Ram tries to blend form, high function in 1500

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Give me a boost, will you?

Climbing into one of these gargantuan pickups can be like hoisting yourself onto the roof of a house — with a similar view once you get up there.

But, hey, I figure big pickups function kind of like NFL linemen — minus the warrior tattoos, jewelry, weird hair and occasional off-season stints in prison.

They need lots of big-bellied bulk to shove around all the heavy loads in an oversized world.

Even so-called light-duty mainstream pickups might need to tow 10,000 pounds of hay or haul 3,000 pounds of greasy tools.

In short, they better be able to lug the single-car garages that once housed them.

With the largest, heavy-duty pickups, you just drop in a growling diesel the size of a Nissan Versa and stand back. Who cares about mileage?

The challenge with slightly smaller “light-duty” trucks is preserving their immense capabilities while easing their voracious appetites for fuel.

As you may recall, the visionaries in Washington expect all vehicles — including trucks — to meet tough federal fuel-economy standards, and pickups are barely halfway there.

So which body parts do we chop off, Dr. Doom — fenders or doors?

Ram is lifting a page from Ford and adding paragraphs of its own, offering a pumped-up base 3.6-liter V-6 and efficient eight-speed automatic in its more refined 2013 truck.

Like Ford, Ram's base engine is a stout, modern six with 305 horsepower and fuel economy of 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 on the highway in two-wheel-drive form. With four-wheel-drive, that drops to 16 and 23.

For now, that is the best economy in the segment with horsepower once found only in V-8s.

Moreover, Ram — formerly Dodge Ram — had enough confidence in its new engine to drop it into the really large SLT crew cab I had recently, along with four-wheel-drive.

Before we get too excited, let me provide a little truth in advertising: The towing capacity in a V-6 Ram is less than 5,000 pounds, half what you get in a Ram Sport with the 395-horsepower Hemi V-8.

Still, my silver SLT felt plenty capable. As with all Rams, everything on the truck felt like it had been built in the Land of Giants — large knobs, handles, levers and pedals.

The truck's signature enormous grille looks better than ever combined with a raised hood and contemporary looking headlamps.

Although the Ram still wears slab sides, they felt masculine and purposeful on this big square, jut-jawed pickup.

While still tall and proud, the new Ram actually punches a cleaner hole than ever through the air. At speed, its air suspension — derived from the Jeep Grand Cherokee — can lower the truck by more than half an inch, and active shutters in the grille close to make the Ram more aerodynamic.

The interior fits and functions well. A big, flat dark-gray dashboard dropped down and around an enormous center stack where the rotary shifter for the eight-speed automatic was mounted. It's a bit odd, but I promise you'll get used to it.

Terry Box is the automotive writer for The Dallas Morning News.

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