Review: Posh Ram 1500 Longhorn vs. rugged GMC Sierra AT4

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Trucks are the new luxury.

Troll country-club parking lots these days (assuming they have parking spaces big enough) and you’ll see $70,000 Chevy Silverado High Countrys and Ford F-150 Raptors rubbing shoulders with chromed Mercedes and BMW chariots. These pickups are either insanely luxurious or bonkers powerful, depending on the owner’s preference.

The latest steaks on the menu are the posh Ram 1500 Longhorn and rugged GMC Sierra AT4.

Speaking of rich tastes, I recently drove the exotic Audi A6 and A7 Sportback sedans. They are the first midsize luxury cars to feature 48-volt lithium-battery technology to help with high-powered electric infotainment screens and smooth the drivetrain experience. You know, like a truck.

The Ram 1500 pickup beat Germany’s chariots to market this year (Mercedes also has a 48-volt system coming) with the latest in vehicle electrification. I should mention that the Jeep Wrangler also beat the luxury crowd. Boy, this is getting embarrassing.

But just as widely adopted electronics like adaptive cruise-control and blind-spot assist are blurring the difference between mainstream cars and luxury, so too is electrification. With its huge touchscreen, stitched leather and acres of chrome, my $66,755 Ram 1500 Longhorn is as luxurious as the Audis I drove.

And the 48-volt system attached to the big truck’s V-8 is a premium choice meant to provide premium amenities just like its German counterparts. Chief among them: papering over the latest federal annoyance from hell: stop-start.

Not a day goes by when I don’t hear from a new-car customer complaining about the engine shutting down at stoplights. The complaint echoes '70s government-driven automatic seat belt rules that had passengers cursing belts wrapping around their necks on car entry.

Ram’s 48-volt system is here to help.

Brake to a stoplight and the belt-driven electric motor smoothly shuts down the 5.7-liter V-8 with nary a shudder. Release the brake pedal and eTorque rolls the rig forward with 410-pound feet of torque, nearly neutralizing the roughness all too familiar in stop-start engines. The nannies dictate, eTorque mitigates.

It also pays dividends in fuel economy, using the motor’s regenerative capabilities on upshifts to save about 2 miles per gallon over the standard V-8. Naturally, luxury amenities come with luxury price tags, and eToque will set customers back $1,450.

With EPA-estimated fuel savings at $300 a year, that means it’ll take nearly five years to make back your premium. Your mileage may vary. Truck customers might need more convincing, so eTorque tops the Ram tow charts with 12,750 pounds of towing (rear-wheel-drive configuration). Now we’re talkin’ truck-speak.

The GMC Sierra AT4 doesn’t have a 48-volt battery. Heck, it doesn’t even have adaptive cruise-control, a staple increasingly found on common $25,000 sedans.

What the AT4 does have is the earth-pawing aggression of a rodeo bull.

Equipped with 33-inch tires, locking differentials and steel skid-plates that could stop Captain America, the AT4 goes off-road as eagerly as 10-year-old boys attack wooded streams. Full speed, both feet first. My GMC inhaled the Eaton Proving Ground’s off-road course outside Marshall this winter.

It reminded me of my first adventure to Flint’s Mounds off-road park in a Jeep Wrangler a few Novembers ago. Right down to getting stuck after an overzealous dash through sandy Mounds mud. When I buried the Wrangler up to its axles I learned the off-road auto hierarchy. Always make sure there’s a full-size truck around to pull you out of trouble.

So what happens if your full-size truck gets stuck in the mud? I was pulled out by a Caterpillar backhoe.

Inside these two pickups is a new level of truck luxury. They are rolling New York condos.

The Ram is all cake and icing inside. Forget notchy transmission shifters (Ford) and steering-wheel stalks (Chevy/GMC). The Ram offers a rotary dial, like you’re tuning the radio. And like the old-fashioned Chevy stalks, it saves console space.

Or I should say console acreage. The Ram’s center console is ginormous with multiple vats to hold large objects — laptops, purses, books, microwave ovens (kidding about that last one). The storage continues in back with bins under the floor and space below the seats. If you’re wondering, the 48-volt battery is tucked behind the rear seats.

This living room is wrapped in exquisite leather and detail. Longhorn is hand-stamped on the wood dash. Leather-textured graphics are the background for both the instrument panel and the Tesla-like, 12-inch infotainment screen. Forget Trump Tower, the Donald could move into this cab.

Ram long ago pioneered coil-over rear springs making it the nicest daily driver in class. Ford and Chevy will scoff at the Ram’s bed sag under heavy loads, but every technology has trade-offs. Smooth ride? Give me that smooth 48-volt tech while you’re at it.

Lest you think Ram has gone soft with all this luxury, however, I took the Ram to a nearby construction site to play.

I don’t take construction sites lightly. Their mix of mud, gravel and odd terrain can quickly trap all-wheel drive SUVs. But the body-on-frame four-wheel drive Ram was in its element. It grunted around narrow, rocky mounds in 4WD Low. It navigated muddy roads in 4WD Auto and shrugged off the odd rock thrown at its belly.

And when I wanted to open the door to survey the landscape without plunging my loafers into mud and snow? The Longhorn’s luxurious running board swung out under my feet.

The GMC sneezes at the Ram’s barge boards. This truck is equipped with the construction manager’s dream — the MultiPro tailgate. Gather round, boys, and geek out at the six-way tailgate including walk-up steps and stand-up desk.

I should note that the MultiPro is exclusive to the high-end Sierra’s V-8 powered AT4, SLT and Denali trims. The Ram’s eTorque option is standard on the 3.6-liter V-6, so 48-volt doesn’t always come with a premium.

But pickups and V-8s go together like linebackers and muscle. Unleash the V-8’s 420 ponies — its roar audible even over the soundproofed cabin — then roll into a stoplight quiet as a mouse. Power and grace. That’s luxury.

The Germans have Mercedes and Bimmers that you can park in front of the Townsend Hotel's Rugby Grille on a Saturday night. Detroit offers Longhorns and AT4s right beside them.

Ahem, just be sure and clean the mud off your boots before you enter the Townsend’s red-carpet lobby.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Ram 1500 Longhorn

Vehicle type: Rear- or four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup

Price: $53,085 base including $1,695 destination fee ($66,755 as tested)

Powerplant: 5.7-liter hemi V-8 with 48-volt lithium-ion battery (0.43 kWh)

Power: 395 horsepower, 410 pound-feet torque 

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.9 seconds (Automobile magazine est.); 1,750-pound payload; 11,180-pound towing (Crew cab 4x4 as tested)

Weight: 5,354 pounds (Crew 4x4 as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 17 city/22 highway/19 combined (4x4)

Report card

Highs: Posh, clever interior; easy rider

Lows: Payback on eTorque premium unclear; do you want to get something this pretty dirty?

Overall: 4 stars

2019 GMC Sierra AT4

Vehicle type: Rear- or four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup

Price: $53,200 base including $1,495 destination fee ($65,475 as tested)

Powerplant: 5.3-liter V-8, 6.2-liter V-8

Power: 355 horsepower, 383 pound-feet torque (5.3-liter), 420 horsepower, 460 pound-feet torque (6.2-liter)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic (5.3 liter), 10-speed automatic (6.2 liter as tested)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.8 seconds (Motor Trend); 2,070-pound payload; 12,100-pound towing (CrewCab 4x4);

Weight: 5,015 pounds (CrewCab 4x4 as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 15 city/20 highway/17 combined (4x4); 15 city/19 highway/17 combined (6.2-liter 4x4)

Report card

Highs: Good-looking, outdoorsy dude; 6-way MultiPro tailgate

Lows: Interior shy of Ram premium; no adaptive cruise-control

Overall: 4 stars