Americans ask more of our trucks than we do of any other vehicle. In any given week, the average half-ton pickup might find itself commuting like a sedan, hauling a bed full of bricks and sand, towing some Jet Skis, navigating muddy ranchland, or exploring off-road trails. It's no wonder that we bought 2.8 million of the things last year.
The best-selling pickup in the United States last year-and indeed in every year for the past four decades-has been the Ford F-Series. But our 2019 Truck of the Year should give pause to prospective Blue Oval loyalists (or buyers of any truck, for that matter) because there isn't a truck out there that so precisely hits the diverse needs of the segment better than the 2019 Ram 1500.
The fifth-generation Ram 1500 is the latest in a long line of evolutionary leaps for Fiat ChryslerAutomobiles' bread-and-butter truck. The newest version, more than any other, seems poised to meet the needs of the 21st century truck buyer, with more variety, capability, comfort, convenience, and value than ever before.
ADVANCEMENT IN DESIGN
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there's no arguing that Ram retains its reputation for stylish functionality. "Best-in-class: sophisticated without going over the top," editor-in-chief Ed Loh said.
The 2019 Ram 1500's clean-sheet redesign throws out many of the design cues we've come to expect from a Ram pickup-while still being unmistakably Ram. Gone are the crosshair grilles, mini-Mack fenders, and even the traditional Ram badge in most places. Instead, the 1500 provides buyers a choice of seven grilles and three head- and taillamp designs. Its 15 wheel designs feature stronger six-bolt hubs, ranging from an off-road-friendly 18 inches to an urban cowboy 22-inch style. And that's on top of your typical pickup choices of extended or crew cab and bed sizes of either 5-foot-7 or 6-foot-4. A regular cab and 8-foot bed are expected next year.
"I love the styling," road test editor Chris Walton said, eyeing the Ram 1500 Rebel. "It's like the Viper of Rams."
The interior updates, from the volume-grade Big Horn all the way up to the luxurious Limited, are even more impressive. Every Ram cabin has the tools needed for both work and play. The Ram's configurable center console turns the space into an office, with room inside to swallow a bag and laptop, space for your phone and drinks, and a center console lid that can function as a desk.
When it comes to technology, Ram provides three versions of its Uconnect infotainment system, including a choice of an 8.4-inch or Tesla-like 12.0-inch touchscreen. "The center stack layout is a combination of Volvo (screen), Audi (switches), and Jaguar (rotary shifter)," Walton said. "The clever center console (phone charger/pocket, sliding bins, and side pockets) is something Honda would do. Ram has done its homework on picking the benchmarks for both design and packaging."
Although a Silicon Valley-aping infotainment suite will certainly draw eyeballs in showrooms, the cabin's functionality and furnishings are even more impressive.
Crew cab versions feature a flat floor in back and seats that flip up, allowing you to store valuables in the safety of the cabin. RamBins, hidden underneath the rear floormats, have grown in size to better accommodate hitch receivers or ratchet straps. In a first for pickups, the new Ram 1500's higher trim levels have a rear bench seat that reclines up to 8 degrees and is heated and cooled, as well. Ever been chauffeured in a truck before? Now you can be.
We were particularly impressed by the level of fit and finish. Every trim, from the base Tradesman up to the Limited, furnishes at least one two-tone cabin treatment, injecting a bit of personality and style into the cabin at any price point. Unlike some of its competitors, Ram took the profitable luxury market seriously by offering two flavors of luxury trucks-the saddlebag-equipped (seriously) Laramie Longhorn and the thoroughly modern Limited.
"GM has to be kidding, going up against this with the High Country and Denali," features editor Scott Evans said. "This is a luxury interior. Look at this wood! This leather! The metal, stitching, design, attention to detail! The leather on the grab handles! Cadillac could learn a thing or two by spending an afternoon in this cabin."
Hyperbole aside, he's right. The Ram's cabin ain't just good for a truck. It's good, period.
Looks can be deceiving, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the 2019 Ram is a bit old school in its approach. Freed from the obligation (and expense) of chasing maximum payload and towing capacities with all-aluminum construction, the Ram team instead invested in a shotgun approach to improve capability, efficiency, and performance. Underpinning it all is a new high-strength steel platform, 4.0 inches longer and about 17 percent lighter than the old chassis. The aerodynamic sheetmetal is largely built from steel but with the strategic use of lighter metals for a total weight decrease of about 200 pounds.
Like the previous version of the Ram 1500, our 2019 Truck of the Year continues to come standard with a coil-spring rear suspension (now with frequency dampers), which slightly sacrifices towing and payload capacity in favor of a better ride when compared to leaf-sprung competitors. A four-corner air suspension with five ride heights and load leveling is available, giving the best of both worlds when it comes to ride and performance.
"It's really a surprise on the road," testing director Kim Reynolds said after a stint in an air suspension-equipped 1500. "It's way more refined and sophisticated than the GMs. Steering is fluid and quality-feeling." The standard suspension won praise at the expense of its competitive set, too. "The coil-spring suspension is better in the Ram than the ride in any of the GM trucks," MotorTrend en Espanol managing editor Miguel Cortina said.
Despite the minor diet, maximum payload is up to 2,320 pounds, and max towing capacity rises to 12,750 pounds, besting Chevrolet, GMC, Nissan, and Toyota's half-ton offerings (though shy of Big Daddy Ford's max towing by 450 el-bees).
Things get even more impressive under the hood. Embracing global realities, two of the three available Ram 1500 engines come with supplemental electric motors to improve fuel economy and performance. These mild-hybrid powerplants, dubbed eTorque, use small starter-generators and a tiny 0.43-kW-hr battery stashed in the rear wall of the cab to aid the stop/start system and provide torque assist to allow the engines to lug around at cruising speed in four-cylinder mode longer and without having to downshift.
The eTorque system is standard on the base 3.6-liter V-6, which makes 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, and is also available for a small premium on the top-level 5.7-liter V-8, which turns out 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. A non-eTorque 5.7-liter V-8 generating the same output as the eTorque version slots between the two electrified mills. (Because these motors aren't assisting when the engines' are generating peak power and torque, they don't affect those figures.) An eight-speed automatic is standard across the line, as is rear-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive, limited-slip or locking rear axles, and three final drive ratios are also available.
The base eTorque V-6 is a lot of engine for the money. It makes its torque higher in its rev band, but it makes good use of the power it has. "It feels powerful even though it's a V-6," associate online editor Kelly Pleskot said. Evans agreed, adding that it "doesn't have the torque of the V-8s, but it has plenty of power; the deficit only manifests itself when passing on Arizona's 75-mph freeways."
In back-to-back driving of our otherwise identically equipped V-8 Ram 1500 Longhorn and Limited models, Evans was one of the few judges who could feel the Limited's eTorque assist at work. "I find the eTorque drivetrain a bit smoother through the revs and shifts and when accelerating up steep grades," he said.
The fuel economy benefits of the eTorque V-8s show up in our data, but towing performance is a bit of a wash; all of the Ram V-8s, eTorque or not, performed nearly identically in both instrumented tow tests (where the Rams towed between 6,600 pounds and 11,400 pounds) and in our Davis Dam frustration test, which saw our V-6 Ram tester tow 4,020 pounds and the V-8s tow 7,780 pounds.
PERFORMANCE OF INTENDED FUNCTION
Despite the many hats we expect our trucks to wear, at their heart, they are beasts of burden. To that end, the 2019 Ram 1500 excels.
The most important part of any pickup is its bed, and Ram continues to deliver. The bed rails have been raised 1.5 inches to increase cargo volume, and the optional RamBoxes grow in size with minimal impact on bed space.
Some previous Ram innovations carry over, including the segment's best combo bed extender and cargo divider, which stashes against the cab when not in use, and a CHMSL-mounted camera that looks down into the bed so you can triple-check your tie-down work while on the move.
The one area where the Ram's bed could be better is its use of tie-downs, or lack thereof. GM changed the game this year-providing 12 standard tie-downs in the new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra (three in each corner) and the ability to expand with movable optional tie-downs. Ram offers the standard four (one in each corner), plus another four optional moveable rail-mounted tie-downs. Ram would do well to follow GM's lead here.
The ability to access the bed is arguably as important as its construction. Missing GM's standard bumper steps, Ram makes up for it with its option sheet. One of the air suspension's many benefits is its access height mode, which lowers the bed's step-up height to match that of the bumper step. For those who skip the air suspension, Ram also offers a kick-down rear step that stashes up and away behind the rear bumper.
Ram made towing improvements, too. For those who simply want to hitch up and go, Ram makes life easy. The rearview cameras have high resolution, making it easy to hitch up without a spotter. Trucks equipped with blind-spot sensors have an extra party piece, too; after you hitch up and make a couple of turns, the blind-spot sensors will determine the length of your trailer and increase the size of the alert zone to include the trailer length.
As for straight-up towing, the Ram 1500 is rock-solid, especially when equipped with the air suspension. Towing the exact same 8,300-pound trailer as the GMC Sierras and Chevrolet Silverados, the Rams feel so much more confident and just plain happy while at work.
Pickups aren't traditionally known for fuel efficiency, but that didn't stop Ram from easing the pain at the pump. Lots of credit goes to the lineup of eTorque engines, but Ram also worked hard at ensuring the new 1500 is as aerodynamic as possible without sacrificing the utility of its pickup body. Its segment-best 0.357 Cd is achieved using grille shutters and spoilers integrated into the trailing edges of the roof and tailgate. On trucks without air suspension, an air dam deploys automatically at 35 mph; those with air suspension get an aero-mode ride height.
The result is that Ram has the most efficient V-8 in its class; the V-8 eTorque is EPA-rated at 17/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined with rear drive or 17/22/19 with four-wheel drive. Non-eTorque Ram V-8s net 15/22/17 (rear drive) or 15/21/17 (four-wheel drive) mpg. Our Real MPG testing of the V-8 models generally falls in line with the EPA's results, but our eTorque V-8-powered 1500 Limited 4x4 beat the feds' numbers with an 18.7/22.6/20.3 score.
The one weak point would be the hard-working V-6 eTorque powerplant. EPA-rated at 20/25/22 mpg with rear drive and 19/24/21 mpg with four-wheel drive, our Big Horn 4x4 model achieved an unimpressive 15.4/19.7/17.1 Real MPG score.
The NHTSA has not crash-tested the 2019 Ram 1500 yet, but the IIHS has. The new Ram achieves top scores with a Good rating (the highest possible) in all six crash tests, with its only demerit a Marginal headlight illumination score. The 1500's new chassis is built of high-strength steel and includes octagonal front-frame rail extensions designed to protect occupants in often-deadly small-overlap front crashes.
The Ram 1500 is also available with forward and reverse collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitors, and 360-degree camera systems, with the ultimate aim of helping the driver avoid accidents in the first place. That's the true measure of safety.
With pickup trucks, value is ultimately relative over a life of hard knocks and long miles. But we were impressed by the breadth of the Ram lineup. The base Tradesman model starts at $33,390 and should need little more than a spray-in bedliner and tow hitch to be ready for work. The volume Big Horn model is even more impressive. One step up from the Tradesman and starting at $40,090, the Big Horn models offer two-tone interiors, a smartphone-friendly 8.0-inch touchscreen, and more. Editors lauded our two Big Horn testers for their premium-feeling materials and high amount of content for the dollar.
Where Ram makes the biggest value argument is surprisingly in its two most expensive trims: the $52,685 1500 Laramie Longhorn and $55,285 Limited. These two luxe trucks simply blow the competition out of the water. They offer the tech that contractors and civilians alike require and expect, and quite a few luxury automakers could learn a thing from the way Ram matches colors, textures, and materials in these cabins. And it's a bargain, considering our loaded Ram Limited tester stickered for $68,340, about the price of a comparable GMC Sierra Denali and less than an equivalent F-150 Limited.
BRINGING HOME THE GOLD
No segment is more competitive or more important to Detroit's automakers and blue-collar American workers than half-ton pickups. These trucks are the face of their brands-purchased, driven, and loved by millions. They're dependable commuters, tools, and toys that form the backbones of our families. With such a diverse skill set needed, it's easy to just miss the target. But the Ram 1500 hits the bull's-eye. No pickup in the segment better balances capability, efficiency, value, and quality. The Ram 1500 retains its old-school appeal while being refreshingly modern in style and substance. It's refined and sophisticated without surrendering its dirty-fingernails roots. For that, the Ram is our 2019 Truck of the Year.
JEEP WRANGLER IS THE 2019 MOTORTREND SUV OF THE YEAR
Look past the iconic grille, and you'll see it. Behold the latest evolution of a seven-decades-old design, a soul-stirring affirmation of freedom, a surprisingly groundbreaking vehicle that shouldn't work in the 21st century as well as it does. The new Jeep Wrangler is what crossovers want to be when they grow up, and it's the 2019 MotorTrend SUV of the Year.
Rarely do past and future coexist so beautifully. The thoroughly redesigned and re-engineered Wrangler finds its own path to modernization, resisting the temptation to dilute its climb-that-mountain capabilities for crossover softness. Even so, beach-bound cruisers and daily commuters will appreciate the upgraded pavement game, and off-roaders will admire how much more confidently they can traverse their favorite trails. This Jeep delivers, no matter what.
The Wrangler's diverse range furnishes a model for every need. For the Jeep lover reminiscing about the Wrangler's past, the capable two-door model with a V-6 and manual transmission costs about $30,000-before hitting the aftermarket for customization. The four-door Unlimited model makes it easier to bring friends along for the journey. Perhaps the best part is the available mild-hybrid turbo-four, which improves EPA-rated city fuel economy by an astounding 38 percent compared to the outgoing model.
"The Wrangler is a thoughtful, thorough rework of an American original," international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie said. "It's laser-focused on improving the performance of its intended function, right down to the last nut and bolt."
ADVANCEMENT IN DESIGN
It's no easy task to update the look of an icon. It's a no-win proposition. Do too much (or too little), and the critics will howl. But Jeep nailed it.
Jeep approached the Wrangler's styling with a light but deliberate touch. Relocating the Jeep badge from the Wrangler's face to the front fenders facilitates a less cluttered look, with round headlights touching the edge of the seven-bar grille. Other than LED turn signals mounted on the ends of the wheel flares and updated square taillights, not much else gives away the Wrangler as the new JL model. And that's exactly how it should be. The Wrangler isn't a crossover requiring twice-a-decade face-lifts to retain buyers' interest. It embraces a classic style that continues to attract dreamers who want to remember what SUVs used to be.
The standard canvas top and plastic side windows remain available, and like the fold-down front windshield, they're easier and quicker to disassemble and reinstall than before, using simple tools. For further customization, black or body-colored hard tops are available, and the soft top comes in black or tan. A vibrant color palette, seven wheel styles, and a regular series of special editions present every opportunity to make a Wrangler reflect your tastes-and that's before you venture to Mopar for accessories and upgrades.
In so many ways, the Wrangler advances design to make Jeeping more rewarding-whatever that means to you. Open the power-retractable Sky One-Touch soft top, and a starry night will provide all the mood lighting front and rear passengers desire. The new option isn't cheap, but it's worth the money. Features editor Christian Seabaugh noted it "combines the safety of the hard top with the ease and open-air experience of the soft top" and called it a revolution for the brand.
Despite its unapologetically industrial interior, the Wrangler masters some details better than many sensible crossovers. Soft-touch and high-quality materials equal those of luxury competitors. As with many Fiat Chrysler Automobiles products, audio volume and channel-change controls are located conveniently on the back side of the steering wheel. Once you drive a car with this intuitive setup, you'll wonder why more automakers don't adopt it. The same is true of the rear-seat headrests, which conveniently fold down when not in use for better rearward visibility.
The Uconnect infotainment system, which can be optioned with a 7.0- or 8.4-inch touchscreen that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, is intuitive to use. "Its controls can be learned in seconds, and it responds quickly to your inputs," associate online editor and resident tech nerd Stefan Ogbac said.
Delightful design Easter eggs, such as the on-screen air recirculation control that looks like a Jeep in silhouette, add character. Remove the doors, and the exposed hinges will remind you how much more special your Jeep is than your neighbor's anonymous lozenge every time you climb inside. And once you're there, the high seating position offers great visibility that's perfect for seeing obstacles ahead on a trail or peering over the roofs of idling cars on a traffic-choked freeway.
Another win for Wrangler fans and first-timers alike: how well the interior is screwed together. "Build quality seems so much better than before," executive editor Mark Rechtin said.
The Jeep grille is iconic, but like the New York Yankees and their pinstripes, it can also be a distraction from the substance underneath. The Bronx Bombers also had Mickey Mantle, and likewise, this Wrangler is so much more than those seven vertical air intakes. The "sport" in "sport utility vehicle" doesn't mean tearing up a racetrack or winding road. In the body-on-frame Wrangler's case, "sport" means heading beyond the paved road's end. Off-roading capability is its core DNA, bred for military use from the Ardennes to An Loc. And the 2019 edition got all the good genes.
Jeep added to the Wrangler's already impressive go-anywhere abilities, improving articulation and total suspension travel on the Rubicon trim. The boulevard-ready Sahara trim nonetheless offers full-time four-wheel drive that's sufficient for most trails, especially when it would be overkill to enlist the Rubicon's Dana 44 front and rear axles with electronically locking differentials and disconnecting anti-roll bars.
As for the impressive Rubicon, technical director Frank Markus aptly described the off-road-focused trim as "designed and engineered to retain the faithful."
"The Unlimited Rubicon naturally behaved like the mother of all Jeeps," Markus said after taking the SUV off-road. "In four-low with front and rear differentials locked, there's no stopping it in the sand."
That confidence-instilling performance is standard on every Wrangler. Only one oddity: Hill-descent control can only be activated in four-low.
"The genius of this Jeep is that it can be configured to suit the ambitions of the off-roading neophyte and expert alike and deliver an experience that will reward them both," MacKenzie said.
That's also true with the new 2.0-liter eTorque turbo-four mild-hybrid powertrain, which is worth consideration regardless of how you enjoy your Jeep. The 2.0-liter powerplant provides 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, making it an intriguing option. More responsive than you'd expect, the engine is mated exclusively to an eight-speed automatic and employs a system that facilitates engine stop/start and regenerative braking. The new engine isn't impressive for a Wrangler-it's just plain impressive. Markus called the Wrangler 2.0's engine stop/start system "amazingly quick" to restart, lauding it as "one of the best."
Those who are nonetheless wary of a four-cylinder Wrangler can stick with the 285-hp 3.6-liter V-6 (which develops 35 lb-ft of torque less than the turbo-four). However, we'd recommend upgrading the V-6 to the eight-speed automatic. The standard six-speed manual may be new, but multiple judges found the engine's torque delivery poorly matched with this transmission.
PERFORMANCE OF INTENDED FUNCTION
Just as no one expects last year's SUVOTY, the Honda CR-V, to traverse Hell's Revenge, the Jeep Wrangler doesn't ride as smoothly, handle as crisply, or travel in such isolated splendor as a car-based crossover. (Such is the philosophical predicament in defining this category in today's market.) Yet for a vehicle more capable off-road than any other new SUV offered today, the Wrangler's everyday trade-offs aren't as severe as you'd think.
Revised suspension tuning makes both the Sahara and Rubicon trim levels more comfortable than their predecessors. New electrohydraulic steering brings more precision, but the Wrangler never pretends to be a sports car. Instead, the Jeep provides a deliberate pace, encouraging you to appreciate your surroundings.
"The Wrangler doesn't wallow or flop around," features editor Scott Evans said. "It moves with a purpose. The ride quality is so, so much better than it was before."
Stronger performance off-road is part of the package, and a stretched wheelbase provides more room in the rear seats. For those more interested in image-building than trail-running, Jeep offers nearly endless customization possibilities and ways to enjoy the sunshine.
The 2.0-liter eTorque engine is a huge upgrade, but even the 3.6-liter V-6 sees fuel economy improvements, and both engines feature stop/start tech. No matter the powertrain, Wranglers benefit from lighter aluminum used for the doors, hood, and windshield frame. With the V-6, fuel economy improves by 1-2 mpg in the city and 2-3 mpg on the highway.
Go for the eTorque engine, and mileage jumps to 22-23/24-25 mpg. Put another way, the Wrangler's 2.0-liter engine's efficiency means more miles of Jeeping before you have to stop to refuel. Jeep is also planning a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6, and about the time a Wrangler-based pickup truck arrives, a plug-in hybrid should, too.
The best way to stay safe is to avoid accidents altogether, and the Wrangler's superior maneuverability compared to its predecessors provides a good foundation. The Jeep's frame is strengthened with high-strength steel, and every new Wrangler comes with seat-mounted front side airbags. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and LED headlights are available, and the Wrangler can apply maximum braking force in a panic-braking situation even if the driver hasn't pushed the pedal all the way down.
For optimal on-road safety, the 2019 model offers forward collision warning-it's a feature you'll value once it saves you from damaging the Jeep's iconic face. The Jeep's active safety also impresses off-road; its ABS system has a rough-road detection feature, which adapts its settings to improve performance over off-pavement surfaces.
The body-on-frame Wrangler, which hasn't yet been crash-tested, won't handle a panic maneuver as well as a unibody crossover, obviously. Even so, the Jeep's all-around visibility rises above that of most new CUVs, and the Wrangler is a sure bet if you're seeking a vehicle that will feel secure off-road.
Not everyone will fully appreciate the Jeep's appeal. But what price do you place on the smile a car puts on your face? The Wrangler is as far from a four-wheeled appliance as you can get. And when the going gets rocky, sandy, or snowy, the Wrangler outperforms vehicles costing more than twice as much.
A two-door canvas-soft-topped Wrangler with 285 hp and four-wheel drive starts around $30,000, though a well-equipped four-door Unlimited with the excellent 2.0-liter engine and an automatic transmission can clear $50,000. That's a ton of cash, but some buyers feel Jeep's seven-bar grille carries just as much cachet as certain luxury automaker logos. Compared to the Wrangler, no Fordyce Creek forder combines such capability, efficiency, infotainment tech, and overall appeal in quite the same way.
FOR THE GOLD
The Wrangler isn't for everyone. Guest judge, veteran automotive R&D executive, and 2013 Wrangler owner Gordon Dickie noted that second-row ingress and egress remains cramped, tire and wind noise is quieter but still intrusive, the manual transmission's clutch will ruin your Achilles tendon in rush-hour traffic, and the Rubicon's around-town ride-though improved-is still flinty compared to car-based crossovers. Such are the trade-offs Jeep lovers willingly endure.
But when you've gotta have an off-roader-or want to look like you spend weekends stomping terra firma-the Jeep is impossible to beat. Tracing its lineage to the original Willys MB, the Wrangler navigates nostalgia without getting stuck in it. The Jeep Wrangler is remarkably well-rounded for its core purpose, and it's a most deserving SUV of the Year.
This article is from MotorTrend.