At a time when the big truck makers are doing everything they can to separate themselves from the pack, only a few are making enough noise to get above the din.
For now, Ford is probably doing the best job with low-volume packages like the Raptor, King Ranch and FX2. But recently, Ram has made a strong push. Names like Longhorn, Ram Runner and Outdoorsman are getting a lot of truck enthusiasts talking. The latter, which we first saw at the 2010 State Fair of Texas, seems to be aimed right at us.
Ram said the Outdoorsman package would be designed meet the discriminating needs of boating, camping, hunting and fishing enthusiasts. We like to do all those things, so we couldn?t wait to get our hands on one.
This new package will be offered in all three light-duty and heavy-duty Ram flavors ? 1500, 2500, and 3500. It replaces the TRX4 package going forward.
For those who may not know, other Ram trim levels include the ST, SLT, Big Horn/Lone Star, Sport (1500 only), Laramie (which includes the new Longhorn edition) and Power Wagon (2500 Hemi only). Other packages, such as the Tradesman and Adventurer packages, will be coming as well.
Outdoorsman models start at $28,625 (regular cab, including $975 destination). Our crew cab was priced at $41,785.
As soon as the 2011 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman hit our driveway, we immediately started planning a trip to the closest U.S. national park from PickupTrucks.com headquarters: Joshua Tree National Park, which covers more than 800,000 acres.
We packed our test truck with all the camping and cold-weather gear we could find. The park, which is celebrating its 75th birthday this year, is split between two extremes: the lower-elevation (below 3,000 feet) Colorado Desert on one side and the much cooler, higher-elevation (as high as 4,000 and 5,000 feet) Mojave Desert zone. Exploring as much of the park as possible means being prepared for anything, especially if we wanted to get some serious stargazing in as well.
The style and features of the truck are well done, as Ram made every effort to include every off-road, towing, and four-wheel-drive option available to the platform. Likewise, all Outdoorsman models get the biggest fuel tank available (32 gallons for the 1500 and 34 or 35 gallons on the Ram HDs, depending on the bed length); at least a class IV hitch with both four- and seven-pin plugs; a limited-slip differential; and the heavy-duty cooling package. Our 1500 Outdoorsman had Goodyear Wrangler AT/S 275/70R17 tires that filled the fat-lipped wheel wells quite well and helped give the package a more rugged stance.
All Outdoorsman packages get two-tone paint with a Mineral Gray lower color that starts in the bumpers then wraps around to the fender flares to the lower door valances. As you might expect with any rugged 4x4 package, all Outdoorsmans include front and transfer case skid plates for serious protection when exploring rougher backcountry terrain.
Although most national parks do not allow exploration off designated roads, Joshua Tree offers many miles of well-maintained dirt roads, giving visitors access to the more remote ? and scenic ? areas of the park. Our Outdoorsman provided adequate ground clearance and solid four-wheel-drive capability as we navigated through the Queen Valley, past Skull Rock and around Sheep Pass campground. Since our vehicle came equipped with the electronic 4x4 transfer case, shifting from rear-wheel drive to high-range four-wheel drive was an easy turn of the dial.
It?s worth noting that once the 4x4 high-range is engaged, the center differential in the transfer case is locked, so this mode should be engaged only on low-traction surfaces like gravel roads, snow-covered pavement or loose sand. Combined with the aggressive treads of the all-terrain tires and smooth ride from the rear-coil suspension, the Outdoorsman never came close to getting stuck or finding an obstacle it couldn?t overcome.
Because of the great weather during on our trip, our only drivetrain changes were from two-wheel drive to high-range four-wheel drive. (But given how the weather can change in an instant, we were glad to have the extra gearing if we needed it.) We especially liked the well-sorted steering ratio that gave the Ram package a smooth and predictable feel whether on loose dirt roads, tight parking lots or higher-speed highway cruising. The steering ratios are perfectly matched for this type of vehicle.
We also liked the Outdoorsman?s unique look, especially when compared with other late-model Rams on the road. The blacked-out grille, two-tone color scheme and the pronounced rear-quarter ?Outdoorsman? stickers give the pickup a strong personality.
We really liked the RamBox option ($1,895, available only on 1500 Crew Cab models), which included several Mopar accessories specifically designed with this package in mind. These storage brackets install into each side of the RamBox?s lockable storage units and provide a secure slot for your favorite rifles, shotguns, fishing rods, tools or whatever else you might want to store. These specially fitted brackets ? Ram wants us to call them ?holsters? ? conveniently cradle your valuables securely with heavy-duty rubber retention straps. These ?holsters? cost $205 per side and seem to make sense only if you regularly need them. For us, we used the non-holstered storage bin to hold most of our camping gear because the only shooting allowed in Joshua Tree National Park was with cameras. Now, if Mopar made a nifty holster for all the lenses and camera bodies we typically use, that could be interesting.
During our fuel economy testing, there were no surprises. Our 1500's 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 had cylinder-deactivating capability and gave us an average of 16.1 mpg to 18.1 mpg. The best mileage numbers were collected during no-traffic freeway runs, where we regularly got around 18 mpg as the engine cycled in and out of Eco mode. It seems strange that a tiny green light turning on and off on the information screen is supposed to catch your attention. It?s too bad Ram doesn?t make a bigger deal about this for the driver. The true potential here is how that information can change the way the driver drives. Ford does a better job here in both the F-150 and Super Dutys.
Beyond that minor grievance, we liked the rest of the Outdoorsman?s interior, with its premium cloth 40/20/40-split front bench seat, 10-way adjustable driver?s seat and plenty of rear storage with two floor-mounted cubbies, as well as two flat compartments under the rear seat. Also of note is the Ram?s steering wheel, which now offers both front and rear fingertip controls on a leather-wrapped wheel. But probably our favorite feature on Outdoorsman package is the dash-mounted 115-volt power outlet plug and inverter (as long as it does not need a three-prong plug). This was especially handy for recharging our flashlight and camera batteries.
Much of our road test through Joshua Tree was done at night, to get far away from any city lights and see as many stars as possible. And as odd as it might sound, the Outdoorsman has a few interesting exterior lighting options that came in handy. For setting up camping gear in the dark and navigating around the campground, the center high-mounted bed light and the individual lights inside the RamBox compartments were a huge help, especially when loading and unloading the vehicle. We also appreciated the lighting mounted underneath the towing mirrors that spread tons of light on either side of our Ram and underneath the tires. And finally, after popping the hood to check on a faulty sensor, an engine-compartment light turned on. Thankfully, we didn?t need to do any night repairs, but it?s nice to know we could have if we needed to.
After a few hours in the dark, watching the softening sunset glow die off in the west, we counted hundreds of stars in the night sky. Unfortunately, a half-moon watched over us most of the night, providing a surprising amount of light, but that didn?t seem to affect the number of stars we could see. In fact, with a relatively small amount of indirect LED lighting, we were able to capture numerous photos of the truck and stars in the sky.