Beyond these aero gains, Dodge could have pushed the styling more. Once your eyes pass the forward canted grille, there's not much to keep your attention. By comparison, the '09 Ford F-150 shows better detailing in the fenders and around back with its ribbed tailgate, providing an example of a more complete design package. Even with this criticism, the new Ram looks good. We also like the way the exhaust pipes are set into the lower edge of the rear valance panel. Paint quality and panel fit on our test vehicles were topnotch.

The new Rams get three engines. The 3.7L V-6 with 215 hp is the base engine for the regular cab and Quad Cab. Based on our previous experience, it's hardly worth considering unless you're buying purely on price. Economy with the four-speed automatic (14 mpg city/20 mpg highway) isn't boast-worthy. The engine's one upside is that it's available with a manual gearbox. The city mpg rating goes up by 1 mpg if you skip the AOD tranny in favor of the manual one. If you're looking for maximum economy, you would be better off waiting for the upcoming Cummins diesel, which Dodge will introduce in calendar year 2009 or the two-mode hybrid Hemi that will arrive in 2010.

Providing significantly more power than the V-6 is the 4.7L overhead-cam V-8 that pumps out 310 hp with fuel economy of 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway for two-wheel-drive models. This engine, and the top-dog Hemi, utilize a five-speed automatic.

We like the 4.7L V-8 a lot, but somehow a Ram isn't really a Ram without a Hemi behind that big crosshair grille. The 5.7L Hemi mill is vastly improved for 2009 and now generates 390 hp. Some might think Chrysler sacrificed fuel economy to get this extra power, but they'd be wrong. Engineers improved the Hemi's cylinder deactivation technology, so the mighty Hemi matches the fuel economy of the smaller V-8. Because the engine is more powerful, it can run on four cylinders more often and can even maintain a 70-mph cruise running on only half its pots. To help drivers optimize fuel economy, an attentive pilot can now hear when the engine shuts down half its cylinders, and this audible but unobtrusive cue helps change one's driving habits to get more miles from every gallon.

As important as the engine is the Dodge's new rear suspension. Unlike most fullsize trucks, the '09 Ram 1500 does not use conventional leaf-type springs but an all-new multilink coil-spring system to keep the solid live axle properly positioned. This system provides a much smoother and quieter ride compared to the traditional leaf designs without compromising load capabilities. This suspension change required a major redesign of the Ram's ladder frame because suspension pick-up and loading points are completely different. Dodge took the opportunity to further stiffen the framerails and crossbeams, and you can feel the results immediately. We couldn't find pavement rough enough to send quivers or shakes through the body.

The front suspension is basically carryover from the old truck, but the upper and lower A-arms work just fine as they are. The steering is rack-and-pinion, and the brakes are discs all the way around.

As has become the norm with cars, the Ram 1500 includes four-wheel ABS as standard along with electronic stability control, trailer sway control, hill start assist, and rear park assist.