Road Test Review: Mopar Ram Runner by KORE

Road Test Review: Mopar Ram Runner by KORE
Words by Mike Levine and Dan Sanchez, Photos by Mike Levine

At 50 mph and with all four tires about 18 inches above the floor of the Mojave Desert, the Mopar Ram Runner we’re piloting instantly etches smiles on our faces. But what was more impressive is the smooth and controlled jumps and landings that follow (repeatedly) that confirm Chrysler’s high-performance off-road kit is the real deal in providing a credible, albeit expensive, alternative to the turn-key Ford F-150 SVT Raptor.

We recently spent a week with a Ram Runner, assembled by veteran Baja racer and suspension development guru Kent Kroeker. Kroeker diligently engineered and developed the kit for more than three years with his staff at KORE, outside San Diego, before turning it over to Mopar to sell to the general public.

If you’re not familiar with the Ram Runner package, it’s now available to turn almost any 2009-2012 Ram 1500 4x4 into a “no compromise” off-road racer all at once, or piece-by-piece, at your own pace and budget.

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The Ram Runner's approach angle is a massive 41-degrees in front while the rear has a 30-degree departure angle, both perfect for romping over low-speed whoops.

The Baja-racer-like truck we tested came with the full enchilada of bolt-on desert racing hardware, including the Ram Runner Stage 2 suspension, custom front bumper, bed-mounted tubular spare tire carrier, wide-body fiber glass front and rear fenders, sport performance hood and cold-air intake system for the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Also added were Pro Comp Xtreme Alloy wheels, General Tires and LED running lights. That’s more than $20,000 worth of parts before factoring in labor costs for the upgrades.

But to keep costs down, Kroeker has done what enthusiasts can’t do with a Raptor: He turned a used 2009 Ram 1500 Quad Cab 4x4 with only 10,000 miles on the odometer into a Ram Runner. The base model Ram half-ton was in good shape and came with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. It cost only $21,000 from a dealer in Las Vegas, saving the expense of buying an all-new pickup.

The Ram Runner was conceived from the beginning to build upon the Ram 1500’s natural strengths, including its unique (among half-ton pickups) five-link coil-spring rear live axle for excellent ride and handling off-road.

The Ram Runner is more than six inches wider than a stock Ram, thanks to custom three-inch longer front upper and lower independent suspension control arms. That extra width translates into stability in corners and high-speed turns while preserving the stock suspension geometry. Instead of using conventionally circular ball joints for steering, the ball joints are oval to maintain the boundaries of the factory geometry. They’re also fully rebuildable.

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We spent several hours punishing the Ram Runner at Johnson Valley Off Highway Vehicle Park, located in the Mojave Desert north of the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California. On almost any weekend you can find a wide mix of off-road enthusiasts running everything from dirt bikes to purpose-built rock crawlers on Johnson Valley’s variable terrain.

The Ram Runner handled every abuse we threw at it, from deeply rutted and heavy washboard-surfaced dirt roads to a rough and sandy dry wash at speeds in excess of 50 to 60 mph. The entire time the ride was incredibly smooth and predictable.

Low-speed crossings over deep ruts launched the front of the Ram Runner in the air as if we were hopping a ‘65 Impala in a low-rider competition. But what would have killed lesser trucks didn’t scratch the Ram Runner. A quick inspection underneath the truck after such harsh treatment showed no signs of weakness. Even the painted alignment marks on the control arm’s cam bolts remained in their original position.

IMG_5679
The Ram Runner's suspension provides 14-inches of travel in the front and rear.

A long, straight, hard-packed dirt road gave us the opportunity to launch the truck in the air at 50 mph. The landing with the large 3-inch-diameter triple internal bypass Fox reservoir shocks was smooth and the front tires never dug into the wheel wells or hit hard, due to the internal bump stops in the shocks.

Another physical advantage we noticed, traceable to KORE’s off-road racing experience, was how much the Ram Runner’s bed-mounted spare tire carrier help smooth out the tough stuff. The extra weight of the wheel and carrier acted as a counter balance to the front end, smoothly damping extreme fore-aft body motion to levels that helped build confidence in the truck’s capabilities.

Acceleration from the stock 390 horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 was always more than enough for what we needed, though there was a transient whistle noise we heard at certain RPMs, possibly caused by a small vacuum leak.

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But while the Ram Runner offers nothing but exceptional performance crossing the desert at high speeds, one area it falls short is braking. Unlike the F-150 Raptor, the Ram Runner kit does nothing to integrate or recalibrate the vehicle’s drivetrain and running gear electronics for off-roading. It’s easy to mimic 80 percent of the Raptor’s Off-Road Mode transmission performance by turning on tow/haul mode in the Ram Runner, but the Ram’s ABS system isn’t engineered to handle slowing the truck down on rutted surfaces, even when the electronic stability system’s sensitivity is numbed by hitting the ESP button. In contrast, the Raptor virtually disables ABS to allow full brake lockup so you can stop as quickly as possible to avoid hitting or traveling over an obstacle. We’d like the Ram Runner’s ABS threshold to be much higher, but the only way for that to happen today would probably require pulling a fuse, which is not an acceptable solution.

What other changes would we like to see to help pilot the Ram Runner off-road? Not much other than better seats with improved bolstering to hold us in place.

Once we were out of the wilderness, the Ram Runner was easy to drive on the highway and surface streets around Los Angeles. Steering feel was very good and the truck never wandered. The wider front track and wheel well cutouts seem to help shrink its turning radius while the ride quality was excellent. Despite the big 35-inch General Grabber tires, the Ram Runner provided a smooth and comfortable ride. Like the short-wheelbase Raptor we’ve tested in Southern California, the Ram Runner minimized highway oscillations caused by expansion joints placed at regular intervals in the highway, which are almost always evident on an extended cab and maximized with four-door and crew cab models. Aside from the tire noise from the mud terrain General Tires, there was no suspension noise.

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Fuel economy was worse than expected. We averaged 12 to 13 mpg in combined driving conditions, despite the Hemi’s fuel-saving multi-displacement engine technology. MDS seamlessly switches operation between eight and four-cylinders, depending on load.

Overall, we’re very impressed with the Ram Runner kit’s performance envelope. Thanks to KORE and Kroeker’s perfectionist tendencies, Mopar has a highly capable desert-running suspension kit it can offer to Ram fans with more brawn than the Raptor, though it still needs better integration with the truck’s electronics. For now, the Ram Runner is as close to a dual-purpose Baja-race and street vehicle as you could ever get.

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Comments

Best 4x4 around by far !!!!

can you get this in a standard cab truck?

@G-Street: You can convert any Ram 1500 cab configuration into a Ram Runner.

Cool truck.
Do they widen the rear stance 6 inches to match the front?

The one picture (2nd one) looks like the rear end is more narrow than the front.

The Raptor versus RamRunner shootout will be a blast.

@Lou: The rear is track is wider as well.

I bet it's a more thought out design unlike the Raptor's SVT built-in design frame failure mode. Back to the drawing board SVT.

BY FAR THE UGLIEST TRUCK I HAVE EVER SEEN!

@ Mike - thanks. It looked more narrow and there wasn't any mention of it.
How do they widen the rear?

@Lou: Spacers at the rear.

@Ken: That is hardly the case. Not pre-running does not equal design flaw.

Now all those haters out there read and weep cause you were freaking wrong!!!!!!!

Cool Truck! I wonder where they got such an idea? Oh wait, I already know.

ok chevyman I guess you've never laid eyes on the current Colorado or the tundras b/c this is by far the best looking truck around. now that I've acknowledged the local troll I must say just like any Chrysler product the main lacking point is the mpgs....at least I don't think anyone who has one of these really cares about that lol

Im a ford guy (I do like dodge too) but I think this is better than the Raptor.

"though it still needs better integration with the truck’s electronics."

This! Back to the drawing board Kent!

So how much is the total cost to upgrade your Ram after labor and matching paint? To have the electronics re flashed for offroad or whatever it takes and cost. By the time u have added all this up with a new Ram truck you might as well buy the factory ready Raptor "R" or just buy the street ready Raptor with a warranty. Ford has no reason to even break a sweat over this JC witney catalog Ram.

Why wont Chrysler sell it that way for $47,000-$52,000 more people would probably own one.
@moparman
Since you had to bash the Tundra I would take a shot at Ram and its lack luster transmission which hurts performance and would really suck in a performance truck like this and is the only reason I wont own a Ram but I love Ram to much and im not going to take a shot at them!

I can't see how anyone would think this was an ugly truck. But as one (in)famous poster once said "beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder".
They should of ditched the rear chrome bumper. That is the only thing out of place.

@Ken
@KaiserM715

The guys that bent Raptor frames hit a square lip at 80 plus MPH.
Ford cannot anticipate the stupidity of drivers.

I can imagine the nasty arguments between Ford engineers and Ford lawyers over the Raptor.

Kudo's to anyone building vehicles like the RamRunner, and the Raptor.

This is deffinitly better than the Raptor. Which it better be for that price! If I had to pick though I would still get a Ford because I just like them the best.

Looks more like a Rum runner to me. Well at least it's not a fugly ford.

Yea, we all know GM makes best Desert Runner.....oh wait!!!


What a bummer like the hummer!

be careful Ram Runner truck's frame should bent like as Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, That will happen future.

At least Chevy is the fastest loaded truck up a hill - A PAVED HILL.

@Lou,

Yea, the Chevy needs the roads to be clear before proceeding. Is this why we never see M/T do an off-road test?

Hmmmmmmmmmm???

I pledge right now

kbb 2010 base model ST Ram Quad Cab 4x4 5.7 no options: $27k.
Parts: $20k.
Installation, Paint, Wheels, Tires, e-locker: $10k.
Total: $57k.

2012 Raptor SuperCab 4x4 6.2: $43k.

It costs more for a 3 year old stripped down Ram than it does for a brand new 2012 Raptor that is integrated from the factory with 6 speed, select shift, e-locker, off-road mode and hill descent control.

As Frank said back to the drawing board, Kent.

@Jon Stay on topic please. Your website is http://www.toysrus.ca

$20,000?

Made for wealthy people that are lazy and most likely will not know how to drive properly as evident by the Raptor frame bending!

These people that have the money to buy such machines must realize the shear weight of them and over time, the suspension will fade and result will be damage!

I have raced down in Baja and I know what weight can do to a suspension over time...

Maybe I will see one at Crandon this weekend!!!

A few points:

Needs more skid plates underneath! If the owner does not live in the desert southwest, are their steel skid plates to handle slow speed off-road obstacles like rocks/stumps, etc...?

The weight of this pickup would crush the aluminum plates and damage could result...

"Instead of using conventionally circular ball joints for steering, the ball joints are oval to maintain the boundaries of the factory geometry. They’re also fully rebuildable."

Are what they saying are like uni-ball joints? I would like more information because in the Midwest we have something called WINTER! Salt weakens uni-ball type ball-joints if you do not completly seal them from the elements.

I opted for new upper control arms from Camburg on my pickup that retain the factory ball-joints because of the reliability of the sealed units vs. the uni-balls. Reason being off-roaders up in Canada report that every other year they have to replace (maybe re-build if they are lucky) their uni-ball joints! What will be the maint. of these joints in a winter area?

Front bumper should stick slightly above the hood line for approach angle visibility especially if your not racing one and just off-roading. Your gonna want to know where your placement of your front will be in tight off-road spots!

The rear chrome bumper has to go and build a REAL rear bumper that can take hits like we build down in Baja! For $20,000 I would expect more from the rear bumper that could improve the weak departure angle on this one!

You could even design the tire carrier further back to get more bed space back or design one that can keep the factory tailgate optional or still in full use with spare tire...

Other than that, no mention of the weights overall, front and rear axle, side to side! Otherwise congrats Ram for building a desert type pickup going on 20 years after the Trophy Trucks started in the 1990's, same with the Raptor! Where's GM?

i like it find a older truck for cheap low miles, wrench on it yourself save money, if you got a air compessure buy a 15 dollar paint gun and some paint for 100 bucks and cost less then a raptor. the money you save you do some mods to the motor for more hp and tq sounds like a win win for me!

I thought I was very conservative with my price. I even started with a used base model Ram to lower the costs. But the Ram was $14k more than a new Raptor.

My friend Lou estimate that it could cost $100k. for the Ram Runner when he started with a new truck higher than a base model. Is a Ram Runner worth double the price of a Raptor?

Feel free to look up the costs for the truck, kit, all the components you need beyond the kit, then add in paint and body work, tires, wheels, lockers, labor and other stuff you will need.

Post the data for all of us to view. Many of us would love to see a true cost analysis.

Prove me wrong or right - or I guess you can just bash me for my statement and not add anything to the specific topic in the blog post.

That whistle That Mike noted was likely due to the cold air intake. All the plastic crap built into modern intakes serves to eliminate that noise. Some of the high flow system from AFE intakes can get very anoying at highway cruise.

An old truck is not going to work. Mike said it will only work with 2009 to 2012. Trucks with low miles are not cheap.

yeah 2009 is older then 2011 so older truck lol like i said, and if you look around you can find a good deal cheap cheap cheap their out there you have too look deep lol

Aftermarket has this covered for those looking for esthetics over performance, balanced by price. For those looking for the performance side, price will be the deciding factor. what bank will loan the $? How many enthusiasts have the $ sitting around?
Ford got it right, if you build it...they will buy it. This will be a tough sell till Ram changes the business model. I'm sure they will sell this as a factory option, for every 1 they sell like this 10 (or more) would be bought at the dealer.

I'm sure Ford will be expanding the Raptor also...good luck Ram.

I'm a bit biased but I'll take the Raptor any day. I do like the Ram truck as well. No more Cheby for me.. never again! POS.

Ford always come out with something new... "bold moves" then everyone including Toyota copies them. It's hard to be humble when on top of the food chain (truck wise lol).

Any bent frames during this ordeal?

A decent alternative if you already own of these trucks and like to slowly build it into yorur budget.

Thanks but no thanks! I'll stick with a Raptor if I want an off road truck! (LOL)

@oxi: I think you've missed the point completely. You say it's for the wealthy and that only inexperienced people will buy this. Wrong. Yes, it may end up costing a tad bit more than the Raptor (not by much), but the point of the RamRunner is that it is aimed at a true enthusiast. The wealthy inexperienced drivers want something they don't have to put together, ie no work...which would be the Raptor. All they have to do is give the money for the raptor, then they can thrash it all they like. The Ram is aimed at people who want a customizable, DIY, trophy styled truck. It's aimed at enthusiast of the sport much more than the Raptor is. Also, regarding your other post where you listed "a few points", for most of the points you listed that is why Ram built the PowerWagon. If you want to crawl, buy that. If you want to haul a$$, buy this. If you want to do a little of both, you should probably still buy the PowerWagon.

Great review, Mike!
As much as I like the raptor, I can't get past the frame issues and I would never be able to trust one off road. I think the RAM is a much better option and I really like the fact that you can build this up over time.
Chrysler - with their new Jeeps and Ram trucks has become the top automaker IMO.

@ Mike Levine,

Mike this kit is listed as Road Legal, but i'm curious about one little thing. Marker Lights.

The Raptor requires the 5 marker lights front and rear because front width is greater than 80" not including mirrors. I would guess that with the increase in front track along with fenders the Ram Runner would also require these marker lights, but have seen no mention of there addition.

I know it's a little thing, but it could be the difference between a ticket or not.

Matt.

For those still griping about the transmissions the new 8-speed has just been tested (thus far only on the pentastar 3.6) and is getting a lot of initial praise. Being a unit from ZF I'd expect it to perform very well for the useful life of the truck. I can't wait to see what it will do in the RAM, both the V6's and V8's.

So Mike, since you've had a chance to drive both the Raptor and the Ram, which would you choose? Who do you think has the better overall package and approach?

(BTW, 2012 Raptor order guide lists a front Torsen diff as standard on the Raptor now.)

@speedy1: I totally "get" the idea and engineering behind the Ram Runner kit. It's amazingly tough but I'd personally still choose to buy a Raptor because of its well integrated features and outstanding capabilities.

I agree with oxi.

For around $50k on the low end and $100k on the upper end, all you get with Ram Runner is 13 inches in the center, a 41 degree approach and 30 degree departure? Wow!

Here is oxi out testing in a REAL off-road truck that he built up himself...
http://i44.photobucket.com/albums/f36/oxi3/DSCI0029.jpg

oxi has not even spent close to what this truck costs just off the lot and oxi has 15 inches in the center, 45 degrees up front and over 30 rear. oxi's suspension is still stock minus the Bilstein 5100's up front yet oxi has more running ground clearance, hmmmm...

Phase III will be the modding of the suspension and oxi will have spent up to this point what the stock Ram would be without the kit yet oxi will be more capable...

Funny how that works!

Still waiting on the tacoma, ram, f150 off-road comparison...

@Jack,

"Ford always come out with something new... "bold moves" then everyone including Toyota copies them."

Toyota had their first compact pickup back in 1963 and the industry's first compact 4wd back in 1979 while the Ranger never existed!

The Tacoma had a locking differential back in 1995! The Land Cruiser as early as 1993!

6-speed automatic? Yeah in the Tundra first!

TruckFan - You realize the Ram Runner usues a stock 1500 Ram chassis right? In other words not any stronger than the Ford Raptor. Also note that what damaged the Raptor would have been catastropic for a stoc vehicle. Drive your truck at 80mph into a curb and see what happens an get back to us.

@oxi and his cheerleader. Things you post just don't add up. You preach weight in just about every post yet post a pic supposedly the truck posted is Oxis and loaded to the gills with useless weight. How many Baja trucks have a topper on them. Lol oxi and all of his aliases try so hard too look credible but always come up short in an epic fail.


There are advantages and disadvantages to the RR and the R. I'd be happy with either.

@oxi

Don't forget this

http://darkforestcreature.com/Courier/SasquatchMudsnow2.JPG

Also don't forget small trucks have more ground clearance because of tiny pumpkins.



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