First drive: 2019 Ram 1500 [Video review]

Ram steps up its pickup truck game for 2019.

The full-size pickup truck segment is more competitive than ever. A couple of years ago Ford shook up the class with the industry's first aluminum-bodied truck. Then, earlier this year, Chevrolet introduced an all-new version of its Silverado, complete with a new diesel engine option. But Ram isn't sitting idly by while the competition gets better — for the 2019 model year Fiat Chrysler's truck division is introducing a new pickup of its own.

That new truck is the regular-duty Ram 1500, the company's bread-and-butter model. And for once, the term all-new really does apply here — outside of the truck's bed floor, every component has been updated or totally redesigned for the 2019 model year. But do those changes make for a better Ram 1500? Read on to find out.

Exterior stylingJust as Hyundai revolutionized styling in the mid-size sedan segment a few years back with the Sonata, Ram did just that in the truck segment in 1994 with its redesigned 1500 model. That truck ushered in unique styling for the Ram brand that mimicked the look of a big-rig semi. That design put Ram on the map, and the company has stuck with the same general design language ever since.

The 2019 Ram 1500 retains some of that semi-truck influence, but it has been watered down. There's still defined fenders for the front headlights and a raised hood line, but it's more subtle and not as easily recognizable. Another factor to that toned-down look is probably the integration of the truck's headlights into its grille — previously the headlights and grille areas were clearly defined, but they kind of just flow together on the 2019 1500. The new Ram isn't a bad looking truck, it's just not as distinctive as before, and we think that's a shame.

In profile the new Ram retains its classic three-box pickup shape, but there have been some subtle changes to its overall design. The 1500 badge has been moved from the lower section of the front doors to high-up on the hood, making it easier for all to see. The new 1500 badge also includes the truck's engine designation. Wheels are new designs throughout the lineup and measure from 18-inches on entry-level models up to 22-inches on high-end Longhorn and Limited models. Lastly, Ram raised the 1500's bed sides by 35mm in order to create a continuous line with the truck's windows.

Around back the new 1500 looks similar to the outgoing model, but taillights have been redesigned to incorporate the truck's available blind spot monitoring system. Look closely and you'll also notice that the 1500's front and rear parking sensors have be integrated into plastic accent pieces, eliminating the need to put holes in the truck's otherwise pristine-looking metal bumpers.

New interiorThe overall design of the 2019 Ram 1500's interior isn't radically different than before, but it's been improved in virtually every way. Materials are premium feeling in even the entry-level Tradesman, and the flagship 1500 models, the Longhorn and Limited, feature real wood accents and genuine leather everywhere.

The 1500's tech has also been improved — FCA's latest Uconnect infotainment system is available on a wide range of models and top-end trucks benefit from a Tesla-like 12-inch touchscreen display. Ram has also engineered that new screen to stick out farther from the dash so it's easier to reach from the driver's seat. Passengers are kept happy with 4G WiFi connectivity, five USB ports and available heated and cooled rear seats.

Space is another highlight of the 1500's interior — both for people and stuff. Crew Cab models boast a cabin that's been stretched by 4-inches, with that extra length directly benefiting rear-seat legroom. Storage space has also been improved thanks to a new and absolutely massive center console -- it's large enough to swallow a 15-inch laptop. The 1500's rear floor is now completely flat and you can fold up the rear bench, making it easier to carry large objects, like a big screen TV. A Ram Bin storage system can be had in the rear floor of the truck and is perfect for stowing smaller items.

The 2019 Ram 1500 joins the 21st century with available safety tech like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist.

Truck stuffThe 2019 Ram 1500 rides on an all-new frame that's now made out of 98 percent high-strength steel. Ram says the new frame is not only stronger than the one used in the previous truck, but also about 100 pounds lighter.

The body of the new 1500 also utilizes more high-strength steel, but aluminum has been sprinkled in for some components, such as the hood and tailgate. As a result, the new 1500 is 225 pounds lighter than the model it replaces.

All 2019 Ram 1500 will initially ship with the company's 5.7L HEMI V8, which is rated at 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. Although carryover, Ram has made some improvements to the HEMI, including the ability for the V8 to operate in four-cylinder mode under more conditions. In order to reduce the inherent vibration of the engine operating in four-cylinder mode more often, Ram has developed a new frame-mounted canister system that cancels out any unwanted vibrations. In a nutshell, the system works by detecting any vibrations coming through the frame and uses an electrical pulse to move a cylinder within the canister in the opposite direction, thereby eliminating any vibrations that would otherwise make it into the cab of the truck.

Regardless of drivetrain, all 2019 1500 models come standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Again, that unit is largely carryover, but Ram has made some internal improvement to the gearbox to handle future powertrains, but more on that in a second. As always, two- and four-wheel drive configurations are available, as is an air ride suspension.

Later this year Ram will rollout a new mild hybrid system known as eTorque. Relying on a belt alternator starter to provide extra juice, the eTorque system will come standard on trucks with the 3.6L V6 and it'll be optional on the 5.7L V8. In its V6 application, the eTorque system will provide an additional 90 lb-ft of torque while the V8 will benefit to the tune of 130 lb-ft of torque. Now, it's important to note that those torque figures aren't in addition to the engines' stated output — the eTorque system helps out at lower RPMs before peak torque is reached and it can also fill in the gaps between transmission shifts for a smoother driving experience. The system uses a lithium ion battery pack that's about the size of a brief case and stashed behind the rear bench.

Ram has also promised a diesel 1500 model is coming, but the company hasn't announced any details on that model other than it will launch sometime in 2019.

On the roadThe first thing we noticed when driving the new Ram is just how quiet and comfortable it is. The term vault quiet gets thrown around a lot, but the 2019 1500 is actually worthy of that description. And while the Ram has always been a smooth-riding truck thanks to its coil rear springs, the new 2019 model has taken ride quality to an even higher level. Combined with soft and supportive seats, the 2019 Ram 1500 really does ride like a luxury vehicle.

No one is buying the Ram 1500 as a canyon carver, but steering in the new model is better than we expected with decent weight and some semblance of road feel from its electronic power steering system. Acceleration is also quite good, with the eight-speed auto willing to kick down a gear or two to summon up the V8's full power. The soundtrack of the HEMI is also pleasing, with a muscle car-like growl when really dipping into the throttle.

As we mentioned early, this new 1500 is 225 lighter than the outgoing truck, which means Ram was able to increase both payload and towing capacities. The former now stands at 2,300 pounds and the latter at 12,750 pounds. In order to cope with those higher limits, brakes are bigger all around for 2019, providing noticeably better stopping power.

The new Ram 1500 is taller and wider than the outgoing model, and you feel that added girth out on the road. Its not ungainly, but you're acutely aware at all times that you're piloting a large machine. Maneuverability is also a weak point of the 2019 1500. In addition to the normal challengers of trying to squeeze a large vehicle into small spots, Ram 1500 drivers will also have to deal with an unimpressive turning radius.

Fuel economy ratings haven't been announced, but they should improve on the previous 1500 model. The new truck is not only lighter than its predecessor, but it's also more aerodynamic. When the eTorque system launches, it should be good for at least a 10 percent bump in economy.

Leftlane's bottom lineIt may not be as distinctive looking, but Ram has created a much better 1500 for the 2019 model year. From interior appointments to overall capabilities, the 2019 1500 is miles ahead of Ram's last light-duty product. But more importantly, the 2019 Ram 1500 makes a case for being the best pickup in its class.

2019 Ram 1500 price range, $31,695-$57,390. Prices exclude a mandatory $1,645 destination fee.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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