2013 Ram Tradesman

Rock Solid

Ram 1500 Tradesman 4Ă—4: A cost-conscious pickup that handles cargo with ease


By Tom Jackson

Photos by Bruce W. Smith

If you own a small construction company you can put as much money into your truck as you want and write it off as a business expense. But once construction companies get to a certain size, deductions matter less than keeping costs down.

And if you’re not making a profit, there’s nothing to deduct from anyway.

Given this environment, a lot of contractors are taking a hard look at how much they’re willing to spend on new equipment and trucks.

Enter the Ram 1500 Tradesman, a cost-conscious contender with more going for it than your typical zero-amenities truck. Contractors keeping a sharp eye on expenses will find a lot to like here.

Snug it up. The bed divider can be placed anywhere along the sliding rails to keep cargo from moving around.

We had a chance to drive a new 2012 Tradesman Regular Cab 4×4 this winter, and except for the cloth seats and the hand crank for the windows, you really wouldn’t think you were ­driving a budget truck (base price $25,835, as tested $30,975).

Power puncher

What keeps this truck fighting above its weight class is the decision by Ram engineers to invest in what counts. The 5.7L, V8 Hemi engine (390 hp/407 ft.-lbs. torque) mated to a six-speed automatic transmission gives you all the get up and go you could ask for.

Ice it. The bedside storage works best for long or narrow objects, but at the end of the day you can fill them with ice and chill your favorite beverages too.

It’s greedy with the gas (EPA 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway), but if it’s work you’re trying to do, this combo pulls up to 8,900 pounds on the hitch, 1,440 pounds of payload and is rated for 8,900 pounds GCWR.

(There is a lighter duty 3.7L/V-6 available with 215hp/235 foot-pounds of torque.)

Cargo management

Our truck also came with the RamBox Cargo Management System (a $1,295 option). The RamBox system consists of three different elements:

• Two weatherproof, lockable, drainable and lighted storage bins that run the length of the bed along the bedsides.

• An adjustable bed divider that also acts as a 2-foot bed extender.

• Cargo rails with sliding cleats.

The bed divider and cleats slide and lock operate with ease. In a wreck or just a hard turn, loose cargo is potentially lethal. Kudos to Ram for making it much easier to secure almost any object large or small.

Thinking inside the box

But it’s the two lockable storage boxes that generated the most discussion among our crew. Our debate boiled down to how well this design compares to conventional transverse mounted aftermarket toolboxes.

The traditional truck toolbox is hard to get into. If you’re standing on the ground you won’t be able to reach anything in the middle and very little at the bottom of one of these.

If they’re shallow you can’t put much in them. If they’re deep they limit how much ­plywood, drywall or sheet goods you can carry in the bed.

With the RamBox at ground level you can get to and see everything inside. The flat lids on the boxes are convenient places to put tools, hardhats or coffee cups without them sliding off. The only negative we found is that the boxes’ long and narrow design limits bulky cargo.

Technically they hold 8.6 cubic feet (on a 6-foot, 4-inch bed), but you can’t put a 7 1/4-inch circular saw in one flat, although it fits if you turn it sideways. Still, you can get a lot of smaller stuff in these: recip saws, shovels, hoes, extention cords, drills, levels, survey equipment and such. (And don’t tell the boss, but you can put beverages, fishing poles and rifles in them too.)

Drive quality

We’ve been impressed with the drive quality on all the Ram and Chrysler products we’ve tested of late, Tradesman include.

Steering, brakes and suspension are all first rate. Acceleration is muscular and the shifting supple. The four-wheel disc brakes are aggressive without being grabby. The 4WD is so smooth you wouldn’t know it was on save for the light on the display.

The truck’s tight turning diameter (39.8 feet for the short box, 45.4 feet for the long box with 17-inch tires) will help with parking or maneuvering on crowded jobsites.

The interior is surprisingly quiet even at highways speeds, which is a nice change from the typical tin-can feel of some budget/fleet trucks. And the cab has plenty of room, even for long legged types.

Bottom line

The Tradesman is a good idea and well executed, timely too in these cost constrained times.

The dealmaker, we think, is the RamBox system. It’s something you should check out in person and give some thought to before you buy your next truck.The RamBox can make you more efficient here and – since falls are one of the top causes of construction injuries – it can make your operation safer too.


Basic Specifications

  • Make/Model: ’12 Ram 1500 Tradesman Reg Cab 4Ă—4
  • Base MSRP: $25,835
  • As-Tested MSRP: $30,975
  • Engine: 390hp 5.7L Hemi V8
  • Torque: 407 lbs-ft@1,500rpm
  • Axle Ratio: 3.92 w/ Anti-Spin rear diff
  • MPG/EPA: 13 city/19 hwy
  • Fuel Capacity: 26 gals
  • Tow Capacity (as tested): 5,000 lbs weight-carrying; 8,900 lbs weight-distributing
  • Special Options: ST package ($750); Trailer Brake Control Group $300); Anti-Spin diff ($325); Tradesman Pkg ($525); RamBox Cargo system ($1,295); Bluetooth Auto-dim Rearview mirror ($360); LT26570R17E On/Off road tires ($250)