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The Ram’s five-speed automatic transmission includes a tow/haul mode to help get things moving. It holds engine RPMs longer before upshifting. It also has trailer-sway control, which uses the truck’s antilock braking and traction control systems to apply individual wheel brakes and/or reduce engine power to eliminate trailer sway. However, the 2009 Ram is missing two important factory options: an integrated trailer brake controller and towing mirrors.

Dodge will offer towing mirrors as Mopar accessories that can be added by the dealer. Because our truck was missing towing mirrors, it was very difficult to see around the silver curve of the Airstream trailer as we pulled away from the curb. We used an aftermarket trailer brake controller to integrate the Ram’s brake system with the electric brakes on the Airstream.

The HEMI’s newly added power was appreciated when accelerating the Ram from a side road onto the busy 101 freeway. It helped overcome -- but not completely eliminate -- the large gap between the five-speed automatic transmission’s 3.00 first gear and 1.67 second gear. The HEMI lugged a bit after shifting into second. We never felt like we were holding up traffic or had safety concerns about hitting highway speeds. We’d have been more concerned if we’d started out on a grade rather than level ground.

We didn’t test the truck’s grade braking, as the four-mile circuit we drove with the trailer was mostly flat.

Interestingly, our trailer-pulling Ram showed 2,505 miles on the odometer when we arrived back at the trailering staging area, causing the “oil change” light to pop on in the truck’s information display. A Chrysler engineer there said the truck uses an algorithm to tell the driver when to change the oil depending on its duty cycle. During frequent towing, oil changes are recommended every 2,500 miles. The truck has a 5,500-mile oil change interval for light-duty non-towing applications.

We missed trailer towing mirrors again when we backed the rig into its parking spot – very slowly.

Dodge Ram TRX Quad Cab 4x4, Unloaded

The last 2009 Dodge Ram we drove was the TRX Quad Cab 4x4. The TRX package adds upgraded shocks, underbody skid plating, slightly more ride height and a limited-slip rear differential to gain offroad credibility. Seventeen-inch Goodyear all-terrain GS-A tires are standard.

We're lukewarm about the TRX. It tries to pass itself off as a serious off-roader, but it offers only marginally better capabilities than a standard Ram 4x4. At a minimum, this truck should have been equipped with an optional electrically activated rear diff locker that could be used in either 4WD High or Low, like the 2009 Ford F-150 FX4.

The Ram's five-speed transmission also hampers low-speed rock-crawling capability. Its crawl ratio is only 31.99:1 (3.00 first gear * 2.72 transfer case ratio * 3.92 rear axle). In comparison, the 2009 F-150 FX4 offers a 41:1 crawl ratio, relying on a 4.17 first-gear ratio in Ford's six-speed transmission to hit the shorter number for better control in the dirt at low speeds.

If you need heavy-duty offroad capability in a Dodge pickup, go with the Ram 2500 Power Wagon instead of the TRX.

We put the TRX through its paces on dirt trails that crisscrossed a 300-acre ranch. Nearly all of it was light-duty off-roading. Only once did we use 4-Low to crawl down a steep portion. We had to keep our foot on the brakes to slow the truck rather than letting it crawl on its own using engine braking. The rear linkages and stabilizer bars did well controlling lateral motion when we hit rutted spots in the trails. Ride quality on the fire-road portions of the trail was excellent. There was no noticeable bed bounce over the dirt.

Summing It Up

After driving several Ram models in a variety of scenarios, we're still as enthusiastic about the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 as we were when it was first revealed at the Detroit auto show.

Most half-ton-truck buyers don't need three-quarter-ton capability in their pickups. We think new Ram owners will find the improved ride comfort and handling a more-than-fair tradeoff for trailering and payload ratings that just equal what the Ram could do in 2008, rather than chasing ever-higher towing and hauling numbers, trying to beat the competition.

We know some buyers may wait on the sidelines to see how the trucks stack up head-to-head with competitors. We'll answer that question in the next several months when we test all the 2009-model-year half-tons in our 2008 Shootout.

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