By Ed Piotrowski and CarPreview staff
What changes will make the 2021 Ram 1500 different?
Mostly just tweaks to trim, color, and features. The 2021 edition of Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) full-size pickup should mostly stand pat even as significantly freshened and fully redesigned rivals begin arriving from General Motors, Ford, and Toyota.
Still, the 2021 Ram 1500 will be fresh enough and all-around good enough that the newcomers will be pressed to beat it for ride and handling, interior design and passenger accommodations.
Today’s fifth-generation Ram 1500 debuted for model-year 2019, building on its successful predecessor with evolutionary styling and refined engineering. It became even more popular. Indeed, this half-ton pickup recently achieved the once-unthinkable: it overtook the Chevrolet Silverado as the second best-selling full-size truck in the United States, behind the Ford F-Series. That momentum continued through the first three quarters of 2019, with Ram sales up nearly 14 percent.
Among its selling points, the ’21 Ram 1500 will retain the segment-exclusive coil-spring rear suspension that’s helped give it the best ride and handling in its competitive set. Returning as well will be a cabin that set benchmarks for design and connectivity.
Note also that FCA is likely to continue sales of the previous-generation truck as the Ram 1500 Classic. Less expensive and with fewer features than the current-gen Ram, the Classic targets fleet and commercial customers, as well as recreational buyers who want a more budget-friendly rig.
Driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of the current-generation 2020 Ram 1500. In areas where the ’21 current generation might be different we reserve judgment.
Should I wait for the 2021 Ram 1500 or buy the 2020?
Check out the 2020; it’ll be essentially the same truck as the 2021 but should almost certainly cost less. And it benefits from some notable additions, including an available turbodiesel engine; new appearance packages, such as the Black Edition; extra safety kit for the off-road-ready Rebel grade; and new wheels for upper-crust trims.
The ’21 Ram 1500 is unlikely to see nearly as many changes, meaning it’ll be a virtual rerun of the ’20. Even the model lineup should be a rerun, starting with the base-level Tradesman and ascending through the Tradesman HFE, Big Horn (called Lone Star in Texas), Rebel, and Laramie trims to the top-line Laramie Longhorn and Limited grades.
All will again come standard with rear-wheel drive, with the HFE available only with rear-wheel drive. Two four-wheel drive (4WD) systems will again be available. The Tradesman and Rebel would offer a part-time setup that should not be left engaged on dry pavement. Big Horn/Lone Star, Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited will have a full-time “on-demand” system that can. Both will include low-range gearing for heavy-duty off-road use.
All 2021 Ram 1500s except the Longhorn and Limited should again offer an extended-cab body – Quad Cab, in Ram-speak — with two front-hinged rear half doors and a 6-foot-4-inch cargo bed. Standard on the Longhorn and Limited and optional on all but the HFE will be the Crew Cab with four full-size doors and a 5-foot-7-inch bed. All but the HFE and Rebel will also offer a Crew Cab with the Quad’s 6-foot-4-inch bed.
Wheelbases (the distance between the front and rear axles), are 140.5 inches for the Quad Cab, 144.6 inches for the Crew Cab short-bed, and 153.6 for the Crew Cab long-bed.
If you are inclined to wait for the 2021 Ram 1500, you’ll be giving yourself an opportunity to gauge it against the newest trucks the competition has to offer. Ford will fully redesign the F-150 for model year 2021, adding a hybrid model and following up for model-year 2022 with a pure-electric version. After redesigning them for model-year 2019, General Motors is slated to freshen its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra for model-year 2021, with emphasis on upgraded interiors. And an all-new Toyota Tundra is due for model-year 2022
Will the styling be different?
No, except perhaps for a new color or two and maybe a revised wheel design here and there. All 2021 Ram 1500’s will again feature the Ram brand name prominently across the grille, although the grilles themselves can differ by trim level. For example, the Tradesman will return with one in basic black, the Rebel with black but with accent lines for a more in-your-face appearance. With more brightwork, the Longhorn and Limited are ranch-ready and uptown classy, respectively.
The off-road-ready ’21 Ram 1500 Rebel will again be analogous to the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Trail Boss, Nissan Titan Pro-4X, and Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. Rebels will continue to ride an inch higher than a standard Ram and come with specially tuned Bilstein-brand shock absorbers. Also included are unique 18-inch wheels riding all-terrain tires, hill-descent control, an electronic locking rear differential, and skid plates designed to protect the undercarriage from bumps and scrapes. Much of that is also available on most other models with the 4×4 Off-road Package.
Ram’s Active-Level Four-Corner Air Suspension will remain available on the Rebel, Tradesman, Big Horn, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn models and standard on the Limited. It softens the on-road ride and automatically lowers about a half-inch at highway speeds to improve aerodynamics.
Interior design and passenger accommodations should continue as ’21 Ram 1500 highlights. Like most full-size pickups, FCA’s entry can be as basic or as luxurious as you desire. Tradesman grades will remain blue-collar functional, with enough kit to get you to and from the worksite in a reasonable amount of comfort. The Rebel’s funky upholstery and contrasting color trim are as extroverted as the rest of the truck. Longhorn and Limited up the ante with rich leather seating surfaces, visible stitching, and unique instrumentation.
The 5-inch infotainment system included on the Tradesman, HFE, Big Horn/Lone Star, and Rebel would continue as an adequate but unspectacular setup. Next step up will again be the 8.4-inch touchscreen powered by FCA’s intuitive Uconnect interface with Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. It should remain optional on the Big Horn and standard on the Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited. On the Longhorn and Limited, it’ll again include imbedded GPS navigation that doesn’t require a connected smartphone.
The ultimate in infotainment for the ’21 Ram 1500 will again be the 12-inch Uconnect system. Likely returning as an option on the top three trim levels, this puts the huge touchscreen in a portrait orientation. Capable of displaying a variety of material simultaneously and in sizes that let, say the navigation map and Apple iTunes, appear large and legible, the ultra-high-resolution display is a delight to use. We would, however, suggest Ram supplement it with discreet physical buttons for the available heated steering wheel and heated/ventilated seat controls instead of forcing you to use Uconnect icons.
Seat comfort will remain excellent in the front row. Back-seat passengers should have adequate legroom in the Quad Cab. The Crew Cab would be the most generous, with limousine-like legroom even for very tall adults. In-cabin storage would consist of dual gloveboxes, a bi-level center console, and covered storage compartments under the rear floors.
As for cargo-bed storage, the RamBox option includes two covered, lockable bins along the bed walls, accessible from alongside the truck. They’re water-tight, illuminated, and can be locked and unlocked via the remote keyless entry fob. You also get auxiliary 115-volt power outlets, making them handy to use on the campsite or at a tailgate party.
Also returning will be the available multi-function tailgate. It’s hinged to drop down also split vertically 60/40 to open like a book cover. It’s Ram’s answer to the “MultiPro” tailgate found on certain versions of the rival GMC Sierra 1500.
Any mechanical changes?
No. The ’21 Ram 1500 will continue with the new underskin structure it received with the 2019 redesign. It consisted of more high-strength steel and helped cut up to 225 pounds from the new Ram. The ’21 should again have maximum payload and towing capacities of 2,300 and 12,750 pounds, respectively. That should remain slightly less than the Ford F-150, but most anyone who would need more are likely shopping heavier-duty three-quarter and one-ton rigs, such as the Ram 2500 and 3500.
The ’21 Ram 1500’s rear coil springs and available adjustable air suspension both deliver exceptional ride quality and control. This truck is remarkably stable over bumps with almost none of the tail hop and skitter that can come when driving with an empty bed. Handling response is excellent as well, and not just for a full-size pickup. As on most pickups, the steering is a little short on road feel, but the Ram 1500 is surprisingly responsive to steering inputs and this truck drives like a smaller vehicle – high praise rivals can’t match. In tight spaces you’ll also appreciate tidy-for-the-class turn radiuses of 46.2-48.7 feet, depending on wheelbase.
Two gas engines and a diesel will remain available. The 2021 Ram 1500 Tradesman, HFE, Big Born, and Rebel models should again come standard with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine of 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited would come with FCA’s 5.7-liter “Hemi” V-8 of 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. Expect this engine to remain on all other models except the HFE.
Acceleration should again be adequate with the V-6, aided by the included “eTorque” system, which adds a 48-volt, 12-cell lithium-ion battery pack powering a 12-kilowatt generator. The generator supplements acceleration and powers the truck’s accessories. This, along with engine-idle stop/start capability are all designed to save fuel.
You can also order eTorque with the 5.7-liter V-8, and thanks to the instantaneous torque provided by the electric motor, its acceleration is stronger versus models without it. The idle stop/start system is the smoothest on any production vehicle to date, with barely perceptible shut downs when idling in traffic. Restarts were similarly smooth, with none of the shudder or lag that you can experience with similar systems.
Also optional on all but the HFE should be FCA’s EcoDiesel V-6, a turbocharged 3.0-liter with 260 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. After a moment’s hesitation from a stop, it delivers impressive thrust about on-par with the non-eTorque V-8. It doesn’t smoke or smell but does sound louder and less refined during acceleration than the light-duty diesel V-6 available in the GM rivals. The penalty for its useful extra torque and substantially better fuel economy than the V-8 is an initial purchase-price premium, here some $5,000 over the gas V-6 and $3,000 over the V-8.
All Ram 1500 trucks should continue to use an eight-speed automatic transmission shifted via a dashboard-mounted dial instead of a lever on the center console or steering column. The arrangement frees up space but does take getting used to. The transmission is a smooth operator with the gas engines. You feel more shifts with the diesel, but they’re never harsh.
Will fuel economy improve?
Unlikely. The 2021 Ram 1500 should repeat its 2020 EPA ratings, which were not bad for a full-size pickup.
In fact, the ’21 Ram 1500 HFE should continue among the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered half-ton pickups, with a rating of 20/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined, although it’s rear-drive only. Other ’21 Ram 1500s with the gas V-6 should again rate 20/25/22 mpg with rear-drive and 19/24/21 with 4WD.
V-8 Rams without the eTorque option should again rate 15/22/17 mpg with rear drive and 15/21/17 with 4WD. A 4WD Limited returned just 12.8 mpg in our testing. T
The eTorque system provides not only a welcome dollop of extra torque, but a significant boost to EPA ratings. Expect 17/23/19 mpg again with rear drive and 17/22/19 with 4WD. In real world testing, our 4WD Crew Cab averaged just 12.9 mpg, although most of our evaluation period occurred in sub-freezing winter weather.
Expect 2021 Ram 1500s with the turbodiesel to again rate an impressive 22/32/26 mpg with rear drive and 21/29/24 mpg with 4WD. Our 4WD Longhorn review sample returned 21.8 mpg in testing that skewed to city driving over highway use.
Look for Ram to gain tune the gas V-6 for regular-grade 87-octane gasoline. FCA should continue to recommend, but not require, midgrade 89-octane for the Hemi V-8. The diesel would require ultra-low-sulfur fuel. It also employs a urea-based exhaust-treatment system that requires periodic replenishing with specialized fluid available over the counter or at your Ram dealer.
Will there be new features?
Perhaps not “new” per-se, but certain safety and convenience features could move across trim levels.
For model-year 2020, Rebel grades received a newly optional Safety Group that added key driver-assistance features including adaptive radar cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. These features are also available on the ’20 Laramie, Longhorn, and Limited, but not on the Tradesman or Big Horn. We’d like to see availability expand to all grades for ’21, though this is not likely.
Also added for 2020 and expected to return is the Night Edition package for the Big Horn and Laramie. Essentially a blackout kit, it includes black wheels, badging, and other exterior trim. The Rebel Black Appearance Group should again serve a similar role.
Otherwise, the ’21 Ram 1500’s feature availability should continue to run the gamut from spartan to spectacular. Tradesman grades would continue to include air conditioning, remote entry, power windows and locks, and cruise control.
Big Horn/Lone Star is where most retail customers will start their Ram truck search. It adds fog lights, extra USB power points, nicer upholstery, and in-floor storage bins behind the front seats.
The Rebel largely mirrors the Big Horn while adding full LED exterior lighting, locking rear differential, off-road suspension and tires, skid plates, front tow hooks, power-sliding rear window, power driver’s seat, and a dampened tailgate designed not to slam down when opened.
Laramie should again cost less than the Rebel, and while it loses that model’s off-road kit, it gains the more advanced Uconnect infotainment suite, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, driver-seat memory, and an upgraded audio system.
The Laramie Longhorn has Old West-style interior décor to go with its imbedded GPS navigation, nicer leather seating surfaces, and heated outboard rear seats. The Limited has a more urban flair to its interior trim and includes the 12-inch Uconnect screen, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, wireless smartphone charging, power-folding running boards, and air suspension.
Will 2021 prices be different?
Count on an increase but likely a small one, given the ’21 Ram 1500 will mostly be a carryover. Still, the 2021 Ram 1500’s base-price range will remain vast as the Texas countryside.
Base-price estimates here include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $1,695 on the 2020 Ram 1500.
Figure a base-price range of roughly $34,000 for rear-drive Quad Cab Tradesman with no options to the low-$70,000s for a loaded 4WD Limited Crew Cab with the 6-foot 4-inch long bed.
We’d urge Ram to make the aforementioned safety features standard on most of the Ram 1500 range for 2021, although we recognize the price hikes that likely would entail. These valuable driver assists were generally included in option packages that ranged from $1,500-$3,000.
Most 2021 Ram 1500 buyers will likely continue to select a Big Horn or Laramie Crew Cab with 4WD and the 5-foot, 7-inch bed. Depending on other options, the prices for these will likely be in the range of $49,000-$55,000, before factory incentives.
When does it come out?
Release date for the 2021 Ram 1500 will likely be in fall 2020.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra 1500, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra