For the past 25 years, the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) has hosted the Texas Truck Rodeo. Automotive journalists from the Lone Star State and around the country show up to the event to drive a variety of crossovers (CUVs), sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and pickups on- and off-road, then determine the winners of several categories. The biggest overall prizes of the rodeo are the titles of CUV of Texas, SUV of Texas, and Truck of Texas.
This year, 68 of my fellow writers and I went out to the Longhorn River Ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas for the 2018 Texas Truck Rodeo. Over the course of two days, we were going to drive 57 vehicles in 18 categories from 19 manufacturers and give them exterior, interior, performance, value, and personal appeal scores.
The RAM team showed up with its 2018 Power Wagon and a few versions of its all-new 1500. If everything went its way, it was going to take the top spot in the Full-Size Pickup Truck, Heavy Duty Pickup Truck, Luxury Pickup Truck, and Off-Road Pickup Truck divisions. Like its rivals from Toyota and Nissan (Ford and GM did not attend), the prize it wanted the most was the giant chrome trophy for Truck of Texas.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to bring rain – and too much of it. The first day on the ranch started out cold and wet. Rain shot down diagonally, soaking everyone outside of the dining tent and quickly changing our testing landscape. Combine constant precipitation with heavy SUVs and trucks running over muddy, rocky trails and you’ll soon have deep ruts and slippery slopes that can hurt both vehicles and their drivers.
Before the trail conditions became too dangerous, I got behind the wheel of a 2019 RAM 1500 Limited 4X4 with the Off-Road Group, which adds an electronic locking rear differential, one-inch suspension lift, Hill Descent Control, tow hooks, and several underbody skid plates. Despite the murky view out of the windshield, I had no problem seeing what a terrific job RAM had done with the newest version of its light duty pickup. The four-corner air suspension made traveling over rocky, uneven paths feel more regal than rustic. All of the controls were thoughtfully placed and easy to reach. The horizontal veins in the wood trim brought Lexus’s Shimamoku veneers to mind and made me think that pickup trucks sure have come a long way over the past several years.
We started the day with the choice of three off-road trails, which had varying degrees of difficulty. The heavy rains quickly turned the most challenging path into an undeniable hazard. Even the Plan B and Plan C versions of it were soon deemed too risky to let vehicles run through. Around lunchtime, the TAWA board made the wise decision to pull out of the ranch entirely and conduct the rest of the event in the nearby city of Bee Cave, where our host hotel was located.
For the trip back there, I hopped into a RAM 1500 Laramie Longhorn with the new eTorque mild hybrid version of the 5.7-liter Hemi V8. I likened the luxury truck’s interior to a James Bond movie. When you watch one of 007’s adventures, which are filled with high-end clothing, fine dining, expensive cars, and exotic locations, you see all of the money the studio spends on making the movie right there on the screen.
That’s how it is inside the 1500 Laramie Longhorn. You see the money it takes to buy it in its Natura Plus filigree leather seats, alligator-print leather trim, satin chrome brightwork, and genuine barn-wood accents. Thrust from the electric/gas power plant was plentiful. At stops, the eTorque motor generator system shut the Hemi down. When it was time to get moving again, it quickly and quietly – almost imperceptibly – restarted the big V8.
The rain didn’t let up and neither did the TAWA board, manufacturers, or fleet management companies. They made the best of a bad situation. Once we were all back at the hotel, they designated the parking garage as the vehicle staging area and mapped out three driving routes that took us down suburban streets and country roads.
The second day of the rodeo, I waited around for the new RAM 1500 Rebel 12 to become available. My patience paid off. The Rebel 12 is a best-of-both-worlds truck. It combines the Rebel’s off-road hardware (33-inch tires, factory lift, locking rear differential, tow hooks, and skid plates) with leather seats, RAM’s hit 12-inch reconfigurable touchscreen, and a 900-watt, 19-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system.
Despite its rugged good looks, it was perfectly comfortable on the street. I would not have hesitated to take the Rebel 12 on a cross-country roadtrip,
even especially if a large portion of it didn’t involve paved roads.
Toward the end of the rodeo, I got some seat time in another RAM 1500 Laramie Longhorn. Not only was its 12-inch touchscreen crisp and clear, but it was versatile. I could use all of its ample real estate to show the navigation map or display that on top and the radio station controls or another function on the bottom.
Whether I was splashing through mud or wheeling over the pavement that winds through the Texas Hill Country, I was impressed by the all-new 2019 RAM 1500. It seems my colleagues in the Texas Auto Writers Association were, too. During the closing night awards ceremony, the RAM team cleaned up. All of the time, personnel, effort, and expertise they put into their new 1500 was worth the investment. Thanks to the 1500 Limited, the RAM crew went home with the award for making the best Full-Size Pickup Truck. The 1500 Laramie Longhorn earned the distinction of being the top Luxury Pickup Truck. The 1500 Rebel took the crown as TAWA’s favorite Off-Road Pickup Truck. The entire 1500 lineup earned RAM the prize it wanted the most: the trophy that tells its dealers, customers, and competitors that it made the 2018 Truck of Texas.
If the Truck of Texas is also the truck of your dreams, be sure you make it into a reality at an AutoNation RAM dealership.