Just about every breed of pickup truck can be had in a bare-bones, work-truck package, but Ram has a special name for it: Tradesman. While many value-line trucks offer austerity on all fronts, Ram takes a different tack by assembling a more thoughtful mix of practical, low-cost features that appeal to the construction class. For example, a V-8 engine is standard on the Tradesman, but you still get to crank the windows by hand. This is a truck for a purist, not a weekend enthusiast.

Introduced last year, the Tradesman has exceeded Ram's expectations, contributing to the Chrysler truck brand selling 23% more pickups in 2011 compared to 2010. And Ram, which split from Dodge in 2009, claims to be gaining in marketshare points and resale values, as well.

"We got to a point where our demand [for Tradesman] was far exceeding our ability to build," Ram President and CEO Fred Diaz told ENR earlier this year at the Work Truck Show. He added, "[Customers] want a value package without sacrificing the capability of the truck."

In early April, we spent a week with the 2012 Ram Tradesman 1500. We used the half-ton truck to haul three cubic yards of cypress mulch—that's roughly 2,700 pounds of material—for a landscaping project. Then, we took it on the highway to Chicago from Indianapolis and back. In all, we put just over 500 miles on the truck and observed an average fuel economy of 13.7 miles per gallon.

Horses To Spare

Although the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine inside our test truck gulped gas as fast as we could fill it up, we appreciated the power it delivered. Offering a V-8 standard on a light-duty work vehicle while other truck makers are downsizing to V-6s gives Ram a distinct edge, though fuel-conscious buyers may think hard about whether or not the V-8 is mission-critical to their line of work.

Last year, the HEMI was standard on the Tradesman. This year, Ram has decided to lower the price of its basic work truck to $22,370, including destination charges, and equip it with its blander, 4.7-liter V-8, which produces 310 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. The HEMI cranks out a more robust 390 hp and 407 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard on both. For next year, Ram is adding a 3.6-liter V-6 to its regular lineup, but there is no word yet on which engine will come standard on the 2013 Tradesman (see story here). It likely will keep the V-8 engine.

As an incentive for 2012, Ram is throwing in for free its RamBox bed-storage system on Tradesman trucks ordered with the 4.7-liter engine. That is roughly a $1,300 value, or about the same cost as the HEMI. Here, buyers have a decision to make, but we don't think it's too much of a head-scratcher. Would you rather have more power or be well organized? We'll take the power.

Going To Work

While hauling our mulch to town, which took two trips of 1.5 cu yd each, we noticed little difference in ride quality despite the approximately 1,300 pounds of dead weight in the back. Ram is the only full-size pickup to use rear coil springs, which help smooth out bumps in the road. The gap between the bed and cab is a tad wide, though, as a good deal of mulch became trapped inside this cavernous void after the loader operator at the home center finished dumping damp cypress into our rig.