WASHINGTON - Beauty takes on new meaning at county landfill in Lorton, Va., where refuse from home and shop compete with nature for attention. It is a place where strength and brawn are honored, where practicality trumps gadgetry, where wheels that can't haul or pull, or that do a lousy job of complying with those tasks, are so useless they border on silly.
It's a truck kind of a place. And over the next few months, in this season of leaf piles and fallen tree limbs and discovered junk in the basement and storage shed, when sedans and sports cars won't do, we're going to look at trucks, both pickups and sport-utility vehicles - wheels that bring frowns to the faces of urban folk and that make environmentalists wince ... until they have to haul stuff to a place like this.
We'll start with the Dodge Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT, a truck as muscular and as long as its name - surely enough a work truck, but one that offers an amenable ride without in any way undermining its truck genetics, or, what for purposes of handy reference I will call it TG.
The Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT, for this column equipped with all-wheel drive, optional 20-inch wheels, and a bodacious 5.7-liter, 390-horsepower V-8 engine, is capable to the max. The only thing I would change about it, and I'm not alone in this, is that guzzling gasoline engine.
I've traveled all over Virginia and parts of North Carolina talking to real truck people - folks who actually need and use trucks in their daily lives - and I've discovered a hankering for diesel engines in standard pickups such as the Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT, the Chevrolet Silverado, the ever-popular Ford F-150 and the Toyota Tundra.
That's diesel, as opposed to the dual-mode gas-electric hybrids being produced by General Motors and a few other companies. Real truck people are practical sorts. It makes little sense to them to use two drive systems, at increased cost and complexity, where one will do.
Dodge Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT
• The bottom line: The Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT can do what a truck can do. But I wish it would do it with diesel instead of gasoline.
• Complaints: Other than fuel economy - that is, the lack of it - I have none.
• Ride, acceleration and handling: It rides and handles discernibly better than most of its genre. But gentility does not undermine its truck genetics. Acceleration is good. But you shove down that gas pedal at risk to your wallet.
• Head-turning quotient: Muscular to the max. It's intimidating.
• Body style/layout: The Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT is a standard-size, front-engine pickup with four side doors and a short cargo bed (5 feet 6 inches). It is available with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.
• Engines/transmission: A 4.7-liter, 310-horsepower V-8 (330 foot-pounds of torque) is standard. The test model was equipped with the optional 5.7-liter, 390-horsepower V-8 (410 foot-pounds) and a five-speed automatic transmission.
• Tech option note: Those Ram Boxes! They have to be among the best, most useful pickup-truck options ever - lockable saddle boxes embedded in the rear fenders, great for carrying tools, hunting and fishing gear - or for picnics.
• Capacities: There are seats for six people. The Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT can be equipped to carry a payload - onboard weight - of 1,430 pounds. It can tow a trailer weighing up to 8,550 pounds. Fuel capacity is 26 gallons. It can take regular gasoline, or 85 percent gasoline in available FlexFuel models.
• Mileage: In the tested model with four-wheel drive, using regular gasoline, I got 15 miles per gallon combined city-highway.
• Safety: Standard equipment includes ventilated front disc brakes, solid rear discs; four-wheel antilock brake protection; electronic braking assistance for added vehicle control in panic stops; electronic stability and traction control; and head air bags. Side air bags were not available at this writing.
• Price: The base price (2009 listing) on the Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT with all-wheel drive is $32,945. Dealer's invoice price on that model is $29,497. Price as tested is $38,700, including $4,885 in options (5.7-liter V-8 engine, 20-inch wheels, auxiliary power outlet, heated/foldaway side mirrors; detonator yellow exterior paint) and a $900 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $34,524. There are discounts aplenty. Prices are sourced from Chrysler, Edmunds.com and Cars.com, an affiliate of The Washington Post.
Diesel gives them a 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over gasoline, using one drive system. Diesel also gives them substantially more torque - twisting, pulling power. More torque means more work done. Real truck people work for a living, and as one truck person told me in Staunton, Va., "Whoever comes up with a good, affordable diesel in a standard pickup is the company that wins in my book."
The Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT swallows regular gasoline at the rate of 15 miles per gallon, combined city-highway. That egregious consumption is reduced somewhat by technology that deactivates four of the truck's eight cylinders at low speeds and under light loads. There's also the possibility of getting better mileage with different equipment mixes, such as rear-wheel-drive-only mated with a standard 4.7-liter, 310-horsepower V-8.
But my sojourn through the truck culture of places such as the local landfill has taught me that, when it comes to pickups, power nearly always gets more respect than fuel economy - power and muscle.
But that emphasis on brawn raises some suspicions about the Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT in the kingdom of pickup trucks. Here's why:
Most pickups have leaf-spring rear suspensions - semi-concentric strips of steel bent one within the other to support the truck's weight. Leaf springs have done a good support job for decades, but at the expense of a comfortable ride.
The Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT dispenses with leaf springs in favor of coil springs. Coil springs also do a good support job, but they offer a much more comfortable ride in the process. Apparently, comfort is suspect in the truck world.
"That the one with them coils?" asked a fellow landfill patron.
"Yes," I said. And in answering in the affirmative, I seemed to have come down several notches in his esteem.
"Humph," he said. "But can it do what a truck can do?"
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