Pickup trucks have become an interesting anomaly in the automotive world. These vehicles, with a cab for people and a bed used for hauling or towing, they were originally built to do manual labor. No frills, no fun. Just the ability to start on a cold morning and work all day on the farm or construction site without issue.
Today though, things are radically different. Sure, trucks these days still promise to fulfill everything expected of them, but they are now much more civilized and comfortable, offering many luxuries found on more expensive cars.
But do the fundamentals still work? Are these two four-wheel-drive behemoths, the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Quad Cab 4TRX and 2010 Toyota Tundra Double Cab, capable of working hard all day, then take the family out to dinner in the evening in comfort? I got to spent some time finding out.
Both the Toyota and Dodge have a multitude of things going for them right out of the box. Each truck can be had in a nauseating array of sizes, powertrains and be built stripped to the bone or swathed in opulence, with various different engine sizes, transmissions, gear ratios, and combustion options (in regards to the Ram). Underneath the skin, both trucks have a fully boxed frame and feel capable both on and off the road.
For this test though, the Ram and Tundra have a gasoline-fed V8, four-wheel-drive, and the mid-level cabin with a four-door extended cabs. Both are within a hair’s width of each other from bumper to bumper, at 229 inches, as well as width and height. Each truck comes standard with power controls, air conditioning, cruise control, two rows of bench seating, a tow hitch and a bed liner.
And that is where the similarities end. As both trucks, while matching in some respects, have a completely different feel inside, under the skin, and especially behind the wheel.
In the Dodge, engineers didn’t stray from the old ways: upright seating position, big windows, and simple dashboard ergonomics. The outside world is very visible in the Ram, which makes moving this big truck easier than expected. The dash is laid out in a simple, utilitarian way. Big rotary knobs, large-faced gauges and multiple storage places are found within and are very user-friendly. However, outside of the gauges, it is the typical Dodge dash, covered in awfully hard plastics that feel far too unsubstantial to be in a work truck. Cost-cutting continues when you look in places behind the rear seatback, where the edge of the trim and sound-deadening material is very visible.
The Toyota is a complete 180, with a more car-like feeling. There’s less window in the Tundra and the dash and door sills sit higher on the beltline, wrapping around the interior around occupants. The seats are more welcoming than the Ram’s, and with a more design-oriented dashboard, this truck feel more like a Camry than a pick-up. Unfortunately, the Tundra follows the Ram in poor dash materials and is ever worse in regards to radio and HVAC controls, which are positioned too far away from the driver. Additionally, outward visibility has been compromised via the higher door sills, make the Tundra a bit.
In regards to room, both trucks match each other with a very spacious with a slightly tight second row. Both rear benches can be folded up and out of the way for dry storage, and there are plenty of cupholders in both. In the Tundra, the rear seats have a touch more legroom, as well as more comfortably-raked seatbacks.
With its independent front and coil-spring rear suspension (no leaf springs found here), the Dodge glides over the pavement with appreciative comfort. Only large expansion joints cause a bit of rear end to hop since it still have a solid axle. Regardless, it is surprisingly civilized. It only gets better once you open the taps on the optional 390 horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V8 and rip through five-speed automatic. I’ve never felt anything this large move so rapidly outside of a commerical airliner. Thanks to all that power, the Ram can carry up to 1900 lbs. in the bed and tow up to 10,450 lbs when properly equipped.
The Tundra, on the other hand, feels exactly like any pick-up driver would expect. It does have a mostly complaint ride, but the rear end pops up far too easily while the front bobs and weaves like a drunk football player. Loading several hundred pounds of fertilizer certainly helped keep the truck connected to the road. Luckily, with Toyota’s mid-range 4.6-liter, DOHC V8 pumping out 310 horses, the Tundra never felt underpowered, and is capable of carrying more weight in the bed (up to 1,595 lbs.), but not quite as much in regards to towing (up to 8600 lbs. as equipped).
The handling department is where the Toyota makes up some ground. Steering feel is meatier, with an acceptable amount of weight increase as steering angle progresses. The Tundra feels lower to the ground as well, giving the truck a more solid contact feel with the road. Maneuvering the Dodge is easy, as the light steering helps swing the truck around, but it is way too light and lifeless to really be anything other than an object to move the front wheel.
Braking is adequate for both trucks since both do come with four-wheel disks and ABS. With the Tundra feeling much heavier under distress braking. While the Toyota does stop well, the Dodge pulls up shorter, even with it’s knobby 17-inch Goodyears. The Toyota suffers in tight spots as well, as it feels very cumbersome in the local Kroger parking lot. The Dodge, on the other hand, feels surprisingly lithe and agile, even with a turning circle of 45 feet.
Don’t worry, each company did not produce a wussified trucks in the slightest, whether off-roading or hauling loads in the bed, there are no issues.
Tearing up each truck off-road showed that even though both are a bit unwieldy because of their length, the Dodge felt much more agile than the Toyota. The lighter steering felt quicker in tight passes and the more flexible rear suspension helped the big truck pivot its wheels much easier, making sure the 17-inch Goodyear Wrangler were never off the ground. The four-wheel-drive system with the optional TRX4 off-road package (underbody skid plates, 3.92 rear-end gear, and a limited-slip differential) never faulted once and the tires never lost their grip. With 401 lb. ft of torque, the Ram effortlessly climbed, crawled and forded anything I threw at it.
The Tundra, while just as capable, felt far larger and heavier than the Ram. Going up and over heaves in the ground or over rocks portrayed very top-heavy mannerisms. Comparing that to the Dodge, it made me feel very uneasy at times. It does come with a rear limited-slip, similar axle gearing and skid plates just like the Ram does, so it can take a beating without worry.
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In the end, there is a clean winner here. Old Faithful beats out the new guy in almost every category. More towing, more agile and more enjoyable off-road makes this an easy choice. But don’t fault the Toyota. They have made a good truck which is just as capable as the Dodge. It simply tries to hard to be both a truck and a car, and cannot pull it off. Dodge did not mess with a proven formula and came out the victor.