It's a telling sign of the ongoing horsepower wars - not to mention the rather impressive increases in mechanical efficiency - that the new Ram 1500 Express's optional Hemi engine puts out nearly the amount of driveshaft-melting power as the once very special Ram with the Viper engine, offered a few years back.
What's more, you can now get a 395-horsepower crew-cab 4x4 for just over $30,000, as well, capable of 19 miles per gallon on the highway. The cherry red model I got to play around with during a Colorado snow week was bumped up with about $6,000 in extra options, though I found that still meant a few pretty standard issue items were suspiciously absent.
I suspect, however, that buyers in this range will be more than happy with that awesome, grunting behemoth of an engine - and its practically diesel-like 407 lb.-ft. of torque - as well as the somewhat austere interior, as they're looking for trailer-hauling power, snow- and mud-beating four-wheel drive and eight-and-a-half inches of clearance. People who want a Laramie Longhorn edition with the air suspension and the microwave oven, will do so.
I'm also not sure if the truck I drove would necessarily be safe at the 150-plus miles per hour that Viper-powered monster was built to handle, but the new Ram sure looks fast, and you'll have no problem expressing all of your awesomely macho truckliness at every opportunity.
Part of my 1500 Express's gaggle of options included upgrades to attractive 20-inch wheels and a load of body colored grille enhancements that certainly make the truck look almost as slipstreamy as that Viper truck did, including a stuck-out bumper with an aero spoiler, a power dome hood and even an aero spoiler on the tailgate - plus gigantic chrome exhaust ports. A sharply raked front window and deep side moldings on the body kinda round out the much improved looks.
Gun it and the Hemi Ram makes a lot of noise, and accelerates rather quickly, despite 229 inches (wow) of frigate-sized sheet metal and mass. Stretched out with the moderately commodious Quad Cab in the back, the truck's got a 45-inch turning radius and requires full attention in parking lots; mine was also completely without backup cameras or beeping proximity sensors, so I had to be extra careful.
On the inside, the 2013 makeover features a swath of modern controls in molded plastic and rubberized surfaces, generally nice but certainly heavy on the plastic. And despite a modernized radio with iPod interface inputs (plus a low-res version of the helpful mid-instrument digital trip computer that debuted in the Grand Cherokee), the truck presents a strange mix of fancy and plain. It's about the only Chrysler product I've driven in five years without audio controls on the inside of the wheel or a CD player, and there isn't even a cover on the single sun visor mirror, yet there's a leathery center console box the size of a barbeque on the front seat.
Again, power and purpose ahead of prissiness. And you've certainly got to be a little rugged to even get into the truck, as it absolutely requires grabbing hold of the built-in hand-holds in the A-pillar to throw yourself aboard.
In-cab electronic trailer brake controls and a slick switch-on-the-go electronic 4x4 controller do mean less time spent outside mucking about; the electronic sequential shift control on the column-mounted shift stalk also provides greater versatility in getting big loads up and down the passes. For whatever reason, it's practically impossible to read the colored gear position display on the instrument panel.
Despite all that mass, suspension and ride are quite pleasant for general motoring, with less of the bounce and sway you used to find in bigger trucks. Running the Ram in practically ice storm conditions on Front Range highways last weekend, the 4x4 bit in as hard as it could with mediocre all-season tires, and the power was certainly plentiful.
Not feeling quite as power-hungry, or as interested in the 13 mpg you'll get in city driving? You can also get a Ram with a not-so-insignificant 305-HP 3.6-liter V6 (featuring a fuel-saving eight-speed transmission) or a 310-HP 4.7-liter V8, both of which will run on E85 fuel. Ain't no Hemi, though.