conditions. A set of 35-inch mud tyres finalise the golden trio of off road accessories (being a bull bar, suspension and tyres), providing improved traction and integrity for off-road conditions.
Overall, it’s a basic but solid package that delivers improved looks and handling. Let’s get it dirty and see how it fares.
Driving the Big Red Ram was certainly an experience. For a mildly-modified vehicle it has a formidable look and presence, and has no dramas drawing attention even before the deep rumble from the UpFitter sports exhaust is unleashed.
One of the first things that grabs your attention when sitting in the cabin is the total lack of a gear selector on the centre console. It’s actually a dial on the dash.
It takes a bit of getting used to, isn’t so convenient to access, and demands a little more attention to operate, as it’s quite unfamiliar.
Located conveniently below it though is the 4×4 selector which offers 4×2, 4×4 Lock (4×4 High with the centre diff lock engaged) and 4×4 Low. Transfer case gear selection is straightforward and easy. Changes between 4×2 and 4×4 High can be made on the fly, while 4×4 Low can only be engaged when the vehicle is stationary and the transmission is in neutral.
The system works well. It’s easy to operate, quick to engage and there’s that tell-tale clunk of confidence as 4×4 Low is engaged.
At speed on dirt the vehicle is surprisingly nimble and stable. There is plenty of positive feel through the steering, and the RidePro suspension is in its element soaking up bumps and reacting well to changes in steering and braking (for a ute).
The rear end resists breaking traction and sliding out, with the coil and shock combo keeping the axle under control, and the wider stance helps keeping the vehicle tracking true. It’s actually a lot of fun to throw around.
In low-range, the eight-speed auto and V8 engine combine effortlessly for controlled application of torque and power. Again the oversized truck (by our standards) feels stable, agile and capable.
In all honesty, it’s not too big for most tracks, contrary to popular belief and the common Aussie critique, and with a little extra care in tight sections it was quite at home on the trails we visited.
Size does matter though, and like most things it has its pros and cons: the weight can be a real drawback on steep climbs, especially on broken and slippery terrain, but the overall size makes it easier to span some obstacles. Weight and size also mean more stability in certain situations, plus the ability to plough through water and mud – especially when it is backed up by old-school cubic inches.
One rocky hill climb traction was a real issue due to weight, and in (quite) deep ruts the vehicle ran out of articulation, then traction, as the tyres lost contact with the ground.
But these situations were verging on the more extreme side of off-roading and both could have, for the most part, been solved with a rear diff lock.
The RidePro suspension, as mentioned earlier, offers improved articulation over the standard setup and the flex of the suspension was quite good for a vehicle of this size.
The Ram 1500 is equipped with independent front suspension (IFS) which provides a smoother on-road ride, but it does limit off-road ability with an inherent lack of articulation.
If you are thinking of tackling some harder tracks, an aftermarket suspension, more aggressive tyres and a diff lock would be highly advisable.
Seriously, who doesn’t want a 5.7-litre American V8? It’s what Aussies have been dreaming of for years in a 4×4 ute and it’s well overdue.
The Ram’s naturally-aspirated Hemi punches out 291kW of power and 556Nm of torque, shoving the Ram’s 2600kg+ kerb weight from 0 to 100 in 7.5 seconds. It’s a welcome improvement in performance compared to most dual-cabs and one of the reasons the Ram is proving so popular.
We found the Torqueflite eight-speed automatic transmission to be a great partner to the engine and sufficiently refined. It’s smooth, responsive and in general terms, a pleasure to drive.
The only setback realistically was the balance between the throttle position, throttle spring tension and gearing at 110km/h. It was near impossible to sit on the speed limit when cruising on the freeway.
The engine doesn’t need much encouragement to creep to 115 and backing off slightly sees you quickly at 99km/h. By the time you’ve crept back to 105 and kept an eye on the road, the speedo is climbing back past 110km/h and the cycle continues.
Of course, this is an easy fix with cruise control but it’s worth noting how annoying it can be, and how easily you can be caught speeding in this beast. It just wants to get away from you all the time.
But it certainly puts a smile on the dial when the right foot gets a taste of liberation and you can put that sweet V8 to good use.
With its American heritage there is a considerable list of aftermarket suppliers with all sorts of add-on and replacement enhancements for the Ram, and local companies like UpFitter are doing their part to ensure a good selection of upgrades are available locally.
ARB also does a bar and suspension upgrades as do some others, so there is a good amount of choice on the market.
Performance upgrades include exhausts and engine chips and there is an Australian-based offering for a supercharger if you want even more growl and grunt from the V8 beast.
There are really no limitations on accessories for the Ram, it’s open season and if you are so inclined and have a deep enough wallet, you can go as far as you like – within the modification guidelines.
The Big Red Ram is a mild build and the only thing I would add would be at least a rear diff lock, if not both front and rear for 100-per cent cross differential four-wheel traction.
It would transform the traction characteristics of the vehicle and if the rear locker is not a factory option, ARB have the ideal setup with fully selectable units available for the front and rear.
I’d love to say I was surprised, but it was more a case of confidently feeling we were right all along.
This isn’t as big, cumbersome and useless as a lot of Aussie 4×4 owners thought it would be. It’s comfortable, stable and agile enough to be used on Australian 4×4 tracks and like anything, it just gets better when you add smart accessories.
Like most vehicles, if you understand the pros and cons, accessorise it correctly and drive it with the care and confidence a truck of this size deserves, the Ram, and in this case the Big Red Ram, is an extremely capable tow rig that can haul your gear all day long and tackle a few decent tracks to ensure you reach that remote adventure destination relaxed and ready for more!
Do we want one? Well we wouldn’t say no but the TRX is on another level and we have our fingers crossed that we can get our hands on one for a test drive soon!
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