Pickups are more than transportation. They are economic machines – powering America's future.

This country was built out of the bed of a pickup, and it's going to require four-wheel drive and 32-inch Super Swampers to get this nation out of the economic mud-pit we find ourselves parked.

Chrysler Group LLC appears to be doing its patriotic part. What's good for Ram – the truck lost its Dodge moniker four years ago – is good for the country. Seriously, it is.

In past years, the Ram was Chrysler's best-selling vehicle, and its bread and butter. It's beefy profit paid the bills while Chrysler pumped out nameplates like Sebring and Crossfire with little success. Now the Ram is poised to return to that position while Chrysler Group is also offering far better cars and crossovers under new owner Fiat-- such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango and Chrysler 300.

Simply put, the 2013 Ram 1500 redefines pickups, challenging perennial front-runners Ford and Chevrolet with a stellar interior, solid performance and the best highway gas mileage--25 mpg-- in the segment. (Cue the flag waving.) The Ram is so good, President Obama should take credit for it and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney should say it was his idea. VP Joe Biden should drive one from Washington DC to Delaware every day to help garner the blue collar votes.

This pickup provides political bounce for anyone, though you'll never feel it because of the all-new air suspension.

The list of improvements and pickup firsts is nearly as long as the 100 different versions of Ram 1500s available.

A finely tuned machine

The Ram's overhaul is truly a multigenerational campaign. It started with the previous generation Ram in 2009. That brought a smooth rear coil-spring ride and the new front face of Ram, the handy RamBox storage bins in the side rails of the bed, and a vastly improved interior. But there were still some rough edges in performance and interior appointments. Its potential, though, smelled of luxurious leather.

For this generation, we see the introduction of a the Pentastar V6 engine, the power plant that has nearly single-handedly powered Chrysler's recovery, an eight-speed automatic transmission and more fine tuning than a political message.

Every point, piece and part feels improved, retuned or redone--all for the betterment of this new Ram.

I've been watching this Ram since it was first shown at the Detroit Auto Show in January. In August, I finally got the chance to get behind its thick steering wheel and put some miles on it.

This Ram is a contender.



A powerful stance

Like any vehicle, the Ram's exterior makes a statement about its owner. The new Ram, with a bigger grille, chiseled hood, massive bumper and elegant long lines says, "Get out of my way!" more than any other pickup I have driven.

The Ford F-150 may offer a more sophisticated exterior, the Chevrolet Silverado may be more timeless and the Toyota Tundra may provide the best caricature of a pickup, but the Ram still out does them all. It's aggressive, mean, and it wants to steal your lunch and slap your sister. It's beautiful.

There are four new grille designs, some more intimidating than others and a new bumper that stretches across the face of the Ram. Add to that the quad headlamps, which provide more light in more areas for night driving.

Some of the less noticeable details include the stainless steel running boards on some models that stretch all the way from wheel to wheel. And a thoughtful change was moving the Ram badge on the sides so buyers could easily tack on a magnetic door sign for a business. See, pickups are the true small business offices.

Mostly, the Ram is easily recognizable. It's big, brawny and showcases rippled muscles from every angle.

Power and efficiency

And the Ram has always had the power to back up those stoic, powerful looks.

The base 3.6-liter Pentastar produces 305 horsepower, which is more than enough power to get this big rig rolling. I purposely selected a loaded crew cab model to find the heaviest truck with a V6.

I was surprised at how well it drove both on country roads and the highway. The eight-speed automatic transmission adds to the Ram's smooth roll down the road.

Of course, if you need more power, the Ram offers its 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. It rumbles with more authority than a Rhino, and is much easier to hook up to a boat trailer.

It creates 395 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque. It can tow up to 11,500 pounds and carry one-and-a-half tons in the bed.

Most impressive is all of the engineering work on the Ram to eek out better fuel economy. From the active grille shutters that close to increase the aero dynamics, and the standard low rolling resistant tires to the engine's thermal management system and the start/stop system that turns off the engine when not in use, the Ram focuses on efficiency. All of that work allows the V6 Ram to hit 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. The 5.7-liter V8 numbers with the six-speed transmission hit 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. Ram promises class-leading mileage when the eight-speed mileage numbers are released later this year.

See, power and efficiency can work well together, at least outside the Beltway.



Sitting in luxury

The Ram's interior was already nice. Now, it's better.

It remains plush throughout, with a selection of materials that feel top grade.

Ram uses a gear-shifter knob mounted on the dash instead of a traditional shifter on the floor or steering column. The move creates more room between the two front passengers.

The one quirk about the interior is more a matter of packaging than a complaint. There's a lot of space between the two front passengers. Ram includes a massive center console, which does include nicely placed USB and smart-card (SC) readers, to keep them hidden.

In fact, there are lots of storage nooks and crannies all around the Ram: under the floor storage, small dash and door cubbies to hold anything and everything.

The new instrument cluster comes with lots of information--perhaps too much--but still, it's nicely laid out and looks good.

The biggest improvement arrives with the new UConnect system. It's displayed on a 8.4-inch color touch screen that can do more than most laptop computers. It plays your music, answers your phone and provides you with easy to follow turn-by-turn directions, all of which can be operated by voice. Got an app? It'll play that too.

Final take

Too often, when the next generation of any vehicle arrives, it acts more like a politician than a vehicle. It over promises and under delivers and just can't manage the heavy lifting the job requires.

But the Ram is one party I can get behind. It manages to impress without boasting. It has become the pickup you'd like to drive and, when you finally do, you're even more impressed. All of the changes are for the better inside and out.

It sets new benchmarks that everyone will surely follow. That's leadership we should all admire.

Scott Burgess is the senior editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached at scott.burgess@teamaol.com. Follow @AOLAutos on Twitter, and Scott Burgess @AutoCritic.


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