I climbed into the double cab of my favourite ute, put my foot on the brake and punched the Start/Stop button. But instead of the cranking clatter of a diesel engine, outsize dual chrome tail pipes lit up with the gutteral roar of a 5.7-litre fuel injected Hemi V8.
The ute rocked from side to side as I blipped the throttle. It was worth sitting still and listening for a while. But I had a schedule to keep, so after getting comfortable I turned the rotary transmission selector dial to ‘D’ for Drive and gently pressed the throttle.
The RAM 1500 Laramie moved away smoothly, with little indication it had a serious punch of power under the vast bonnet.
As I burbled away, I was concious of the fact that in the US another variant of this engine blasts the 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye down the drag strip at warpspeed. That mutant motor churns out a monstrous 595kW and 959Nm of torque.
However, the RAM carries a little too much pork to match that beast off the line. It weighs in between 2,605 and 2,650 kgs, depending on the model. Nevertheless, opening up the RAM 1500 let loose an avalanche of power as the Hemi engine revved freely to over 5,000rpm, howling all the way.
Bolted to the back of the engine is a Borg Warner eight-speed auto transmission, with enough smarts to deal with the RAM’s ‘mild’ 291kW and 556Nm of torque.
There’s also a transfer case that handles full-time 4WD, plus a locking mode and low range to help with the tough jobs where traction is a premium.
But the RAM 1500 is not just an engine/power story. Each month, more and more Sandgropers are deserting passenger cars and even vanilla spec SUVs to get into multi-purpose utes with features to rival any passenger car.
However, a constant gripe, particularly from the passengers, is that the rear seat area in a dual cab ute is not a place you want to spend a lot of time in. RAM fixes that the old-fashioned way.
RAM’s body is USA super-size and firmly planted on a ladder-frame chassis. Pick any other double cab ute and in a family of five everyone has to loose weight.
RAM takes aim at the rest of the premium-equipped double cabs with two models, the Express and the Laramie. The Express has a shorter rear passenger cab area, larger cargo tub and a shorter diff ratio - all aimed at mainly workhorse and/or towing duties.
The Laramie is fully loaded with fruit for the owner who wants to have the double cab versatility, but still allow the family members who travel in the back to enjoy decent legroom, shoulder width and a rear squab that isn’t nearly bolt-upright. With the front seats set well back, I still had a lot more legroom and personal space than Qantas offers in cattle class.
Equipment-wise, all 1500s come with the take-no-prisoners Hemi V8, the eight- speed auto, active grille shutters to smooth the air when cruising, and coil springs all-round.
That package delivers a 4.5-tonne towing capacity, except for the Laramie with the cruising diff ratio. That will ‘only’ tow 3.5-tonne. As most RAMs will be towing regularly, a heavy-duty tow bar is standard.
On that note, it’s clear that the competition are stretched to their mechanical limits with 3.5-tonnes behind them. Plus they can’t carry much more than a pair of socks in the tub. The RAM can stuff 800kgs in the tub and still pull 3.78-tonnes, fully legal - burbling past Japanese and European utes pulling their little diesel hearts out up the hills.
Of course with all that grunt, you have to pay a price at the local servo. Big fuel tanks help the range - up to 121-litres for the Express. RAM claims 9.9l/100kms for the Laramie with the taller diff, and 12.2l/100kms with the working ratio. Yeah - good luck with that.
An ECO function de-activates cylinders 1, 4, 5 and 7 when the vehicle is under light load or cruising. The only indication I could pick that this was happening was a little green light on the dash, which I didn’t see very often - I was having too much fun.
Body-wise the 1500 has 20” alloy wheels, sprayed-on tub liner, and side steps that run the length of the cab and past the back door far enough to help you reach over the tub.
The safety package is comprehensive. Vehicle stability control, brake assist, traction control, electronic brake distribution, trailer sway control and hill start. Relocated airbags have been live tested to prove they deliver for RHD occupants.
The Express has a 1,939mm cargo floor and can fit a standard pallet between the wheel arches. It’s easy to identify as the painted grille and bumper replaces lashings of chrome on the Laramie. Inside, the cab is still cavernous and includes most of the connectivity and comfort items you’ll want. Even though as a work light truck I think it would still match the other top line utes in specs.
The Laramie however adds a host of luxury features that leapfrog the vehicle to the top of the equipment ladder in utes. Trim, seat quality, infotainment, sound system, active steering wheel, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, heated seats and steering wheel, remote keyless ENTER N GO, and under floor secure storage, are just some of the extra bits you get for a thumping $20,000 price premium.
RamBoxes are optional. They provide dust-free, waterproof and secure storage within the ute tub sidewalls. They also lock with the remote. A few bags of ice and you can carry all the fish you catch and all the drinks you need to celebrate.
RAM’s 1500 will change the view of people who are happy to spend big dollars on a vehicle that will fill many roles. Those people won’t worry about using more fuel.
It's not nimble on the twisty bits, but I suspect buyers will be more interested in having the biggest and baddest double cab ute on the road, and wanting to be sure every other punter knows it. Those giant tail pipes will take care of that.
Models: RAM 1500 Express and Laramie
Prices: From $79,950 (driveaway) and from $99,950
Engine: 5.7-litre Hemi fuel-injected V8
Outputs: 291kW and 556Nm
Transmission: 8-Speed automatic with 2-speed transfer case
Thirst - l/100kms: 9.9 to 12.2, depending on axle ratio