The Ram 1500 is largely unchanged for 2012 with one exception that should make a significant difference in seat-of-the-pants performance feel: The 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission has been modified so the driver has access to all six pre-existing gears.
As many know, in 2nd gear the 545RFE transmission uses two separate cogs that upshift or downshift differently depending on load and speed. Most of the Chrysler engineers we’ve spoken to have been careful to call the 545RFE a “multigear” transmission rather than a six-speed that lets you access only five gears at a time.
Ram engineers seem to want to put all that behind them. As we reported in June, the new six-speed transmission, called 65RFE, will be mated to the 4.7- and 5.7-liter V-8s, and it will allow the driver to manually access all six gears through a feature called Electronic Range Select mode. The driver can control the gears by tapping the center console shifter to the right (for upshifts) or the left (for downshifts). So there is no confusion, this is not the same transmission that exists in the 2500 and 3500 HD models. That six-speed is called the 66RFE and has completely different gear ratios. Likewise, the tap-up/tap-down capability is only functional through the column shifter.
The transmission will certainly make it easier to drive the truck more spiritedly around town, and it’s also likely to be appreciated by truck owners who want more engine braking or the ability to hold a gear a touch longer. The gearing, casing and resulting weight will remain identical to the 545RFE.
Before you get too happy, though, we should note that when the transmission is set to normal Drive, a mapping profile similar to the 545RFE transmission will be used to upshift and downshift the gears. That’s right — the transmission’s computer will use just five of the six gears for smoother and more controlled shifts, depending on how it interprets road conditions and vehicle sensor inputs. Electronic Range Select will be standard equipment on all 2012 Ram 1500s.
Working in tandem with the recalibrated transmission is a new torque converter designed to give the transmission better profiling for both high-mileage highway cruising and smoother shifting during heavy-load situations.
All 2012 Ram 1500s also will have a new steering wheel that incorporates cruise-control buttons on the front and radio controls on the back. Six new colors will be available: Black Clear Coat, Deep Cherry Red, Deep Molten Red, Sagebrush, True Blue Pearl and Tequila Sunrise.
The Ram 1500 will be offered in two wheelbases (120.5 inches and 140.5 inches), three bed lengths (5 foot 7 inches, 6 feet 4 inches, and 8 feet), three cab configurations (regular, Quad and crew), three engine choices (3.7-liter V-6, 4.7-liter V-8 and 5.7-liter V-8), the segment’s only coil/link rear suspension on a half-ton and four different ring-and-pinion axle choices (3.21:1, 3.55:1, 3.92:1, and 4.10:1).
The 2012 Ram 1500 will be offered in 12 different models, rivaling the Ford F-150 for the largest truck wardrobe. The models are the Tradesman, Tradesman HD, Express, Outdoorsman, ST, SLT, Sport, Sport R/T, Lone Star, Big Horn, Laramie, and Laramie Longhorn.
No word yet on when the 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 will slot into the Ram half-ton, but we’re hoping for a midyear announcement. Until then, the 215-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 with a four-speed automatic will be the only V-6 option.
There have been no announcements about when or if Chrysler’s highly anticipated eight-speed transmissions will be able to handle the torque output from the 4.7- or 5.7-liter Hemi. In the meantime, expect another report from us when we get our hands on a new Ram with the 65RFE. You can find all 2012 Ram pricing here.