2009 Dodge Ram 1500 Offroad Suspension Test


Words and Photos by Dan Sanchez

Dodge took a big risk when it redesigned the Ram pickup for 2009. Its sleeker appearance, additional power and new amenities have been praised in the automotive press, but few people have done any in-depth exploration and testing of one of the new Ram’s biggest design changes: its coil spring rear axle.

For years, the traditional Hotchkiss-design multileaf rear suspension has been used on trucks for one purpose: towing capability. Switching the 2009 Ram to a car-like, multilink rear suspension initially led some to believe the truck might not have the same cargo and towing capacities as comparable Ford, Toyota and GM trucks, which still use traditional leaf springs.

The rear multilink is similar in design to that used on Jeep vehicles, and it incorporates upper and lower control arms, a panhard rod, front-mounted shocks and two coil springs on top of the axle. It even has a rear anti-sway bar to diminish understeer during highway cornering.

The 2009 Ram can carry up to a 1,850-pound payload and tow as much as 9,100 pounds – identical to the 2008 model. While this may squelch any lingering suspicions that the truck’s new suspension is less capable, it prompts new questions regarding the Ram’s offroad potential.

That’s because a multilink coil design is also the preferred suspension in Jeeps. Jeep engineers utilize the multilink to provide greater articulation over rocks and difficult terrain, and Dodge engineers may have been thinking about using it in the same manner, not just as a trick new suspension with greater towing capabilities than leaf springs. The multilink in the Ram isn’t too different in design from the Jeep. It consists of upper and lower control arms used to limit twisting of the axle, keeping it centered under acceleration, braking and when articulating over large obstacles. To prevent any side-to-side movement, a panhard rod (also called a track bar) is used to keep the axle’s arc stable as it moves up and down upon compression and extension. The coil springs sit on each end, and on top of the axle. Furthermore, both shocks are placed on the front face of the axle, which keeps them as straight as possible to increase stability.

On a flat surface, you can see that the pan hard rod -- the top bar near the rear axle just behind the spare -- is level to the ground and will minimize any side-to-side movement of the body over the axle.

As avid truck and offroad enthusiasts, we couldn’t wait to see how the ’09 Ram would perform on offroad terrain. We weren’t sure if the multilink suspension was designed only to be an improvement in towing and payload capabilities, or if Dodge engineers had gotten it right and the Ram could potentially be a more capable offroad vehicle.

One of the first things we noticed on our way to our destination was that the Ram drives incredibly smoothly and handles well. When driving over patches of highway that are battered by heavy big rigs, long-wheelbase trucks like our Crew Cab 1500 Laramie Ram test vehicle typically begin to oscillate. Although we could still hear the tires slapping on the pavement, that typical neck-jarring, kidney-bouncing “freeway hop” was dramatically minimized. In fact, the Ram could be compared to a luxury SUV, providing a quiet interior with improved stability and a flat ride that doesn’t feel top-heavy, like some full-size SUVs do.

Under extreme articulation, the multilink suspension keeps both tires flat on their surfaces without transferring the suspension movement to the body, keeping it level. This dramatically improves traction in offroad situations like this.

As we moved from pavement to packed dirt to loose dirt and ultimately river rock, the Ram never gave us any indication it was in over its head. We could tell the improved frame design, which features high-strength supports, allows the suspension to work the way it’s supposed to, absorbing bumps and drops without twisting and transferring the motions to the cab.

Switching to 4WD High was instant via a turn of a dash-mounted knob. As we easily maneuvered the Ram over ledges, it was evident that adding front locking differentials on this Ram would make it even more capable than it had already demonstrated itself to be.

Driving over river rock challenges the suspension and frame, as there is constant slipping and torsional forces trying to jar the vehicle from right to left. The Ram remained smooth and stable, making it comfortable for us inside the cab.

As expected, positioning the front tires over larger rocks pushes up on the entire frame and body. The coil-over shock assembly is clearly a little stiff, but it’s undeniably designed to provide improved road handling and to minimize body roll on the street. That’s not great for offroad use, but it didn’t hinder us much on the trail. In addition, adding an anti-sway-bar disconnect, like the one used on the Power Wagon, would dramatically help the front suspension on the ’09 Ram provide greater traction and articulation.

The rear, however, did not bind or falter at full articulation. We were surprised to see how well the rear performed with one side up on a rock and the other flat in the dirt. The multilink coil spring suspension wasn’t too stiff or too loose, which would make the driver feel uncomfortable. Even under extreme articulation, which would cause a leaf-spring suspension to teeter, the Ram remained flat and in control.

You can see how much articulation the rear has while maneuvering over this rock, keeping both wheels on the ground. Normal leaf-spring suspensions would teeter back and forth, causing an insecure feeling for the driver.

While the Ram’s factory ride height prevented us from taking the vehicle to greater extremes, with an additional 3 to 5 inches of ride height this truck could trek even deeper into more difficult terrain. We wonder if Dodge engineers will put some of these aspects into a Power Wagon version, making it a real street/offroad pickup. The best of both worlds would be to add a variable-height air suspension that could raise the Ram for offroading clearance and lower it on the highway for a better aerodynamic profile and improved fuel economy.

Add in the promise of a light-duty diesel coming later in the Ram’s production life, and you’ve got the ultimate Ram that would be the love of hunters, fishermen and offroad enthusiasts. That said, the additional horsepower and torque from the 5.7-liter Hemi definitely helped the Ram maneuver up steep grades and power over larger rocks with ease. The five-speed automatic transmission also allowed us to select lower gears for gradual engine braking and to slowly crawl up steep inclines.

While the front coil-over shock suspension is a little stiff, it performed as expected and complemented the rest of the Ram’s offroad capabilities.

At the end of the day, our ballet over rocks and dirt ended without the Ram sustaining any undercarriage or body damage, and it proved that the switch to a multilink coil rear suspension worked well for this truck. Should your towing needs in the Ram 1500 require additional capacity, the coil spring rear can be accessorized with a set of aftermarket air springs that sit inside the coils to provide additional load capacity.

Also, adding an aftermarket suspension could give the vehicle up to 4 inches of lift. We’ve also heard that there’s a leveling kit and body lift combination that raises the’09 Ram 1500 5 inches without affecting the factory suspension. An additional 5 inches would allow you to add 35-inch tires, making this Ram a tricked-out offroad pickup that’s not afraid to go where only Jeeps may tread.


After driving a 09' Ram Laramie crew cab for 2 days, I'm impressed. Drivability was Super and with no windnoise. I used this truck in a couple of Christmas parades and it drew plenty of looks and positive comments. The interior is down right lavish. For 47K this was a nice rig, of course for that price, it should have been. I never thought I would like a Dodge, but I can see myself owning this truck and this is to me a strong statement from a devout Ford lover. Nice job Dodge. Don

w00t! go dodge!..you guys should test the TRX edition..i wonder how much better that is over the laramie..

Just bought the 09 SLT with many upgrades provided by the dealer and for a lot less than 47K; a lot less than 47K. I love my TRUCK! This thing is smooth, fancy, and packs mucho power. I get looks from everywhere as I drive down the road. The inferno red is super! People at my work email me throughout the day asking me about my Ram.

I bought a 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT week before last. I have to admit I am very impressed with this truck. I have driven Ford trucks for the past 10 years and been very well pleased with them but the new Ram is far superior to the Ford. I use my truck to pull a toyhauler that weighs almost 9000 pounds loaded and the Dodge Hemi pulls it with ease. One bit of advice...if you find yourself wanting to see how the truck perfroms in 4-Low....make sure your seat is in the full upright position and prepare for take-off!

I rode in a friend's '10 Ram 1500 not long ago. I must say, it's an incredibly smooth truck. However, I will add that it's not a whole lot better than my '07 Ford F-150 5.4 XLT. It is better, but not dramatically.

My uncle just bough a '10 F-150 5.4 XLT. He paid the same price as mine was new, and it has twice as many features. And after driving it myself for a weekend, I will honestly say that, even with the old-fashioned leaf springs, it is drastically smoother than the Ram. Add in the larger towing capacity, and it's clearly a better truck. I did notice the new F-150's brakes are WAY too touchy though. All you have to do is touch the brake pedal, and you're lurching forward.

In the end though, I thoroughly enjoy driving my '89 Ford F-250 5.0 around town. There's just something about that exhaust leak, meaner sounding engine (though less powerful), and less tame automatic transmission that
I just love. Plus I can beat the crap out of it without worrying about the paint job or breaking something.

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