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Bank on a fully redesigned Ram 1500 for model-year 2018, not 2017. Here’s why

2017 Ram 1500

2017 Ram 1500

What changes will make the 2017 Ram 1500 different?

Nothing, or everything. An all-new generation of this full-size half-ton pickup is in the wings. The question is will it launch as a 2017 model, or a 2018? The redesign will bring new styling, updated drivetrains, and engineering designed to reduce weight and boost fuel economy. We’re inclined to believe it’ll launch during calendar 2017, as an ’18 model. Here’s our reasoning: 1) Ram 1500 sales are strong and continuing to rise, growing nearly 12 percent through the first quarter of 2016. Ram division parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles isn’t under the gun to replace it and will seize the opportunity to squeeze every bit of profit from the current design. 2) Waiting until model-year ‘18 gives the corporation time to complete the planned phase-out of the slow-selling Chrysler 200 midsize sedan and Dodge Dart compact car. That’ll free up production capacity for the newest versions of its far more profitable Jeep and Ram vehicles. Expect the 2017 Ram 1500 to carry over with minor detail alterations but no significant changes. This review covers the half-ton-payload Ram 1500; three-quarter-ton 2500 and one-ton 3500 versions also are available.

Why should I wait for the 2017?

No compelling reason, since the 2016 Ram received some worthy enhancements (more on those below). For 2017, the carryover model lineup should begin with the Tradesman trim and ascend through Express, HFE, SLT, Big Horn (called Lone Star in Texas), Outdoorsman, Sport, Rebel, Laramie, Laramie Longhorn, and Laramie Limited. Whew. Body configurations again will include the 2-door regular cab, the extended-cab 4-door Quad Cab, and the full-length 4-door Crew Cab. All 4-door versions have forward-hinged doors that open independently of the fronts. Bed lengths of 5-feet 7-inch, 6-feet 4 inch, and 8-feet would be available. Rebel and Laramie Longhorn and Limited will return in Crew Cab form only, with the other Rams offering most or all cab-bed configurations, depending on model.

Should I buy a 2016 model instead?

Yes, if you want a large pickup truck with a deep model lineup, exceptionally refined road manners, and access to a diesel V-6 for the most fuel-efficient drivetrain in the competitive set. For 2016, the Ram 1500’s roster expanded further with the creation of the Rebel. Designed for serious off-roading, it includes an air suspension, 33-inch tires, front and rear underbody skid plates, and tow hooks. Also new were limited-edition “buzz” variants, each based on the Sport trim level. They included a V-8 engine, dual exhaust, vented sport hood, and 20-inch wheels. As the Ram 1500 remains one of the hottest commodities in the segment, dealers may not be as willing to negotiate on price as, say Chevrolet or Ford, but this posture will likely change as the new model year approaches and more profitable 2017s start arriving.

Will the styling be different?

Unlikely, without a full redesign. Rebel and Laramie Limited will continue with the unique grille they introduced for 2016. It trades the familiar crosshairs design with its Ram’s-head logo (a holdover from the truck’s Dodge-brand affiliation) for a single curved bar and “Ram” lettering. Otherwise, exterior styling will continue with the same basic look since this generation’s model-year 2009 debut. It’s distinctive, and accented in black, body-color, or chrome to denote individual trim grades. The exceptionally roomy cabin, last updated for 2013, will continue with smartly designed and logical controls. Here, too, varied fabrics and dashboard appliques are used to complement each model’s marketing identity. The Limited boasts what is arguably the most well-appointed interior in the segment.

Any mechanical changes?

Not until the truck is redesigned. For now, most Ram 1500 models will offer a choice of three engines, all paired with automatic transmission. All but the HFE, Sport, Longhorn, and Limited will come standard with Chrysler’s “Pentastar” 3.6-liter V-6 with 305 horsepower, 269 pound-feet of torque, and an 8-speed automatic transmission. Standard on the Sport, Longhorn, and Limited and optional on all but the HFE the brand’s 5.7-liter “Hemi” V-8 with 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. On Tradesman and Express, the Hemi is available with both a 6-speed automatic and an 8-speed; all other models use the 8-speed, regardless of engine. Gear selection with the 8-speed is via a rotary knob on the dashboard rather than a center-console-mounted shift lever. Standard on the HFE and optional on all but the Express, Sport, and Rebel would be the only turbodiesel V-6 engine in the class, a 3.0-liter unit with 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. (The only other diesel in the competitive set the V-8 offered in the heavy-duty half-ton edition of the Nissan Titan). The ’17 Ram will continue with rear-wheel drive standard on all but the Outdoorsman. Standard on that model and a $3,580 option on all but the HFE is full-time 4-wheel drive that can be left engaged on dry pavement and includes low-range gearing for off-road use.

Will the fuel economy improve?

With the redesign, yes. Until then, no. Should 2016 drivetrains carry over, their EPA ratings will as well. The Ram 1500 boasts the most efficient V-6 engines in the segment. With rear-wheel drive, the 3.6-liter gas motor rates 17/25/20 mpg city/highway/combined. The 3.0-liter diesel rates an outstanding 20/28/23 in standard guise and 21/29/24 with the HFE model. With 4WD, ratings drop to 16/23/19 mpg for gas and 19/27/22 with diesel. V-8 models don’t fare quite as well. Rear-drive models rate 14/20/16 mpg city/highway/combined with the 6-speed transmission and 15/22/17 with the 8-speed. With 4WD, ratings are 13/19/15 with the 6-speed and 15/21/17 with the 8-speed. We strongly recommend the 8-speed if your budget allows. The 3.6-liter V-6 uses regular-grade 87-octane gasoline and can also be equipped to run on E85 ethanol-blended fuel. Ram recommends, but does not require, mid-grade 89-octane gas for the V-8. The diesel V-6 uses ultra-low-sulfur fuel and employs a urea-based emission system that requires periodic maintenance.

Will it have new features?

Not before the redesign. Like its domestic-brand rivals, the Ram 1500 offers tens of thousands of permutations and combinations to suit any buyer from the blue-collar laborer to the outdoorsman to the street truck enthusiast to the luxury-minded. The Tradesman is a very basic truck that can be equipped with manual locks and hand-crank windows if you so desire. At the other end of the spectrum, the Laramie Limited has leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, navigation system, driver-seat memory, power-adjustable pedals, and more. The SLT, Big Horn, and Laramie will likely make up the bulk of sales and can be equipped pretty lavishly themselves. Unique to the Ram 1500, and available for $1,295 across the board, is the clever RamBox, which consists of two lockable storage bins integrated into the bed’s side rails. They even have drain plugs so you can put ice in them to use as beverage coolers at your favorite tailgating spot.

How will 2017 prices be different?

They’ll go up, but probably not by too much if the truck is not redesigned for 2017. The Tradesman should retain its title as the segment’s least expensive light-duty full-size pickup. Figure on a base price of roughly $27,500, inclusive of destination fee, which was $1,195 on 2016 models. A top-of-the-line Limited with 4WD, 6-foot 4-inch bed, $3,120 diesel engine, $995 power sunroof, and $1,295 RamBox will check in at about $63,000. The heart of the Ram 1500 market will likely be the SLT Crew Cab with the 5-foot 7-inch bed, $1,150 Hemi V-8, and $500 8-speed automatic transmission, for an MSRP of about $47,000. A heavy-duty trailering package is available for an extra $1,215, which includes trailer brake control, longer exterior side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and a limited-slip rear differential.

When will it come out?

Expect a 2017 Ram release date during summer 2016

Best competitors

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

What change would make it better?

Better V-8 fuel economy and a lighter curb weight would be first on the list, both of which likely will be addressed in the upcoming redesign. For now, there’s little else of consequence we would change about the Ram 1500. It has more than enough capability for most light-duty truck buyers while delivering a smoother ride, nicer interior appointments, and some really clever features (eg RamBox). Put it at the top of your shopping list.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at chuck.giametta@carpreview.com